How we persevere in the end? What is the relationship of our union with Christ with his benefits? How does God sanctify his people? What happens when he disciplines us? Can we really trust God will preserve his people?
These are the questions the preacher of Hebrews will answer as he continues to exhort God’s people to live by faith and not by sight. After Hebrews 11 the great chapter about the people of faith, the preacher of Hebrews encourages his congregation with the call look at Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. In Hebrews 12:1-11, he expounds two points (1) The motivation for discipline and (2) The groundwork of discipline. In sum, the motivation for discipline is the gospel – the person and work of Christ, and the groundwork of discipline is God himself who disciplines his people for their good.
In order to learn all these, let us dive into God’s Word.
First point: The motivation for discipline
Verses 1-6 contains an encouragement and exhortation. Verse 1-3 persuades us to endure until the end while verses 4-6 explains the proper attitude when experiencing discipline in this life. In a word, the first part of our first point relates living faith in connection with Christ while the second part of the first point describes the result of discipline. The preacher of Hebrews explains the motivation for living by comparing the Christian life to an endurance race, and he picks up Proverbs 3:11 to exhort us with wisdom.
verses 1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Witnesses means those who persevered by faith until in the end. They are those who suffered and died in the faith. In its original context, witnesses are martyrs. Martyrdom belongs not only to the few recognized as “saints” but to all elect believers glorified.
For churches today the term “witness” refers to the activity of sharing conversion story in public. It means to share your private experience and to attract others to faith. To witness means to testify. Understood this way, a Christian witness makes sure their story of conversion becomes a means of grace to others.
In verse 1, the term “witness” speaks of persons rather than an action. It is used as a noun plural not an verb activity. The preacher of Hebrews encourages us to model the faith of those puts their trust in God, his Word, and his promises. He exhorts us to endure until the end like these great “cloud of witnesses”. These people held on to God even when great suffering appears. They persevered in the end.
Verses 1-3 joins imperatives with indicatives. Imperatives are commands like law telling us what to do while indicatives are the facts about God’s redeeming work. The law and gospel are distinguished but not separated. Properly understood, every encouragement the preacher of Hebrews tells in these verse is grounded in the person and work of Christ.
The preacher of Hebrews calls us to lay aside sin, to run with endurance, and to look at Jesus, who is the founder and perfecter of our faith. His imperative is grounded by the indicates. The form explains to us how we as Christian can lay aside sin and run with endurance and it i by looking to Jesus! It is by considering how endured the cross, despised the shame and even faced hostility against sinners. Christians need to hear the about the humiliation of our Savior to encourage us and finish this race of faith.
But how can this be an encouragement for us to kill sin and to live holy lives? By considering that Jesus did not stay in this form of humiliation. He attained glorification! Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. So we are not running this race uncertain of how it will end. No, we look to Jesus and believe that in Him, we will endure in the end and like him attain glory. We run the race with endurance because we know that Jesus is not only the founder of our faith but its perfecter. His glory assures the glory of his people. And while we are not yet glorified, God will discipline us and bring us into his glory.
In sum, the preacher of Hebrews motives us to pursue sanctification by the encouraging lives of those lived by faith and by looking at Jesus, this person and his work. To complete his thought, he will add to his encouragements some exhortations related to discipline. In next two verses, the preacher of Hebrews calls for patience and humility.
verses 4-6: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
Practically speaking, sanctification is not achieved passively but needs to be pursued actively. Let-go-and-let-God-attitude does not work, lacks any real value when examined, and does not result to holiness. The preacher of Hebrews endorses the ways and means of achieving the end and it is discipline. And the way to sanctification comes through the means of discipline. And discipline produces two importance virtues: patience and humility.
Verse 4 is a rhetorical question answerable by yes. Only Christ resisted temptation in the garden to a point of shedding blood. For us Christians, the reality of struggling against sin will remain until we die. We will kill sin until finally we die doing it. We either lose against it and finally receive eternal death or we work daily to kill until we die and receive eternal life. We are running a marathon and not a sprint. We train ourselves to fight sin until the end. And such training produces in us patience. We learn how to be patient with ourselves and we practice patience when we encounter difficult circumstances.
Verse 5-6 reminds us of our adoption as God’s sons and the responsibility to live worthy of our calling. The preacher of Hebrews cites Proverbs 3:11 to remind us of our calling as sons. As sons, we treated with love and admonition by our heavenly Father. The preacher of Hebrews expounds this relationship as Father and sons in verses 7-11 for our second point but for now, it is suffice to say how this treatment from God produces in us humility. Wisdom literature teaches us to fear the Lord, to trust Him and to live under his rule. The preacher of Hebrews points to wisdom because it leads us to live humbly before our Creator. He relates discipline with wisdom because it produces humility.
As believers, we confess that we believe in Christ and the double benefits he brings in our union with him. We gladly accept the benefit of justification (being declared righteous) as the most comforting doctrine but consider the benefit of sanctification (being made holy) as most disturbing when practiced in churches. But we cannot has Christ and not his benefit. We cannot have Christ in justification and not in sanctification. If we are truly justified, we are being sanctified. Sanctification is work of God. He works to make us holy and Christians are encourage to pursue holiness and willingly receive the disciplining hand of God.
Second point: The groundwork of discipline
verses 7-11: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Before we end, let us examine the groundwork of discipline. Who disciplines and why? Verse 7 plainly teaches discipline produces endurance and discipline comes from God himself. We have come full circle. Verses 8-10 makes it explicit that God disciplines his children for their good. A holy good God produces holiness for the good of his people. Verse 11 readily admits discipline is painful and unpleasant. Yet in the end it produces in us a “peaceful fruit of righteousness”. Discipline produces the good fruit of sanctification.
ZCRC(Imus), When God in his providence determined for us to move from one place to another, he is clearly disciplining us as a church. He appointed a way of sanctification by disciplining us to maintain church membership despite of the physical changes we encounter. He produces in us patience to endure hardship and humility to keep us grounded in our efforts. In a way, He also brings out in us a settled conviction to be content wherever we are, and a wholehearted acceptance of His sovereign will over our lives.
Short-term or long-term, God will discipline us for our good. He will produce in us patience, humility and peace. May we pursue our sanctification with discipline. Let us look at Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.