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Teaching

Legitimate Children (Hebrews 12:1-13)

Let us run with endurance.

Do not grow fainthearted.

You need to struggle against sin.

Pain is good for you.

Strengthen your knees and walk in a straight line.

Discipline is good for you.

Do not be sexually immoral.

Be holy.

What are your thoughts so far?

Does it sound like a list of “To do’s”?

Does it sound like the Christian life that you’re accustomed to?

Does the idea of effort and discipline seem like something that belongs to Law and not to grace?

Does your Christianity have room for the idea that you’re going to suffer?

Does your Christianity have room for the idea that effort and suffering is good for you?

Hebrews 12:1-13 (ESV)

12 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. 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.”

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? 10 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. 11 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.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

 

Before we get into this text, I want to jump to a truth that we find in verse 2 where Christ is called the founder and perfecter of our faith.

Founder may not be the best word.  The Greek word ἀρχηγός is densely packed with meaning.

It may mean pre-eminent, forerunner, and originator or author.  I believe it means here that Christ is the One from Whom our faith originates.  He is the fountainhead of our faith.

Christ is also the perfecter of our faith.  He is the One who ensures that His holy aims for us will be completed.

Because we’re dealing with a text toward the end of Hebrews we’ve missed what came before this.

The author has unpacked how Christ is our great Prophet, our great King, and our great High Priest.

He fulfills all the shadows and types of the Old Testament ceremonies and figures that pointed to His work.

Why is this important?

Because, Beloved, central to our understanding to the Gospel is our understanding of what Christ has done.

Central to the Gospel is what Christ continues to do.

Central to the Gospel is what Christ will do for us until our final breath and onward into glory.

Christ is our Mediator.

By that we mean that He is the way by which all the blessings of the New Covenant come to us.

As the Prophet, Christ sends the Spirit to preach the Good News into our hearts.  We lay hold of Him by faith and are united to Him in His death and resurrection.

He continues to work through the Word and the Spirit to reveal to us the Word of God.

As the High Priest, Christ laid down His life for all who trust in Him and paid the penalty for their Sin.

He also rose from the dead and His life is granted to all who believe upon Him.

As the King, Christ rules and reigns.

All authority in heaven and earth is His and He conquers every foe that will hinder His plan to redeem a people to Himself.

You see, beloved, understanding that Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith puts everything we’re about to read into proper perspective.

Because Christ died and rose again and reigns, we who believe have been justified.

By Justifies I mean we no longer have any guilt and we have received Christ’s righteousness.

But, in addition to being our Justifier, Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King is preparing us for glory.

Christ is sanctifying us.

He is making us Holy.  This is His will for us.

He is transforming us through the renewing of our minds so that we become more holy and learn to hate sin.

We need not fear that effort is legalism because all that we do and all we are called to is in light of who we are in Christ.

We cannot shrink back from effort because to do so is to shrink back from what Christ has done and is doing for us and in us.

In that light, let us consider what the author is saying in this passage.

12 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. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

In verse 1, we see a call to action.

The command in this verse is actually at the end of the sentence.

We’re told:  “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

What we need to understand here is that the author has been really pressing home how great our salvation is.

He’s dealing with people who are shrinking back from the faith.

He’s already gotten after them for being lazy in their studies and he’s warned them repeatedly of what happens when they deny the faith.

He’s telling them and he’s telling to us:  “Let us run with endurance”.

The verse can be thought of like this:

  •  Let us run with endurance

o   Why?  Because you’re surrounded by a great cloud of men and women of faith who came before you (Hebrews 11).

  • Let us run with endurance

o   How?  By getting rid of every weight and sin that is hindering you

The scriptures testify of men and women who lived lives running the same race.  We’re encouraged to see how they lived lives of faith.

But we’re also reminded that we often let many things get in the way of our race.

The race here is not a sprint but it is a race of endurance.

If you’ve ever run with a full pack on then you’ll know how stifling that is, especially for long distances.

We forget what the race is really about and carry many priorities or even entertain certain sins in our lives because we think of them as inconsequential.

We’re content with who we are and content to think that God is going to accept us anyway.

Christ is not content let us be so apathetic.

He won’t let us entertain pet sins but tells us to cast off these weights and continue the race.

He also reminds us that this is a race run together.

The command is let us run and so we look around to see if others are continuing the race and we are not content that they should run with a full pack of worthless junk.

Verse 2 reminds us that we are to always have our eyes fixed on where we are running.

We are to fix our eyes on Christ – the author and perfecter of our faith.

His own race of faith is laid out before us as an example.

Remember, beloved, that Jesus was fully human.

He had to live a life of faith in God’s promises.

His was not a carefree life but one of shame and suffering.

He was a man of tears and acquainted with grief.

He was scorned by those He came to save and stood alone as He was beaten down.

All His friends abandoned Him and He hung alone on the Cross.

Even His Father turned His face away.

How did He endure?

Because He believed the Promise of God – that He would see His soul satisfied.

How did He endure?

Because He was given the Promise of a people.

That promise, that people, includes you and me, beloved.

He endured the shame for you and me because He considered all of us as His reward.

A people redeemed by His death and raised by His resurrection.

A people He would make holy by His power when He ascended on high and sat down.

You, me, all the Saints mess that we are, are what made His suffering worth it.

And we look to Him in this race.

And we say:  “That Savior is worth it!”

Christ came before us in suffering beyond what we will ever endure and in verse 3 we’re reminded to think about Him whenever we think it’s too hard.

The struggle against sin seems too demanding at times.

Mr. Worldly Wise would tell you that your struggle is foolish.

Why try so hard?

Christianity certainly can’t involve effort, can it?

Just how much effort are we to put into this thing?

Verse 4 reminds us that we need to be ready to struggle against sin to the point of shedding our blood.

The problem is that we’re ready to give up well before that.

We give in to sin when something is inconvenient.

We give in to sin when it means we will lose comfort.

We convince ourselves that the Word cannot possibly demand much of us.

Beloved, Christ is making us holy.

Exactly how much sin is a Christian supposed to embrace in this life?

Remember what I said about Christ.

He’s working in us.

Is it really Christ working in us when we believe we are owed a sin?

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.”

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? 10 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. 11 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.

Let me ask you again what the author asked:  “Have we forgotten the exhortation that addresses us as sons?”

We love to think of ourselves as the adopted children of God, do we not?

What a privilege that we can address God as Our Father.

But what is the proof that we are legitimate children?

Well let me tell you what the author says about illegitimate children:  “If you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

Beloved, discipline is proof that we are legitimate children.

We’re called to endure precisely for discipline’s sake!

Why?  Because discipline is proof that God loves us.

Look at the human analogy.

We’ve all had parents.

I realize some grow up as orphans or have horrible parents but the idea of horrible parents only underscores what a good father and mother do.

What does a good father do because he loves his child?

He disciplines them.

Does he do it perfectly?

No.

We’re just men and we make mistakes and I hope you fathers and mothers are repenting to your children when you sin against them.

Listen up children.

You kids didn’t come with very clear instructions.

You cry.

You whine.

You fight.

You run into traffic.

You poop and pee on us.

You don’t take a bath or a shower when you stink.

You would literally die if we didn’t love you.

You’re tough nuts to crack.

Because folly is bound up in my children’s hearts I discipline them.

When this is happening they do not line up and break into a Disney song about the wonders of being in the Leino home.

They fight me.

They will do everything they can with their puny bodies and minds to resist my discipline.

They tell me:  “No!  This really isn’t good for me.  Father, don’t you see that my suffering for this moment is the last thing I need?”

They might even get more sophisticated and use Christian lingo in the future:  “Father, I considered what I did and I prayed about it and I’m at peace in my own heart about it.  I don’t think you need to correct me.”

But I do not listen to these pleas.

Why?

Because I love them.

It is only when I am lazy and sinful that I withhold correction.

But God is a perfect Father.

Adults, our problem is that we often think we’ve grown out of the need for discipline.

I’m my own man now and nobody tells me what to do.  Right?

Not if you’re a Christian.

We say to God:  “Surely you don’t intend for me to respect this elected leader.”

“Surely you don’t intend for me to submit to this husband.”

“Surely you don’t intend for me to love this wife.”

“Surely you don’t intend for me to give up this sin.”

“Father, I’ve prayed about it and I’m at peace with my behavior in this situation.  Discomfort and effort is surely not necessary.”

Our Father is too loving to accept such pleas.

He never makes mistakes.

He always applies the appropriate amount of reproof and correction.

He will humiliate us to teach us humility.

He will take away all confidence in ourselves in order to get our eyes back on Christ.

He will take away peace to cause us to pursue real Peace.

The key word in this portion of Scripture which the author develops is παιδεία.

Its meaning ranges between training and corporal punishment.

That’s right, corporal punishment.

It’s the word used to describe Christ’s beating by Pilate’s guard.

Παιδεία refers to education in Greek tradition and to discipline by punishment in Hebrew tradition.

The word combines training, instruction, guidance, reproof, correction, and punishment.

Beloved, what the Scriptures are teaching us is that God will use any means necessary toward the aim of our holiness.

Why?

Because He loves you.

He is not punishing you for your sin.

Christ was punished for your sin.

Because we are His children, He disciplines us when we go astray and that sometimes involves pain.

But, as the author reminds us, it seems painful in the moment but it leads to very good fruit in the hands of a loving Father.

God’s words of rebuke for our sin yield a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

God’s holy wooden spoon will often bring about painful things that we do not like but if we lay hold of Christ then it is over before we know it and we have become more holy by God’s grace.

We have to endure the suffering because we’re His children.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

 

What is inescapable from this passage is that it dispels any illusion that you can coast through a Christian life.

It’s not because we earn salvation by our efforts.

It’s because salvation involves being brought in contact with a God who is not content to let us settle for what we want to be.

We’re told these days that God loves us just as we are.

That’s true as far as it goes.

God takes us just as we are in our sin when He rescues us.

Because we’re all born in sin and slaves to it.

But then He frees us from bondage to sin and He is not content for us to live as if we’re still in bondage to our own sinful desires.

He loves us too much.

 

How many of you are old enough to remember ABC’s Wild World of Sports?

One of my favorite scenes from that intro scene was a Russian man who had just cleaned and jerked several hundred pounds and was holding it over his head.

Have you ever watched world class super heavyweight weight lifting?

The steel bar is literally bending with the weight.

Every muscle in the massive man is trembling.

The knees and the elbows are almost buckling from the pressure.

But the ability to bear that massive weight did not come without great cost.

It came from years of pressure and pain.

I once had a young massive Lance Corporal in my company who was strong as an Ox.

He had emigrated from Poland and was training his body to become a weightlifter.

He predicted it would take him over a decade to build up the bone and muscle necessary to withstand the pressure of world-class weightlifting.

Years of suffering and pressure to withstand weight that would crush any of us.

Beloved, it is God’s desire for you and for me that we would be holy.

He has rescued us that we would no longer be the walking dead of the Kingdom of this Age but children and citizens of the Kingdom of the Age to Come.

In addition to our own sin that ensnares, there is tremendous pressure and suffering from this world and from the forces of darkness.

We have got to be willing to be trained by God.

We have to stop avoiding discomfort and be willing to suffer.

Christ is making us holy because He loves us and we need to be willing to give all the effort back to Him that He supplies to us.

If this is making you uncomfortable then that’s OK.

You see God is making us holy.

And our great King will do everything in His power to make us holy.

You see sometimes Christ finds in us a willing participant in our pursuit of holiness.

We remember what He’s done for us in the Cross and we remember that this world is a garbage can compared to glory.

We joyfully obey because we remember that He loves us.

But sometimes we’re not so motivated.

But this is the glory of the Gospel:  Christ doesn’t abandon us when we forget.

He’ll rebuke us by His Word and sometimes send people into our lives to put a finger in our chest and say:  “I don’t care that you’re at peace with this thing, the Scriptures say that’s a sin.”

Sometimes we’ll forget He’s bigger than our situation and He’ll be like a comforting Father through His Word.

He’ll send someone beside us and say: “Let me sit with you and weep over this terrible trial and pray with you.”

But sometimes we’re running away from Him and into certain destruction.

Is Christ satisfied to let us be destroyed?

We for whom He died?

Is He content to let His own destroy themselves?

No!  Our Savior is stronger than us.

He may threaten us.

He may yank us away from the situation.

He may cause us to endure pressure and suffering beyond what we think we can bear.

But He will not let His beloved slip from His hand!

Don’t fret about the perfection of your motivations.

Cling to Christ!

Wherever you are.

Whatever it takes.

Christ is after you.

Come to the end of yourself.

There is no contest.

Christ will defeat any enemy that stands in the way of the holiness of His saints.

If you’re standing in the way of your own holiness then I suggest you stop trying to take Him on.

Christ loves you too much to let you be a knucklehead forever.

Stop kicking and screaming and endure.

Fix your eyes on Christ.

It’s only going to hurt for a short time.

And so, beloved, strengthen your feeble knees.

Make straight paths for your feet.

Christ is set before you.

Cast aside every burden and sin that is entangling you.

Let us continue the race together!

 

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