The Exchanged Life In Action
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”—Hebrews 12:1–2
I want to bring to you a message which might be, I trust, of some help to those especially who have been able to attend any or some of the meetings of Mid-America Keswick Convention. These have been days of rich blessing indeed in this church, and none of us, I trust have escaped the impact of the ministry of God’s Word which has been rich in quality and of great blessing to our hearts. Some of you I believe are rejoicing in a new revelation of what God can do. You have discovered, as some one said to me only yesterday who had been a Christian for many years, “I have always thought that I had to work hard for Jesus. Now I see that Jesus works hard through me.”
Some of you have entered into the joy of that transforming experience, others of you perhaps are confused and muddled and don’t just know what to make of it all, especially in the days that have passed since Keswick which may be for some of you who professed to enter into a rich experience of blessing, have nevertheless been the hardest days you ever had in all your life.
These two verses introduce the Christian life to us as a race, a race that is set before us which simply tells us perfectly clearly that God has a plan for every one of our lives, a plan that is set before us. He doesn’t unfold it all at one time. He always shows us enough to take the next step, but in the mind of God that plan is set before us. He will never settle for anything less than the fulfillment of that plan in all of our lives.
The word for “race” here actually is the same word elsewhere in the New Testament translated “fight.” A fight, a relentless fight. And in this Christian life there are deep valleys to get through, there are mountains to climb, there are rugged paths that are narrow to walk along, there are dark and sometimes dangerous obstacles in the way. This is the Christian life pictured for us in the New Testament, and especially pictured like that in these verses. Not a flat race but an obstacle race and the God who has called us by His grace to live the life and run the race is the God who knows every valley and every mountain and every path and every loneliness and every testing that will ever confront us—a race, a contest, a fight.
Now Keswick does not teach that there is any experience of Christian living that will enable us to escape this. Nowhere does the Keswick Convention or the New Testament suggest that having entered in, the rest is all easy. It is always a battle, always a fight, always a contest, and these two verses graphically illustrate for us the real nature of Christian conflict and the real secret of Christian victory. It tells us of the victorious life in action.
Let me just ask you to look for a moment at what I would call the CHALLENGE OF THIS VICTORIOUS LIFE. “Wherefore,” says the writer of this epistle, “seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” Undoubtedly there is a reference here to the great list of heroes described in the previous chapter, who by faith entered the race and by faith ran it, and eventually won it. Unquestionably we are looking back a moment to the biography of men long, long ago who have lived the same life, faced the same enemies, worshipped the same God, and who have discovered the same secret, that when the sheer absolute impotence of a human life is linked by faith to the omnipotence of God, then anything becomes possible. But I don’t think that the writer is only referring to Hebrews 11. “Seeing we are compassed about.” That word is the same word as is used in the fifth chapter of this letter concerning the high priest of whom it is said that he was “compassed about with infirmity,” as he sought to make an offering for his own sins and the sins of the people. He could not do it properly or effectively because he was being constantly pulled down, hindered by his own personal weakness and failure.
It is the same word that is used by our Lord Jesus who in warning people to be careful lest they discourage little children from entering the kingdom, said, “It were better for such a one to have a millstone hanged about his neck.” That is the word. “Seeing we also are hindered, hanged about, dragged down, restricted, frustrated,—seeing we are all this by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
I don’t think the writer of this letter is simply looking back to the past. I think rather he is asking us to look round in the situation in which each one of us finds himself today, because if we do that, it isn’t long before we discover the great cloud of witnesses who compass us about.
Even this week, since perhaps some people have entered into a new experience of the revelation of the power of God, they have more than ever been encompassed about by a great cloud of witnesses. They have known something of what it is even to have a kind of millstone put around them, not merely by outward things and other people, but the fresh revelation of Christ has been accompanied by a fresh revelation of sin and a fresh revelation of the power of the devil in their own lives and a fresh discovery of the utter inability of themselves ever to do anything or be anything for God. Every step forward in the school of obedience to the Holy Spirit is immediately counterattacked by all the powers of darkness, and every time a step of faith is taken in the Christian life and in the Christian battle, at that moment Satan is there seeking to trip us up and pull us back. Perhaps some of you have been experiencing that during the days of this past week.
Then, of course, there are all the witnesses who are somewhat skeptical of the whole thing, the Christian who perhaps is very glad that Mid-America Keswick is over for another year, who can perhaps settle down again to the normal routine of Christian living, who can have his family devotions regularly or more or less regularly, who can go to his business or attend to his home duties and really not be disturbed too much spiritually, and who will say to himself, “Well, of course, it is all very well, but let’s watch these folk who profess so much,” and there is a great cloud of witnesses always ready and eager to watch a real true Christian who is hungry for God, to watch him slip and stumble, or fall, or be tripped up, and then to say, “I told you so, it doesn’t last.” Every one of us here who would assent to settle for nothing less than the will of God, who is eager to press in for all the best that God can give us, will constantly know what it is to be pressed around and hemmed in by a great cloud of witnesses who will do everything to discourage and everything to pull us back into a hum-drum, average, second-best experience of Christian living.
Somehow if the Keswick Convention has done nothing more, it has done a great deal in bringing into clear focus, the challenge of Christian living. Keswick has brought into sharp relief, and into clear focus, that Christian living is all the compassion, and all the power, and all the holiness of Jesus getting hold of a little bit of unworthy human clay and lighting it up with the glory of God. Immediately when that happens there is a whole cloud of witnesses, friends and enemies within us and without us, who challenge us to say, “It won’t last,” and they are only too glad when some throw up the sponge and give in. The challenge of the race.
But let’s look further. If this race has such a challenge to it, Keswick has done something more because it has at least to my own heart, clarified what really is THE COST OF LIVING THIS LIFE. “Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run…” Let me pause there a moment.
“Let us lay aside,” and that word does not simply mean, just take off like you might take off a coat and fold it up and put it down gently and carefully. The word means cast off, fling away from us, deliberately throw away as something that is detestable and something that is hindering and something that will constantly drag us down and make us to fail in the race. Let us cast off without any hesitancy whatsoever, let us cast off every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.
May I just put the graphic picture before you of the word that comes into our English version—the sin that doth so easily beset us. It is like a man traveling in an enemy country, and he is seeking to break through into freedom. As he walks through on a dark night suddenly he is surrounded by enemies and they are all pointing their guns at him and he is trapped. “The sin that doth so easily surround us.” That is the word. The sin which suddenly without warning comes from every angle and every quarter and besets us, and holds as it were the gun to us and we feel ourselves caught. Now, says the apostle, here’s the price if you would be a genuine Christian, if you would go right through to the kingdom, if you would know victory in your heart, then you must cast off every weight and every sin that doth so easily beset you.
Yes, my friend, if Keswick has done nothing more than that to focus the challenge and to clarify the cost of being a Christian, the blessing of those days will surely abide and remain with us. Has it done that for you?
The Christian must deal with two things here. He must deal with something that is called a weight, and with something that is called a sin. I need just to distinguish those two for a moment if you’ll permit me. I hardly need to define what sin is because most all of us here know, but I must just pause a moment and ask you today if in living this Christian life, tell me, have you cast off every sin? Oh, I don’t mean, are you perfect? No, far from it, but I just mean that every known sin in your life, has it in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the power of the Spirit of God been cast off, or is there someone still listening to the preacher today and making terms with it?
You know, there is one man in the New Testament of whom I think sometimes and when I do so it always sends a bit of a shudder down my spine. His name was Herod. He confronted Christ just a few hours before Calvary, and we are told that Herod asked Jesus many things, questioned Him about a lot, but Jesus answered him nothing. The only time they met, just one word from Christ, surely could have meant the man’s salvation, but Jesus never spoke. Why? Do you recall that three years previously the greatest preacher born of woman, John the Baptist, had been in Herod’s home, had dared to confront him concerning a personal relationship in his life that was all wrong, and for his boldness and courage he was put into prison and beheaded. When Herod heard John the Baptist preach, the Word of God tells us that he did many things, yes, possibly he gave up some drinking and gave up some smoking, stopped playing cards and stopped gambling, and he got rid of all sorts of things that were unpleasant, but oh, may the Holy Spirit just put this word on your heart from the heart of God this morning, there was just one thing that Herod would not do and that was to give up one sin which ultimately landed him in hell. One sin, one relationship, one evil thing, and because he refused to give it up, there came a day when God’s voice never spoke again.
In the challenge of the Christian race that confronts us there is a price to pay. The Word of God has come to us that it might first of all, expose us, show us up, only with a view to cleaning us up. When Christian people really come clean, when you and I honestly face this thing that I am talking about today, sin in its ugly wretched form, and we look up into His face and say, “Lord, by Thy grace I cast off not some but all,” that is one of the prices that a Christian has to pay if he would run the race.
And every weight. What is a weight? A weight is something that pulls us down, something that encumbers us. A weight need not be a sin but it can develop into one. A weight in Christian living is something that hides my Saviour’s face from me, a weight is something that makes it harder to pray, harder to read my Bible. What may be a weight in my life may not be a weight to you. There are some things which you as a Christian could perfectly well do and not suffer for, but I might suffer if I did them, and vice versa.
Christian, are you permitting weights today? What about your family devotional life? Is it mechanical, or is it real? What about your personal prayer life? Is there fire in it and life in it, or is it just dead, merely going through the machinery of it? What is it, tell me? Is it because in your heart today there is a weight, something that clouds your Saviour from you, something that makes His face less real, His peace in your heart to be disturbed? A weight? And a Christian in running this race is called upon to lay aside, to fling off, every weight. I would suggest to you that it you are not sure whether it is a weight or not, that you give God the benefit of the doubt and throw it out, for you can’t afford to run this race other than light and stripped, that you might run and win. The cost of the race. The Christian has got to throw aside every weight, he has got to cast off every sin, and see, he has to run.
“Oh, but, Mr. Preacher, you are contradicting everything that I have heard. I thought this Christian life was walked by faith and lived by faith.” So it is, but listen, every day I have to run, I have to enter again into the race, at the first conscious moment of the day, and to run with all my might and all my strength that every day by the power of God I might win through. Oh, I can’t afford just to idle, I can’t afford to sit back and say, “I’ll leave it all to the Lord, He’ll do it for me,” I can’t afford to be indolent and slack and self-indulgent and lazy. I have to run.
I must run, and that means every morning of every day of my Christian life in the presence of God I have got to determine with all my heart, “Lord Jesus, by thy strength and grace today I’m in the race, heart and soul in it, I’ve cast off every weight and flung off every sin by thy power and I want to run with Thee.” The cost of the race.
But let me say just one word in conclusion. “That’s hard going,” somebody says. Ah, but wait a minute. What is the SECRET OF CONQUEST IN IT? What do these verses say? “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I can’t start dealing with weights because the moment I look within my life I see too many of them. I can’t start trying to cut off one sin here and another there, because the moment I do deal with one, it only breaks out in a more ugly form at a deeper level. I can’t live like that. No, you’re not expected to. Listen, this is what I am expected to do as a Christian. This is the secret of running and winning and triumphing. It is coming to Him morning by morning, day by day, and saying to Him, “Lord Jesus, I’m just useless and impotent and helpless, hopeless, and I’m no good and I never will be any good, the more I get to know you, Lord, the more conscious I am of my own sinfulness and corruption, but Lord, you’re not surprised at this. You knew I’d be like that when you saved me, and I can never be any different, and I don’t expect to, but Lord, in my weakness and impotence, I come to you today and I kneel at your feet and tell you, Lord, I want to run in this race, and I’m looking to you and I put you between myself and sin and weights, and I count upon you as I run to go before me and to keep them, beaten and defeated and in the place of death.”
That is the secret of conquest. “Lord, when this temptation comes,—Lord, when this weight attacks,—Lord, when this thing pulls me down, I just lift up my heart in the very thick of the fight, and deep cries unto deep, and I say, Lord, I’m no use, but it is up to you, and you’ve undertaken my salvation to make me holy and good and I can never be it in myself, but Lord, I’m counting upon You, looking unto Jesus, the author, the One who brought me into faith,—the finisher, the perfecter, the One who will make me mature in faith, until one day I see Him face to face, and the One who in between the beginning and the end, will discipline, chasten, mold and fashion as I run the race,—looking unto Jesus.” Get your eyes off yourself, Christian, get your eyes away from any hope in the flesh, get your eyes away from the weakness of the flesh, from weights that pull you down, from witnesses that would be only too glad to see you slip, get your eyes up to your lovely Lord,—looking unto Jesus.
And how do I do that? See, “Let me run,” says the apostle, “let me run with patience the race that is set before us.” Patience. It’s the hardest lesson in life to learn to be patient, isn’t it? God says, “Let us run with patience,” and do you know, that is the same word that you have in the next verse of this very letter when speaking of the Lord Jesus he says, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”
Do you notice just a little thing as I close this morning, that has come as a fresh light and comfort to me? The race that is set before us,—the joy that was set before Jesus. The race, “the agon,” is the word—agony, that is the meaning of it. The agony that is set before us. That is Christian living,—and let us be perfectly clear about it that while the peace of God is there, while the joy of the Lord is there from the point of view of the flesh, it is agony to be a Christian. The flesh hates it. Somebody says, “Is that fair? Why should He set before us agony if there were set before Him joy?” Ah. Wait. “Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” Consider Him who endured,that is the word, such contradiction of sinners against Himself, for “ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” That is what He did, that was His agony.
Ah, if I would win the race, I too must run with patience, and that suggests to me, friend, my brother and sister in Christ, that there is a place, not in The Moody Church, not in a crowd, not in a committee meeting, not even in family devotions, but there is a place alone with God where this race is won and where the issues are decided.
Tell me, before you came to church this morning, were you alone with God asking Him to bless this ministry this day and asking Him to bless your heart? I must run alone with God. Ah, what is it like there today, dear child of God, what is it like? How is the warfare in your own heart today? Tell me, no, tell Him. Is it total warfare, and by the grace of God looking unto Jesus, total victory?