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Hebrews 12:1-4 Study Guide: Growing in Grace

Community Group Study Guide —Growing in Grace
Hebrews 12:1-4

Study Information:
How do followers of Jesus live in light of the resurrection? When we’re united to Christ through faith we are simultaneously changed into a new creation and are in process of being changed by Christ from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul connected the resurrection of Jesus to our new found ability to experience life as a new creation, meaning that the power to change and fight sin comes from the victory of Jesus over sin and death and the Holy Spirit’s presence in you (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). This short series will focus on how we can live in light of the resurrection specifically around some areas of growth we feel are timely for the church. The first thing we want to talk about is how to grow in the grace of God; or another way to think of it is how you can experience a vibrant spiritual life with Christ as we explore Hebrews 12:1-4. 

Running the Race
Hebrews 12:1-2
The Christian life is often described as a race throughout the New Testament. For many of us races can be fun and exciting whether you’re running, riding, swimming or doing one of those crazy obstacle courses. Think about how kids will often race each other to see who is the fastest or just to have fun during recess. However, if you’ve run a race as an adult you know it is not all fun; the metaphor in Hebrews 12:1-2 communicates the need for endurance. The Christian life is filled with joy, blessing, fun and happiness; but there are also dark seasons and suffering which means a need for endurance. The church that the epistle of Hebrews was written to experienced a massive season of suffering and hardship. You can read about it in places like Hebrews 10:32-39 where the writer wrote about how they suffered. The writer of Hebrews also gave them four different warning statements about not abandoning the faith and going back to their Jewish beliefs in order to get out of suffering. How does someone in that situation endure and grow in Christ? Hebrews 12:1-4 flows out of Hebrews 11 which has often been referred to as “the hall of faith.” Hebrews 11 traces the story of God’s promise as he worked through imperfect people who endured “by faith.” Notice how Hebrews 11 ends with unnamed people who suffered and were persecuted for their faith. We should expect that at some point in our “race” of faith that we will go through some hard times, hit a wall or collapse and need the people of God to come around us to help us endure. 

There are three things essential to running the race of faith from Hebrews 12:1-2. 

First, others have gone before you. The great cloud of witnesses refers to all the examples of faithful believers, specifically in Hebrews 11 but also for us it points to those throughout the history of the church. You are a unique individual and your pain and trials are not to be diminished, but we would all do well to remember that others have gone before us and have endured by their faith and the faithfulness of God. Today we can look back over passages like Hebrews 11 and through church history and even in the lives of faithful believers in our own church and take courage that what we are experiencing is not something we’re left to endure on our own. We have the example of the great cloud of witnesses and we have the people of God in our church to help us endure. 

Second, to run the race you need to get rid of what weighs you down. In the ancient world an athlete would often compete in their sport without any clothing on. They would cast off their robes and tunics and anything that would hinder them so they could run, wrestle or throw without anything needless in the way. Now this is not a command for us to do the same, but the principle is helpful. Could you imagine running a marathon with a weighted vest, military boots and a three piece suit? No, you would only try to race with what would be helpful and beneficial to your competition. You’d find the right shoes, the right shirt, socks and shorts and you’d carry the nutrition you needed and probably not much else. Yet in the Christian life we can be so easily distracted by various weights that may not be things that are overtly sinful but hinder us from running well. One way to think of these “weights” would be to think of it as “unwise living.” If you take some time to pray and consider you life there are likely a few things that will come to mind that are in this category of things to lay aside. These things could be habits, hobbies or unhelpful relationships; maybe some of those things have become primary in your life and sit in the place of an idol. The writer of Hebrews would counsel you to cast these things aside so you could run the race well.

Finally, we run the race as we fight sin that clings closely. There are certain sins that you likely quickly and easily defeated when coming to faith in Christ but there are other sins that “cling closely.” Over time we can easily give up on fighting those sins because they’re difficult, persistent and we’ve grown accustomed to living with them. Maybe they’re even things you have a hard time imagining giving up. Like the weights, these sins hinder us from running the race with endurance. Remember, you’re not left alone to fight sin by yourself, but living in light of the resurrection means that you’re not only free from the penalty of sin (we’ve been forgiven in Christ) but you’re also free from the power of sin as you run the race and rely on Christ. There are a number of things you can do to cast aside the sin that clings so closely from areas of self control, prayer, confession and on going repentance. As you identify the sins that cling closely, and search the scripture for what God says and confess sin to God and trusted Christian brothers or sisters you will often be filled with a sense of God’s grace in Christ for you. You may not find complete freedom this side of eternity, but God’s grace is sufficient and does not run out.

Looking to Jesus
Hebrews 12:3-4
We grow in grace and experience life in Christ as we look to Jesus. To extend the metaphor, one way to think of this is keeping the finish line of the race in your mind. What awaits believers at the end of the race of faith is Jesus. Right now, through faith you are united to Christ and get to experience communion with Christ (relationship and fellowship); but we only experience those things in part right now whereas one day we will experience them in full when we are in his presence. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the “founder” of our faith, this is a phrase used earlier in Hebrews 2:10, a word that can often mean “champion” or “victor.” The imagery is of someone who conquered on our behalf. Hebrews 12:3-4 tells us that Jesus conquered and made this new life possible through his own endurance. Jesus was fueled by joy. His joy was for redeeming his people and reconciling them to God and this characterized his life and ministry to the fullest. That joy enabled him to despise the shame of the cross and to endure suffering, abandonment, rejection and death because the prize of winning the race was so great. Jesus currently rules and reigns at the right hand of God as the victorious savior. 

We can grow in grace and run the race, lay aside the weights and sin that cling closely because Jesus has gone before us. He has crossed the finish line and has defeated sin and death once and for all and he rules and reigns. Looking to Jesus is not just a “nice Christian thought,” it is a way to remind yourself of God’s heart and God’s victory in Christ. Those things give us an awareness of God’s grace and remind us of the power available for us to live as new creations in Christ. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read Hebrews 12:1-4

Who are the great cloud of witnesses and how does their experience with Jesus connect to what the church in Hebrews was going through? 

What are some examples of “weights” modern day Christians should lay aside?

Why do certain sins cling closely and how would you counsel a Christian friend who asked you “how can I fight those types of sin?”

How does Jesus’ joy-filled endurance influence your faith as you run the race?