In Hebrews 12:1, we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The great cloud of witnesses includes those mentioned in the previous chapter and many more. But what is this race that we are running? And how does sin so easily entangle us?
An Illustration of Our Faith
One of my favorite activities is backpacking through the mountains near my home. As a backpacker, I carry everything I need to survive — anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks. And I travel on trails that run through forests, along rivers, and into the high alpine country.
It is a beautiful country. But it can also be hazardous for those who are not careful. Roots and rocks in the trail can trip me up. Branches across the trail can smack me in the face.
Steep sections of the trail are easy to step off, with potentially disastrous results. And there is always the possibility of encountering an animal that wants to eat me. I need to pay close attention to where I am going so that I do not fall victim to the obstacles along the trail.
In addition to the potential dangers along the trail, I must consider what I am going to bring with me. The temptation is to bring along everything that I might see myself needing or wanting along the way.
But I have to carry everything I choose to bring. And the heavier the load, the harder the trip becomes, and the less ability I have to get to where I want to go.
So, I have to consider everything that goes into my backpack carefully. Is it essential for my journey? Or is it something that I could do without? And much more that falls into the non-essential category gets left behind.
I believe this is very much in line with what the author of Hebrews is saying in this verse. He uses running a race as his example rather than backpacking, but what he is saying is just as applicable. Throw off everything that hinders.
Leave behind all that is not necessary for the task at hand. It will just slow you down and keep you from your goals. Throw off the sin that so easily entangles. Keep your eyes fixed on the trail ahead, avoiding the obstacles along the way that can so easily trip you up.
What Is Sin?
So, what is this sin that so easily entangles us? The Greek word used for sin in this verse is hamartia. It means “a missing of the mark.” This is an archery term, indicating that someone has missed what they were shooting at.
This describes very well what sin is. A race is marked out for us, the journey through this life that God has called us to travel. Any deviation from that course set before me is sin.
It may be something that I think, say, or do that is contrary to God’s will for me. Or it could just as easily be a failure to think, say, or do what is in line with God’s will for me.
As much as we might like to have a checklist that identifies specific sins we should avoid, that list does not exist. Undoubtedly, there are many actions we might take that are identified as sin.
But there are just as many that are dependent on the individual person and God’s purpose for them. If I act in any way contrary to what God would want me to do, it is sin.
What Is the Source of Sin?
Years ago, a comedian popularized the expression, “the devil made me do it.” I do not know many people who will excuse their sin like that.
But it is pretty common to try and shift the blame from oneself to someone, or something, else. And by doing so disavow personal responsibility for their sin.
This “passing the buck” is seen in the third chapter of Genesis. God gave all the fruit of all the trees in the garden to Adam for food. Except for one. But the serpent tempted Eve to eat from that tree, leading her to believe that God was holding out on her.
Genesis 3:6 tells us, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”
In the end, her desires prompted her to disobey God and eat the fruit. But rather than accept responsibility for their actions, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.
James 1:13-15 is clear that my desires are at the heart of the problem. My desire leads to temptation. And temptation, when satisfied, results in sin. I can blame no one other than myself for my sin.
In What Way Does it Entangle Us?
There have been times out backpacking when I have become entangled on a stick in the path or slipped in the mud and either stumbled or fell.
Afterward, I have to get back up, brush off the dirt or mud, and then continue down the trail. Although, there are times when the journey is slower because I am injured.
And sin does the same thing to me. When I succumb to temptation and sin, I fall or stumble. I can always get back up and continue along the path God has laid out for me.
But confession and repentance are necessary to remove the stain. And I may find the journey slowed for a while as I renew my relationship with my Lord.
Stumbling on the trail, while unwelcome, is generally a temporary thing. Much worse is venturing off the path. I might be tempted to leave the trail to see something or take a shortcut.
But there is danger in leaving the trail, especially for a shortcut. It can be hard to find my way back if I get far off the path. And shortcuts frequently can end in disaster because of insurmountable obstacles or unseen dangers.
Sin all too often draws us off God’s path. I might be enticed by the pleasures of this world and turn toward them.
Or I might take a shortcut, trying to arrive at the destination in an easier way. But the further I stray from the path, the harder it is to find my way back. And the greater the danger becomes.
Sin is an enemy of faith. Giving in to temptation and sinning will always hinder our walk with the Lord.
How Do We Escape its Entanglement?
The way to escape, or avoid, the entanglement of sin is simple, although challenging. After telling us to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles, Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us to:
fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
If we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we will not venture off the trail. And our eyes will be open to the obstacles on the trail.
Keep looking to the pioneer of our faith, who shows us the way. And keep your eyes fixed on the goal so that you do not grow weary.
For further reading:
Is There a Sin That Leads to Death?
Why Does Sin Desire to Have Us?
What Does it Mean ‘In Your Anger Do Not Sin’?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Ildar Abulkhanov
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.