Hebrews chapter twelve focuses on the task off exercising our faith. In the same way that the great heroes of faith identified in chapter eleven had to demonstrate their reliance upon God, so believers today are expected to make every effort to not give up on what they say they believe God is going to do in their lives. In the context of a competition, we are told, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).
The sin that does so easily ensnare us is a reference to unbelief. Our faith is constantly under attack because the world we live in is a contradiction to it that cannot be explained away. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, died on a cross as a criminal. Thinking of him as the Savior of the world, takes a significant amount of spiritual effort. One of the most difficult statements in the Bible to comprehend is, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, NKJV).
One of the ways believers are expected to think of themselves is children. Since everyone had been or still is a child, it is easy for us to imagine a parent correcting or disciplining us as a child. The Greek word translated chastens, paideuo (pahee-dyoo’-o) actually means “to train up a child” (G3811). Most people who are good parents discipline their children in ways that are sometimes perceived to be harsh or what we use to call being strict. The intent was to keep our children out of trouble. God’s children should be associated with godly behavior.
The purpose of spiritual discipline is explained in Hebrews 12:11. It says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (NKJV). The peaceable fruit of righteousness means that people are able to see evidence of God’s work in our lives. When a person goes through a difficult time and survives, and even gets stronger in the process, it is usually because his faith was at work in spite of his difficult circumstance.
The author of Hebrews identified two specific types of spiritual discipline. The instruction to “make straight paths for your feet lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Hebrews 12:13) refers to Bible study. Sometimes the truth is painful, but we have to continue to read and study the Bible even when it hurts. Ultimately, the word of God heals and restores us and makes it possible for us to stay on course.
The second type of spiritual discipline is associated with a root of bitterness that springs up and causes us trouble (Hebrews 12:15). I believe this refers to wounds from our past. You might think of a root of bitterness as a weed that was pulled out of a garden, but the root was left behind, therefore, it is able to come up again. Jealousy is often a source of bitterness because we don’t like it when someone takes what is rightfully ours. Once bitterness takes root in our hearts, it is very difficult to get rid of it. The only way to remove a root of bitterness completely is to accept that what has been lost is irretrievable and it is time to move on.