Our generation is disconnected, not merely from one another but from the past. How many of us know our great-grandfathers’ names? Our great-great-grandfathers? We perch ourselves on the highest branch in the family tree and tend to be unconcerned with that below. Our gaze is upwards. Functionally, we are the great-grandsons and granddaughters of no one — physically or spiritually. We wander the world, rootless.
Because of it, we struggle with more sin than we should, have smaller faith than we might, blow in the cultural winds more than we would, and shrink back before opposition more than we ought. We do not keep before us of what people we come, and this hinders our endurance traveling home.
Or so thought the author of Hebrews.
To a church that started off so well but now limped dangerously along, he rides his horse up and down the frontline with a foreign war cry to Western ears: “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).
Bloodline as Battle Cry
Instead of writing, “You got this!” Hebrews roots them in a family history of those who, by faith, had already done it. The “Hall of Faith” is not a list of demigods who did what we cannot. They are forefathers and foremothers, painfully human and made strong in God, and their stories are recorded to motivate us toward the same perseverance.
Hebrews asks us if we remember how, by faith, Noah prepared the ark, or Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice to God, or Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going — and implies, You, in reliance upon the same God, can do likewise. Or, do you recall Sarah, who believed God’s word and conceived a child, or Moses, who by faith esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt? This is your lineage — these are your people. You, if you are a Christian, are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who live by unseen realities and preserve their souls.
He concludes the brief tour of theirs and our spiritual family history,
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. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Because these are our family members, because they surround us as we run, let us lay aside weights and sin and run with endurance looking to Jesus. Do you read the Old Testament this way?
Family of Faithful Witnesses
Such an experience should greet us every time we open our Bibles, whether in front or in back. Sixty-six books, Old and New, introduce us to spiritual fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters who stumbled as we do, but who finally conquered by faith as we hope to. We turn page after page and watch how they finished their race, how they kept the faith, how they overcame temptation, repented their failings, trusted, hoped for, and hungered for God in their trials and sufferings. Their lives captured in Scripture to encourage us — their spiritual descendants — to run, without reserve, as the King’s people to the King himself. In other words, we press on today because of both whom we come from and whom lies before us.
Do we think of the redeemed men and women this way? Job, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, David, Elijah, Rehab, Ruth, Jeremiah, Joshua, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, Gideon, Hezekiah, Josiah — as family. If you serve the Living God, your God is the God of John, Paul, Andrew, Mary, Barnabas, the thief on the cross, Peter, Lazarus, the man born blind, Apollos, Timothy, Thomas, Pricilla and Aquilla, the formerly demon-possessed girl, the Philippian jailer, Cornelius, Philemon, Jude, James, Elizabeth — and on and on — each with different examples of Christ’s power to keep us by resilient faith.
We join this family of audacious ancestors through union to our brother, Jesus. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7), and, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Even if we suffer the loss of earthly ties because of allegiances to Christ, each of us has inherited a hundredfold — mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers along with eternal life in Christ (Matthew 19:29). For so goes the promise to our father Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. . . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).
Not of Those Who Shrink Back
Do not miss that this spiritual family is a holy family; like Father, like sons. Our family believes and lives and acts from belief in God and his promises. And this, the author of Hebrews thinks, is vital for us to consider.
So do you struggle with the glittering things of this world? Reintroduce yourself to your great uncle, Moses, who considered the reproaches of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:26).
Does a Potiphar’s wife tempt you to an adulterous affair? Count yourself a descendant of Joseph who, by faith, fled, exclaiming, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
Do you feel God calling you to the great unknown? Remember Abraham. Do the promises of God feel inconceivable? Remember the story of Sarah. Do you feel pressure from an ungodly family to forsake Christ? Consider Rehab who, by faith, received the Israelite spies (Hebrews 11:31).
Does your confidence waver concerning whether God can overcome this present darkness? Consider afresh that kingdoms bowed, mouths of lions shut, justice reigned, fires quenched, children resurrected, swords broke, that the weak through faith were made strong, the fainting grew valiant, foreign armies fled, and leave instructions with Joseph that your bones` be buried in a land yet unconquered (Hebrews 11:22, 33–35).
And do you fear persecution might one day overwhelm your faith? Don’t forget your family members “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). These wandered the world as outcasts, waded through mocking, whippings, imprisonment, and brutal deaths, by faith, awaiting the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 11:35–38).
Are you growing tired or neglectful or sluggish of hearing? God does not leave you to yourself as a lone twig to figure it out. He gives you a tree of Lebanon to belong to. Relearn your great grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ names. As you look fully to Christ, remember that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”