“For that reason, and having so great a cloud of witnesses being placed around us, throwing off every obstruction and the sin holding on tightly, we should exert ourselves with endurance the fight being set before us, looking to Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
It’s a great shame that the early Church fathers ended Chapter 11 where they did, because Chapter 12 should be a seamless continuation of the author’s discussion of faith and what it really means.
What he is saying here is that he has presented the testimony of the faithful witnesses of the people of God and what they endured for the sake of their faith; this is history; but the purpose of Chapter 11 is that we might draw the proper conclusion and undertake certain tasks ourselves.
Firstly, we must get rid of everything that obstructs or impedes us in having the faith of those faithful witnesses he has written of; the Greek word apotithemi means “to throw off”, or “be done with”; the Greek ogkos means “something that gets in the way”, thus, “impediment” or “obstruction”. These are things that only we can do.
Secondly, we should struggle against the opposition that we face; The Greek verb trecho is in the subjunctive, implying a condition that has to be met, and is variously translated as “to speed on” “make progress”, “make an effort” or “run”; so, once again, we are called upon to do it, no-one else can make the effort for us. “Endurance”, the Greek hupomone, is required, we are told, which tells us that we face an ongoing battle; this is not a once done thing, but requires a continuing effort. The Greek word agon tells us what lies in front of us and why endurance is necessary; it means “to fight” or “struggle” or “contend”; it suggests fierce opposition. Jesus said that we are to “struggle to enter in through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24) and the Greek word translated as “struggle” or “strive” is agonizomai, which is based upon this root agon; from which also is derived the English word “agonise”. So the faith that we are to have will inevitably lead to conflict and struggle and it is quite misleading to present the faith in any other light.
Finally, what we must do is keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus; that too, is something that only we can do; “looking to Jesus” also implies looking away from the world and all its distractions and allurements. Jesus is described here as “the originator and perfecter of the faith”; the faith of which He is the originator and perfecter is the one described in Chapter 11; there are various sorts of “faith”, but the faith that Jesus will perfect, the faith that leads to salvation, is here described as “the faith”, not “our faith” as it is sometimes translated. Whether or not we can truly claim it as “our faith” will depend upon our meeting the conditions; i.e. throwing off every impediment and the sin that clings to us through our flesh, struggling with endurance against the enemy within and depending utterly and personally upon Christ Jesus.
If we do that, He will perfect and complete the faith that we have been called to.