There is a simple but very important rule when interpreting sacred text: “When you see the word “therefore” you need to what it’s there for.” In other words the thought which begins in chapter 12 is a carryover from chapter 11. Last week I showed you how chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter” and is a rundown of the cast of characters throughout Hebrew scripture and human history who all possessed this “other thing” called faith, despite each person coming from different times, religions, and situations. The chapter also reveals how this faith was unique to each person yet somehow caused each of them to “see something” that inspired changes to how they lived and the decisions they made.
Faith is belief in the power behind long game. That power, we learned, begins as a nebulous energy or object and as we gain proximity, begins to be seen as a subject or persona. This book reveals this universal cosmic power to be the Christ, revealed and displayed in Jesus. Faith then, is learning to discern and trust this cosmic voice within from that of our own voice and then yielding directional control of our lives over to its direction. Faith, when see n from the vantage point of this author,becomes a very interesting human phenomenon. Why do some people zig when everyone else is zagging? “Going to the beat of a different drummer” is not solely a person’s preference, it is an inspired way of living authentically. It comes from finding and knowing one’s true self, which as it turns out is not as easy as it sounds. This is the subject not only of scripture, but of movies, songs, poems and stories. It’s found in sports, the arts, business, religion, politics, and every human endeavor.
The “Therefore” of chapter 12 is a transition from helping the audience to “see beyond everything” to offering a new way to live. In like manner, I have endeavored for eleven weeks to follow the author of Hebrews steps and deconstruct our religious frameworks to reveal the essential nugget of faith in our modern lives. Now, therefore, I too will pivot and begin to offer you this way to live.
Of course, a transition like this begs the question: “Why do I need to live any differently?” This is the point of the “Therefore.” The answer has to do with the “long game” or “ultimate end” of chapter eleven. The “Therefore” arrives once we have the correct set of priorities which are weighted not in the short term, or immediate gratification, but in the deference of our satisfaction into our ultimate, most authentic and best version of ourselves, which is found in concert with the best version of all others in the ultimate city. The long game is known in scripture as the promise. The promise is our personal and global salvation from our false self unto our true soul.
The biblical text uses a term for this “long range vision” or “trajectory” called teleology. Teleology has to do with the purpose or reason behind all history and the direction of all things. Teleological meaning is the purpose or reason beyond everything. This is a vital nugget in this study, because the author uses this term several times, and also it is the reason for why we must all change the way we live and strive to live in conformity to a new teleology or trajectory. Teleological thinking isn’t new. It’s behind almost all of our global social policies. Governments force teleological conformity. The Gospel liberates us unto a unified teleology.
Practically speaking, if we don’t like any aspect of our lives, it is because that aspect of our lives has not been on the right trajectory and we have failed to live according to the right teleology. For example. If I’m out of shape, overweight and have become sick or chronically unhealthy, it is because I was unsuccessful at the long game. I gave into the impulse for immediate gratification and lost sight of the most optimal health of my body. If I’m buried in debt and live in bondage to all my borrowers it is because I lost sight of the most optimal use of my earnings and gave into the immediate gratification of buying what I cannot afford. If I gambling and investing are both teleological, but one is focused on the long game.
This teleology is applicable to every corner of our lives, and is the basis for why we need to change how we live. If we can see this, then we can see what the author is offering us in this amazing book. If we miss the teleological piece, we will never have any basis for change and we will live in perpetual decline, using our impulses and appetites as gauges. The author calls this following the short term impulse, sin. Sin is not the deed or thing we do, it is the loss of teleology (disorientation/ lost/ confusion)which is essentially “non-faith” or the loss of our true self or soul. Paul put it this way in Romans 14:23 this way: “… For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This is where the term “lost” comes from.
Now you are ready to hear these words:
“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)
If you are triggered or confused, it’s because you have most likely inserted a meaning into this passage that may not be there. Let me break this down for us.
We need to live differently (live by faith) because as we have seen, we are surrounded by an army of people who have gone before us who have lived this way. They aren’t gone, but they have gone on to the trajectory of the city which many didn’t see in their own lives (11:39). We must lay aside, put down, or stop falling for the short term, immediate gratification, which is so easy to do. We have to avoid the easy thing and strive for the long game, the narrow path, the harder thing because in the end, it is worth it. In the end, we are healthier, wiser, wealthier, more generous, and we are more in conformity to our truest version of ourself found in God. Not the false self, which grows out of the short term soil.
The way we get there is to follow in the steps or look to those who have gone before us, and principally that of Jesus the Christ or anointed one of God. The most enlightened, sinless person who has ever lived, the very son of God himself also had to suffer and endure the long game. It took tremendous endurance and we must look to him for inspiration and direction. In fact, the author is revealing it’s even more than that, Christ is not only the very reason we can see the long game in the first place or the reason we have faith at all, he is also the “teleiotèn” of our faith.
Let me pull this out because this is amazing. Jesus the man, who is the Christ of God is both the “árxenón” and the “teleitèn” of our faith or our belief in the long game. Faith IN Christ is actually the faith OF Christ from beginning to end. John 1:1 says: “In beginning was the Word…” (én árxē hé ó Lógos). From the beginning of beginnings, the WORD was coextensive with God and that word was God and has made all things, and that is how far back our FAITH goes. It also is the teleological trajectory or purpose for it all, which ends in our perfection or authenticity found in God. Yes, this is highly theological, but it is as I’ve shown extremely practical, so much so that it is completely unavoidable and undeniable.
The practical effect of this WORD or logos is such that all human thriving (blessing) is a direct result of living in conformity (faith) to this word, this trajectory, which is the cosmic Christ. And all human suffering (curse) is a direct result of either our ignorance of or our rejection of this word, or non-faith, or sin. We can change the labels, we can deny their existence, but none of us will ever live better than we think and none of us will ever live apart from this framework in this life.
This should be coming into view now. This isn’t a belief in a religion, new or old, faith is a way of life. Faith allows us to put the fork down. Faith allows us to save when we would rather spend. Faith prevents us from acting out of anger. Faith alters the trajectory of everything in life. Faith forgives when we want to hold a grudge. Faith endures the struggle or “embraces the suck” for the sake of a preferred outcome. Faith resists temptation. Faith drives the speed limit and lets others merge. Faith puts in the time and cost to find a cure for disease. Faith seeks equity and justice. Faith takes a stand, it speaks up, it walks away, it jumps in. Every reason we have ever done the right thing is because of the impulse of the Christ and our Maker, faith is allows us to see the unseen forces in the world. Faith is how we are each made in God’s image. Everyone is a person of faith. We all have faith.
We can deny the label or what we call this, but no one can deny function and trajectory of FAITH. It’s that big.
Since faith isn’t a religion and it is the universal trajectory of life for all people of all times, perhaps we can be more open to the idea of Christ following, or the faith of Christ or faith in Christ. Maybe now that we know sin is not the naughty thing we do but the context of living in non-faith which clings so easily to us, we can put down or lay aside the short term gratification for the long term satisfaction. This simply means to grow up and discover as Paul says in Colossians 3:3 “…your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
I know some of my audience is resisting this framework. I understand. We have all been harmed by institutional religion and it might feel like this is another one of their traps. Quite the opposite. Whether we are devoutly devoted to a mainline religion or we are devoted to our irreligion, we must pry our faith away from our beloved tribe, and like Abraham, learn to follow that voice which calls us toward an alternative, unconventional, counter-intuitive, trajectory to where it ultimately leads, namely the ushering in of the New World. That, by any other name, is called Christ following. Allow yourself to become comfortable with this term. As you do, your faith becomes more visible, more practical, and infinitely more powerful. That is when we begin to see that our faith isn’t ours, nor is it ultimately us. That is when our anesthesia wears off and we gain the eyes to see.
THEREFORE, may we all begin to look to a better tomorrow, in a kingdom which is here now and which will emerge incrementally in conformity to our ability to live and walk by faith. That is how we join the cloud of witnesses, the gathering or assembly (ecclesia).
By faith we can immediately BE the coming city each day, in our spheres, to everyone else.