Like many people, I have several pairs of earbuds that I keep in different locations to be used for various kinds of activities. I have a pair in my computer bag, two or three pair in my car, one in my desk at home, another on my nightstand, and at least one pair in each of my pieces of luggage.
I am always most careful with my earbuds, rolling them in a neat coil after every use and then putting them carefully in a secure location where they can’t be jostled or lost. And then when I next need them, they will be where I left them and easy to unroll and clip into my iPhone. At least that’s the theory.
I could pull them out of their secure position 10 seconds after putting them away and they will be in a hopeless tangle. I might have spent 15 seconds carefully rolling up the cord, and then I spend two minutes trying to untwist it without stretching the cord and shorting out the wiring. How does that happen? How can something so simple and seemingly safe become so tangled so quickly?
We might ask the same question about our spiritual lives. How can we who love the Lord and want to obediently serve him get entangled in various sins so quickly and easily? And more importantly, can we get out of those sins and if so, how can we get out of the sins?
The writer to the Hebrews answers that last question for us in chapter 12. In the first three verses of that chapter, the writer offers one observation about entangling sin and two encouragements to get out of sin.
Sin Easily Entangles
First, the observation. Notice that he says in verse 1, “the sin which so easily entangles us.” With that phrase the author tells us that there is an entangling sin. It’s best to suggest that the writer does not have one specific sin in mind; it is not one sin that entangles everyone. Instead, we are reminded by this phrase that sin entangles. Sin — every kind of sin — produces entanglements and snares. Sin winds its tentacles around the feet of the runner and brings him crashing down (remember that the writer is using the analogy for the Christian life of running a race, v. 1).
There is no good sin. Sin always complicates life and brings heartache and ultimately ruin if it is allowed to grow and if it remains unconfessed. While all sin is evil and all sin will complicate life, each individual may struggle with his own particular sins that seem to ensnare and enslave him. The sins that are hard for me to fight against may not be difficult for you to resist; but your struggle with sin may be no trouble for me. The point is that everyone struggles with some sin; he has a wrestling against the flesh that seems to be particularly heavy and hard for him.
The wise man learns where he is particularly prone to sinning and the things that are often traps, snares, and entanglements for him, and he learns not to “let sin reign in [his] moral body” so he does not obey its lustful desires (Rom 6:12) and he puts on Christ so that he makes “no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:14).
In all candor, it is difficult to not let sin reign in our bodies and it is hard to make no provision for the flesh. How can we do that? The writer to Hebrews gives us two encouragements to stay out of sin.
Remember the Faithful Men
The first way to put away sin is to remember the cloud of witnesses that surround us. Sometimes the fight of sin seems lonely. Who are the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us and offer us encouragement in our fight against the flesh? It’s not a heavenly host of believers peering over the ramparts of Heaven to watch us. Contextually, the writer must be referring back to all the faithful men and women from the Old Testament cited in chapter 11.
Remember, friend, that no matter your battle, others have fought the same fight and found sufficient grace to endure and honor Christ in that fight. Remind yourself of the godly men and women of Scripture who have endured and read biographies of great men and women of the faith to encourage you in your walk.
And when we remember those who have gone before us, we are equipped to run with endurance.
Remember the Faithful Man
The second key to getting rid of sin, and particularly the sins that entangle us, is to fix our eyes on Jesus (v. 2). If you want to fight against sin, get a joyous and satisfying look at Christ. Be enraptured by Christ and sin will be of decreasing interest and attraction to you.
The fight against sin begins by looking to Christ, who lived the perfect life of righteousness for us. See Christ as more satisfying than anything else on earth, and look to Christ for the provision of the tools of our warfare against sin. If we dare to fight against sin without looking to Christ, we will inevitably fail and succumb to the temptation.
So what does it mean to look to Christ? It means to examine his life and follow his example for faithful living. He is, after all, “the author…of faith” (v. 2). So if we are Christians (lit., “little Christs”), then we must follow Jesus Christ. We must walk in the power of the Spirit as he did and avail ourselves of the supernatural power of the Spirit to obey the Father and resist sin (Mt 4:1). Walking in the Spirit is manifested supremely as we obey Scripture.
Jesus is also the “perfecter of faith” (v. 2). That is, he completed the life of faith. Everything that was necessary for life in and through him was completed. So to look at him as the perfecter of our faith is to look at him as the supreme example for how to live to please God. As much as we are spiritually able, we emulate his pattern of living. As we look at him and follow him, we find one who is seated at the right hand of God, having faithfully endured the hostility of sinners (and temptations) and overcame them all (vv. 2b-3a). As we look at his victory and contemplate that we are in him and have all his spiritual provision (Rom 6:3ff), we will “not grow weary and lose heart.” The hope for our victory is to contemplate his victory.
In this life there are many entanglements and snares. Some tangles, like my earbud conundrum, are rare; others, like the ongoing temptations to sin, are significant. How do we fight against our entangling sin? We remember the battle that we are in has been fought previously and we take hope from the examples of other godly men and women. And most of all we keep our eyes fixated on the goal of being like Christ.
- Scripture regularly use pictures of entrapment for sin — Satan is a deceiver (Rev 12:9), all sin is deception (Rom 7:11; Heb 3:13), adultery is like a trap that captures a bird (Prov 7:23), idolatry is a snare (Ex 23:33; Deut 7:16, 25; Ps 106:36), unfaithfulness to keep promises will be a trap for the liar (Prov 6:1-2; 18:7; 20:25), fear of man will bring about enslavement (Prov 29:25), the yearning for wealth and the pursuit of riches will entrap and bring about ruin (1 Tim 6:9), and worldliness will produce entrapment (Ex 34:12).
- I recommend John Piper’s The Swans are Not Silent series.
- A comparison of Ephesians 5:18-19 with Colossians 3:16 reveals that being filled with the Spirit is synonymous with letting the Word of Christ richly dwell within us
Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC). In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.