Audio Worship 10/8/2023 "Spiritual Formation: Transforming Our Will" Hebrews 12.11-2

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1608

October 8, 2023

Hebrews 12.1-2   Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus


"Spiritual Formation: Transforming Our Will"


1Therefore, 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, 2looking 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.


  • Lay Aside Every Weight

In this series on spiritual formation, we have thus far considered transforming our thoughts and feelings. Today we will address transforming our will. All of these aspects of our being are intertwined and while we might be able to address each one individually, they all affect the other in some way. Thoughts influence feelings, feelings can affect what we will, or feelings can drive what we think about something. Modern western thought tends to divide human beings into parts, but the biblical view holds all things together as one. We are created as one whole being, in the image of God, and part of what that means is that every aspect of who we are is called upon to bring glory to God. That is why the command is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is not just a list of various parts of who we are but it is about all of our self loving God, all of our being devoted to God, all of our thoughts, feelings, and will seeking to give glory and honor to God.

What Hebrews brings to the story in these two verses are three movements toward that goal of bringing all that we are under the reign of Jesus Christ in our lives. 1 – lay aside the weight and sin. 2 – run the race. 3 – look to Jesus. It is basically repentance, discipleship, and focus.

Hebrews 12.1, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely. The good news is that Christ died that we might be set free from sin. But we let that old nature creep back in to our lives and continue to fall short of God’s glory. How do we lay it aside? Repentance is the first step. Admitting we are sinners in need of forgiveness and seeking God’s forgiveness in Christ. We confess our sins and recognize our new life in Christ.

Paul deals with this in Colossians 3 when he lists the things we are to put off and the things we are to put on. Put off the sins of the flesh and put on the attributes of Christlikeness. Jesus speaks of it as denying the self and taking up the cross to follow Jesus. I like the way that the author of Hebrews pairs the terms weight and sin. Sin is a heavy burden. It is weighty. Sin is tiresome, demanding, enslaving, addictive, and keeps us from running the race set before us and obstructs our vision preventing us from looking to Jesus who perfects faith.

To transform our wills we must begin by ridding ourselves of sin. Run from it. Lay it aside. This sin that clings so closely in Hebrews 12.1 is able to be set aside when we cling to God’s Word. There is a great contrast between sin clinging to us and us clinging to the Word? Psalm 119.31, I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! When we cling to God’s Word, there is no reason for shame or guilt because sin is defeated. Psalm 119.11 confirms this, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. If we want to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, then let us cling to the Word of God.

  • Run With Endurance

Hebrews 12.1 also tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us. Once again we might look to Colossians 3 where Paul tells us to set our minds on the things above and not on the things on the earth. We are running with a goal, a purpose, and that run has a target or a focus. Of course that focus is Jesus and we will get to that in a moment, but the race is known through lots of ways. Matthew 6.33, the race is in seeking first the kingdom of God. Psalm 1, the race is run in meditating on God’s Word. Luke 9.51, Jesus “set His face toward Jerusalem” which is an expression of running the race of obedience to the will of His Father. There are the athletic references to running and setting a goal.

1 Corinthians 9.24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”


Running this race of discipleship takes discipline and self-control. It has a purpose and direction and the goal is set before us.

Philippians 3.13-16, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”


I remember running, back in the day, when I was training for football and sometimes we would carry more weight like leg weights to supposedly make ourselves stronger. All it probably did was make running harder. In the same way we cannot run effectively if we have not taken the first step of laying aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.


  • Looking to Jesus

The third movement, after we lay aside sin and begin to run the race, is in Hebrews 12.2, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Jesus is the finish line of the race. Jesus is the path of the race. Jesus is the start of the race. Jesus is the trainer for the race. Jesus is the direction of the race. The race is run in faith, hope, and love. The race is run in discipleship. Jesus teaches us to run by teaching us to pray and love and trust. Jesus trains us by His Word and in His righteousness. When we are looking to Jesus we can see and we can run. We see that the beginning of the race is setting aside sin, repenting, surrendering to God, submitting to Him. We then grow to become content with doing God’s will through gratitude and joy. We desire to do His will and to will His will. In running the race, we become participants in accomplishing God’s will on the earth. Looking to Jesus is the final stage of this run, the last leg of the relay. Looking to Jesus gives us a single-mindedness of willing one thing and that is to will God’s will.

Our will is transformed in the focus of looking to Jesus. It produces a purity of heart and a single minded devotion to God’s will.


  • To Transform Our Will

Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the perfecter of our will. The will is that which we set forth to do. We use phrases like forcing our will or willing something to happen. The best thought life is set on God and His Word. Feelings are molded by fruit of the Spirit. Our will is motivated by our thoughts and feelings. That is, we will do what we think and feel is right to do. When we shape thoughts and feelings by the measure of God’s kingdom, then our will can become that which God wills. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. But the opposite of that is something like what the world teaches. I read one time a monk who wrote a phrase, “Thy thingdom come”. This is something like willing our will as opposed to God’s will. Thy thingdom come, my will be done. Materialism and worldly thinking based in possessions and earthly things is set against doing God’s will and only seeks to impose our sinful will.

In the end our goal is to will God’s will, to desire to do nothing apart from God’s will in our lives. I do not mean that we are searching for the will of God like figuring out what job God’s wills or school to attend, but to will the will of God revealed in Scripture. God’s will is to keep commandments, to love, to bear fruit, to live in holiness and righteousness. God’s will is to share the gospel, to put on Christ, and glorify God and enjoy Him forever. All of those things revealed in the Scriptures we are able to do no matter what job we have or what school we attend. Too many people get caught up in thinking that God’s will is something just for me, and yes God may call us to particular things sometimes, but no matter what we do and no matter where we are, we are all always called to do God’s will as revealed in the Scripture. This is partly what I believe Paul expresses in Galatians 2.20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. “No longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” – this is the definition of doing God’s will. Christ lives in me, Christ lives in you, and when Christ lives in us we have the capacity to do God’s will because Jesus Christ did and does God’s will completely and willingly. We simply need to lay aside every weight and sin, run the race, and look to Jesus. In this race our will is transformed into complete harmony with God’s will. We will rejoice in doing God’s will. We will love it. It is not that we have no will of our own, but it is that our will is so in tune with God’s will that God’s will is all we desire from our own will. It is something like Jesus saying that those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake shall find it (Matthew 10.39), those who lose their will for Christ’s sake shall also find it. God’s perfect will for our lives is to will God’s will! We can grow closer and closer to that transformation when we lay aside the weight and sin that clings so closely, when we run the race with endurance, and when we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

May we indeed be transformed in thoughts, feelings, and will, that all we are brings glory to God, and so that all we say and do reflects the Savior and gives witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that He died and rose from the dead so that we might be forgiven, able to do His will, and have life. Amen.


* Sermon series based on readings from Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard.