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Should We Look up to Christian "Heroes"?

Bethany McIlrath | March 30th 2021

“Jesus is my hero,” the meme said. Just a slight scroll past that, I saw a post about the “heroes of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11.

When you compare Old Testament figures like Sampson or David to Jesus, it’s hard to justify using the same terminology. No human being in the Bible compares to Christ. No Christian who has lived since does either. 

So is it right to look up to “heroes” discussed in the Bible? Is it helpful? And what about believers who lived long after the canon of Scripture was complete? Or those who live today? Is it right to have Christian heroes at all?

Should We Look Up to The People Listed in Hebrews 11?

God’s word is full of real, honest examples of men and women of faith. These examples don’t set anyone up as perfect pictures of faithfulness, but as evidence of God’s faithfulness to his people.

Richard Coekin helpfully explains the perspective of the writer of Hebrews 11:

“He’s selecting some big moments when God enabled faith in the lives of very ordinary believers down the centuries. Not to make heroes of them, but to remind his readers of how God has enabled his people, including screw-ups like most of us, to persevere through all sorts of difficulty by faith. This chapter is not about superhuman faith. It’s about the kind of faith God has always given his people from the very beginning.” (Faith for Life, p 17)

When we look to the "ordinary heroes” of the Bible, we’re directed to look up to Jesus.

Should We Look Up to Great Christians of the Past?

“Two thousand years on,” author Tim Chester says in an article on encouragement from saints of old, “the cloud of witnesses is larger than ever.” That’s probably why there is a plethora of Christian biographies available in our bookstores—like those suggested in this helpful “Top 10” rundown by Asheritah Ciuciu. 

Just like people whose stories are recorded in the Bible, great Christians of the past have their flaws. So, it’s right to guard against idolizing them. However, they can uniquely and memorably evidence how God can enable anyone to persevere in their faith and do incredible things to his glory. For example, the stories of Christians like Corrie ten Boom and Betsey Stockton can strengthen our faith in Christ, whether we’re two or eighty-one. 

Should We Look Up to Other Christians Today?

A humbling, exciting truth is that Christians today are among the great cloud of witnesses too. That means me, you, your pastor, my mentor… and the seven-year olds talking to their classmates about Jesus. 

The idea of looking up to other Christians today is a little complicated. We aren’t reading about our current co-workers in Christ the way we read about those who lived long ago. Instead, we’re encouraged by them as we follow them on social media, buy their books, or sit next to them in Bible studies. Sometimes, their flaws and sins are uncovered when we read news headlines or recoil from the comment they just made. The consequences of those things are fresh and sometimes very serious, and they linger.

Yet, as a result of their being in real-time with us, we have uniquely blessed opportunities to look up to Christ alongside them:

1. We Can Pray for Them

Our current co-Christians haven’t been made complete in Christ yet. There’s plenty to pray for them, whether they witness most in the government, the church, the workplace, the home, or anywhere else. 

2. We Can Encourage Them

We all struggle in this life, and we’re all susceptible to sin—especially when it seems secret or harmless. Encouraging each other to be faithful, to ground our character in Christ, matters. In fact, as Rico Tice points out in Faithful Leaders and the Things That Matter Most, faithfulness is what success looks like for Christians. That’s the kind of heroism we should desire.

Because Jesus makes us one in him, we can relate to other believers in a way that’s much more meaningful than putting anyone on a pedestal. We can look at each other and be reminded to look up to him who is worthy of all our praise and admiration.

Bethany McIlrath

Bethany is our Digital Marketing Manager. Her passion is helping others know Christ and grow in Him. She is married to Matt and they enjoy their small dog’s antics and opportunities to serve together.

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