By Raymond D. Sopp
The words "Christian heroism" are two words we seldom see associated together in society. As a matter of fact, in the eyes of society, that particular word association would be looked upon as an oxymoron. In society, Christians are portrayed as weak, meek, and cowardly. However, in reality, the biblical Christian should be defined as heroism personified and be revered in society! But regrettably, because of a societal ignorance of Scripture and/or simple intellectual dishonesty, the expression "Christian heroism" has become known to the majority in society as a contradiction in terms.
Society has actually redefined the word "hero" as one who has wealth, power, and/or a comely physical appearance. Whereas, character should be the defining attribute which creates and establishes our heroes. We can see this trait throughout our society today from sports to politics. As society continues to elevate physical appearance, money, and/or power over character to define our heroes, do we really need to spend millions on a commission to find out why society is losing its conscience, or why children are killing children without remorse? Could it be that the one thing that is truly heroic; biblical Christianity -- is made fun of, even demonized, to the point of rejecting the Holy Bible as an evil influence? As a consequence of this attitude, society has become blind to the fact that the Holy Bible is actually filled from cover-to-cover with acts of unprecedented character-based heroism.
Therefore, I believe it's time we once again reestablish -- even trumpet to society -- that the words "Christian heroism" can indeed have an impeccable association. To do this we must first establish -- even reestablish -- a proper definition of heroism. We can start with the actual definition that I found in my Britannica-Webster dictionary: "Great self-sacrificing courage -- see courage. Courage, greatness of heart in facing danger or difficulties. Hero, a person admired for achievements and qualities." In other words, we need to see if we can associate biblical Christianity with self-sacrifice, showing courage in the midst of dangers or difficulties, and/or having admired qualities, i.e., character. As we make that association, perhaps society will then find the courage to reexamine who they are holding up as heroes for our children emulate?
As we examine heroism in the Holy Scriptures, I want you to notice that the acts of Christian heroism were birthed by a deep, abiding faith and trust in God. A good place to start our examination of Christian heroism would be in the Old Testament with King David. King David gives us a unique opportunity not only to see his heroism in action, but also see his failure to act heroically. In King David's story we also get to see clearly the momentous consequences of both his heroism and his lack of heroism.
David's act of heroism, 1 Samuel 17: Goliath was more than nine feet tall and so gigantic in stature that all of Israel lost heart at the sight of this giant. Even King Saul, who himself was of sizeable stature, lost heart and was afraid to come face to face with Goliath. On the other hand, there was David, the youngest son of Jesse, still just a youth, who was willing -- even eager -- to confront this gigantic Goliath. David, motivated by a strong faith and trust in God, placed himself in harm's way for his countrymen. After making it abundantly clear that his act of heroism was birthed by his faith and trust in God, David went out to face this giant eye to eye. Armed with only a shepherd's sling, David slew Goliath. David's act of courage caused the Philistines to flee and thereby he saved the lives of perhaps tens of thousands of his countrymen.
David's failure to act heroic, 2 Samuel 11-12: Here King David fails to act heroically by taking the path of least resistance and consequently gives in to the lust of his flesh: David takes to himself a married woman named Bathsheba. Unlike the heroism he displayed in facing Goliath, now he thought only of himself and gave no thought to the effect his actions would have on others. Did King David, who was now wealthy and powerful as the King of Israel, act courageously and heroically by thinking only of what was expedient and beneficial to himself? No! On the contrary, those are the kind of self-indulgent thoughts only a coward would have! The price of his cowardly act cost the life of both Bathsheba's innocent husband Uriah, and an innocent newborn baby. You may ask, "Why did the innocent have to die for David's act of weakness -- his act of cowardice?" The answer is elementary: the innocent always suffer at the hands of a coward.
You may recoil at my associating the word coward with King David, but if I am going to call his courage, heroism, as I should, then I must call his lack of courage, cowardice. For me to do anything less would be intellectually dishonest. We cannot -- must not -- try to become politically correct by trying to avoid hurting someone's feelings by using a more palatable description of King David's weakness, such as, "King David was a victim of his lust." Do you not realize by affording King David this leeway we are actually setting up a defense for our own weaknesses, thereby, eliminating our greatest restrainer -- shame? And if you claim to be a "victim", where then is the motivation for you to change or repent? Remember, Jesus clearly teaches that without repentance there is no forgiveness.
Nevertheless, King David again shows us another true act of heroism by coming clean and taking responsibility for his act of cowardice/weakness and thereby stops the bleeding. Most of the time you cannot reverse the damage that has already been done; but, by taking the heroic step of confession and repentance, you can stop the proliferation of any more damage. On the other hand, if you continue to act cowardly by justifying your weakness, the circle of your innocent victims will only become enlarged.
Let us now move on to the greatest hero who has ever walked on this earth. Remember the definition I found in the Britannica-Webster dictionary for hero, i.e., "Great self-sacrificing courage. Greatness of heart in facing danger or difficulties. A person admired for achievements and qualities." I believe in my heart of hearts that Jesus Christ is the greatest hero who has ever walked on this earth. I'm sure the reaction from a majority of the secular world would be to ridicule my statement. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Jesus Christ does indeed thoroughly fulfill even the secular world dictionary's definition for both courage and heroism.
As far as Jesus fulfilling the attribute of "a person admired for achievements and qualities," there is little or no conflict. Most religions of this world will tell you that they think of Jesus as a good man, but then reject Him as Savior. What about great self-sacrificing courage? To answer that, all we have to do is go to the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:39-44. In this account of Jesus we have the most remarkable display of both courage and self-sacrifice this world has ever seen -- or ever will see. I say this for two reasons. First, Jesus had to not only face the most excruciating death that mankind has ever conceived, but He faced this painful death for the same people who despised Him and actually spit in His face. Second, Jesus had both the power and ability to walk away from His cross and completely avoid personal suffering. It was no wonder that as Jesus faced this dilemma, His emotions, His feelings, His body (flesh) suffered such overwhelming violence as to cause His sweat to become as drops of blood.
Today, society would look at Jesus as a fool -- not a hero -- to suffer for those who despised and spit in His face. And why would today's society think Jesus to be a fool? To answer that, all I have to say are two words - SITUATIONAL ETHICS! With situational ethics you will never have to suffer violence to your own feelings, emotions, or body (flesh). What a gutless, cowardly position to take! No values, no rights, no wrongs, just whatever feels good -- DO IT! Looking out only for yourself, without the slightest thought for anyone else, whereas, biblical Christianity is exhorted to follow Jesus' example. 1 Peter 4:19: "Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." Doing the right thing in spite of personal suffering is heroism personified! Conforming to godliness in a godless world DEFINES courage! No situational ethics found here!
When society makes a statement like, "Christianity is for the weak, or for those who need a crutch," it only exposes society's profound and willful ignorance of Christianity. The very first act of a Christian is in itself an act of great courage. To admit that you are a sinner (not perfect) and are in need of a savior is a very courageous thing to admit. Finding humility within yourself is much more difficult than saying, "I have need of no one!" Pride comes to us naturally; therefore, in order to find humility, we must first do violence to our pride. True humility comes only by way of crucifying our pride, i.e., taking up our cross; does this not make humility itself intrinsically heroic and courageous? Perhaps that is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and FEW are those who find it." Have not heroes always been in the minority!?
Do we have a problem in the church today manifesting Christianity to society as both courageous and heroic? Have we allowed the word "overcomer" to be redefined as free from trials, hardships, pain, or self-denial, thereby, avoiding OUR cross? Have we allowed phases like "spirit of lust" or "generational curse" to enter into the church to avoid personal responsibility, thereby, avoiding OUR cross? It is not unlike the way society avoids personal responsibility by using the word "victim". However, the Bible describes an overcomer as one who actually PERSEVERES through personal hardship and pain, willing to suffer violence to their pride and/or emotions, even unto death, to accommodate godliness.
Biblical Christianity will not allow us to avoid our cross. Luke 14:25-35: "Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He (Jesus) turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, this man began to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace. So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'"
Could Jesus make it any clearer that being a Christian would, out of necessity, require both courage and heroism on our part? Jesus makes it abundantly clear that Christianity, without self-denial and the cross, is not even good enough for the manure pile. Because of the severity of Jesus' words in this verse, we will at first instinctively try to avoid it. No wonder Jesus concluded His statement with the words, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" It takes an act of courage even to read the above verse, and an even greater act of personal heroism to fulfill it.
Why does biblical Christianity include self-denial and the cross? It is because the salvation that Jesus has made available to us has not yet come to its compete fulfillment. 1 Corinthians 15:50-53: "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." In other words, through our acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, our spirit is reborn into God's image, whereas our soul (mind) must be continually renewed by God's Word and our body (flesh) remains dead to God and a slave to sin. Therefore, there is a continual warfare between our body (flesh) and our born-again spirit. Since our body (flesh) is not and cannot be redeemed, we have no choice but to crucify our body (flesh) by way of our born-again spirit and by the renewing of our mind. Our cross is clearly unavoidable (Romans 12:1-2)!
As the cross is unavoidable in our daily walk as a Christian and since Jesus as He faced His cross had to exhibit both great courage and heroism unto sweating blood why then should we think it to be any easier for us to say "yes" to God and "no" to our body (flesh)? This point is very important to understand for us to achieve victory. If you do not have an accurate diagnosis, how can you apply the proper cure? Denying yourself and taking up your cross daily will indeed take an act of great courage and heroism. You will have to do great violence to your emotions, feelings, and/or desires, i.e., crucifying your body (flesh) in order to conform to godliness. This is no small feat! In fact, many will try to avoid the pain of the cross by blaming a spirit of lust, anger, fear, and/or anxiety, when in reality these are all deeds of an unredeemed body (flesh). Therefore, the proper cure is -- death by way of the cross (Galatians 5:16-24).
By understanding this you will also avoid Satan's condemnation. Allow me to explain. Let's say you harbor anger or unforgiveness toward someone, but you know by the renewing of your mind and witnessed from within by your born-again spirit that this is unacceptable to God. You begin to do violence to your emotions. The battle becomes intense! Your mind and spirit says "yes" to God, but your flesh -- your emotions are screaming, "No, I will never forgive!" Satan, the accuser, comes to you saying, "You hypocrite! How can you say you're a Christian while still harboring anger and unforgiveness." Without condemnation you respond, "In my heart I desire God's will. The battle with my flesh may not be over, but a hypocrite I am not. I will persevere and do violence to my emotions until my flesh is crucified" (Romans 7:14-8:1).
This is a daily battle we all will have until the day of our final redemption. Romans 8:18-25: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with PERSEVERANCE we wait eagerly for it." Can the words "Christian" and "heroism" have an impeccable association? YES and AMEN!
If you have acted cowardly by giving in to your weakness, can you once again become heroic? Yes, just as King David did by taking the heroic step of confession and repentance, becoming once again salt and light to a dying world -- even unto seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22 and Luke 17:4)! Where do you find the courage to be both heroic and persevering? The same place Jesus found it -- in prayer! Luke 22:45-46: "And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping and said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.'" And again Matthew 6:13, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." This highway of holiness is not for the timid, nor the cowardly, but at the end of our pilgrimage is found RAPTUROUS joy.
Isaiah 35:8-10: "And a highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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