Who are your heroes? In the recorded history of every culture, the hero embodies the noblest traits of character. By overcoming adversity and danger with courage and grit, the hero emerges from the test with honor and acclaim. Often it is sacrifice—even death—that ensures the heroes’ welcome into the pantheon of eternal glory.
The heroic tales of Greek and Roman mythology were well known to New Testament Christians. Amphitheaters scattered throughout the Roman Empire provided sports and gladiatorial contests as an entertainment spectacle. The names of the heroes of these events are lost. However, Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, himself a citizen of the Empire, redeemed the image of these contests. The life of faith, he writes to the Corinthian believers, is like one of these competitions. “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24, NLT).
Heroic stories of faith are in our Bibles from Genesis to Revelation. One notable summary comes from Hebrews 11, where noble deeds are gathered under the organizing theme of faith. “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation” (verses 1-2, NLT). What is the reality and the evidence that brings us hope? It is the lives of those who have lived in such a way that they “earned a good reputation.” One way to know the reality of hopeful faith is to track the lives of the heroes of faith. Hebrews 11 summarizes the lives of women and men from Inspired History that can help grow our own stamina for today’s struggles.
Must we limit our heroic stories to tales recorded thousands of years ago? By no means! Beginning with early church stories by writers such as Eusebius to the era of the Reformers and on into our current age, we are provided life lessons in faithfulness and sacrifice. More recently, our own Seventh-day Adventist history is filled with stories of women and men who placed faithfulness to God ahead of all to live godly lives in their time.
At no time in our history as a people is it more vital to understand our history as God’s remnant church. Challenges that feel new are old. Solutions for today’s problems lie buried and ready for us if we but look and consider their application today. Might I suggest Arthur L. White’s six volume biography of Ellen G. White, or The Great Second Advent Movement: It’s Rise and Progress by J.N. Loughborough, and Calvin B. Rock’s recent book, Protest and Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity. You can also delve into the easy-to-navigate Seventh-day Adventist Archives (https://www.adventistarchives.org/) and discover a treasure store of gems from the past two centuries, including every Pacific Union Recorder since 1901.
Ellen White herself admonished us to remember and apply our own past when she penned,
“In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history” (Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 196, emphasis added). This quote can only be valid if we apply her admonition and know our own history. How we came to our beliefs, structure, and missionary strategy is rooted in history. The heroes of our past will help guide our present. Without this girding of historical truth, we are vulnerable to voices who make assertions to us and about us—whether those voices are from inside or outside our own ranks—for which we may have difficulty providing a ready answer.
But what of faith heroes today? Hebrews 12:1-2 urges us ever forward: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (NLT). There are modern heroes of the kingdom that surround us today. Few are celebrated in books or grace magazine covers, yet they remain inspirations for our walk with God today.
I think of the heroes that have crossed my pathway at just the right moment throughout my faith journey. Sabbath School teachers when I was a child and into my teen years who helped me grow as a young disciple. College and seminary professors who gently shaped my Adventist worldview. Pastoral colleagues who were listening ears with wise counsel when I was discouraged, uncertain, or just needing a friend.
However, the greatest heroes for my faith have been my family. Beginning with my father and mother, who modeled the balance of grace and accountability for me. I learned how to pray and read the Bible for myself from my mother’s teaching. Jennifer, my wife of almost 40 years, remains the most profound spiritual influence on me, as she knows me better than any other human being and has journeyed with me throughout my adult life. I’m a better disciple of Christ, father, and minister because of her. No doubt you too can recall that list of special people who have been heroes of faith to you and helped you “keep your eyes on Jesus.”
So, what does it take to be a hero of faith? You and I can aspire to be in that “huge crowd of witnesses,” bringing reality and evidence to hope in Jesus. When I read Scripture and observe faith heroes today, they share certain traits:
First, faith heroes speak often of the goodness of God. They are not naïve or simplistic but ascertain the ways to see opportunities in which the hand of the Lord is guiding them and their circumstances. This “eye of faith” elicits courage and hope in those around them.
Second, faith heroes are honest about their struggles. The Bible never papered over the failures of women and men in Scripture. When you read beyond the headlines of faith in Hebrews 11, you find that every one of these people failed God at times. Faith heroes of the Bible lied, committed adultery (King David—the man after God’s own heart), shirked their duties, denied Jesus, backed away from what God wanted, and much more. Why is all that in the Bible? To remind us that real heroes are also real people. The heroes I know today aren’t phony, plastic dolls that are always perfect. They are authentic about the ups and downs of walking with Jesus. We find courage when we are honest together.
Third, faith heroes align their profession with their practice. Nothing turns young people away from the church more than when adults say one thing and then act another way. Most of us never outgrow the deep sense of loss when we see spiritual leaders act in ways that are not consistent with Scripture. But when we see our faith heroes standing up with love and courage when it’s tough to do so, there is a surge of hope and faith within.
Fourth, the faith heroes I know have an amazing way to show that everything they do is undergirded by the gift of grace from God. They live with a sense of personal humility in their relationships with others. They understand the power of saying, “I’m sorry” when they let others down. But mostly, they bask in a sense of the unconditional love of Jesus that they in turn impart in their relationships at home, work, church, and community. These are the people that radiate hope and faith to those around them. And it’s contagious.
Psalm 16: 2-3 declares, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.’ The godly people in the land are my true heroes!” (NLT, emphasis added). As the many voices call out for your attention and allegiance today—politicians, sport and entertainment figures, news commentators, and even religious leaders—remember what true faith heroes look like. As we journey to the time of Jesus’ soon return, let each of us aspire to be a faith hero for someone every day.
Bradford C. Newton is the executive secretary and the ministerial director of the Pacific Union Conference.