On Spiritual Heroes
When I was a kid I had posters of sports stars hanging on my walls. I remember looking at large prints of Barry Sanders, Mark Duper, and Michael Jordan as I lay in bed. I was fascinated by the athletic abilities of these guys, and I had ambitions of following in their footsteps to sports super-stardom when I grew up. Somewhere along the way I realized I just wasn’t built to be a world-class athlete, so I began to respect athletes and artists as people who wowed me with their talents and entertained me with their gifts.
As an adult, I still think it’s important to identify people who are living the way you want to live and note them, as I did when I was a child who thought it was a realistic goal to be a sports star. For people whose goal is to live for Christ, we should find admiration for others who are walking by faith and living lives of love for God and people. It is possible for us to live that faith-filled life of our heroes, as the same Spirit who lived in Paul and Charles Spurgeon, is living in me. Though the Spirit gifts people differently, through the graces of repentance toward God and faith in Christ we have the power to overcome sin and to live lives of love. Hebrews 11, also know as “The Hall of Faith”, shows that there are benefits to admiring the lives of people who live sold out to God, but I was also pointed in the direction of Philippians 3:17 this morning, ironically by one of my own spiritual heroes. In it Paul writes, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul, directed by God Himself, directs us to imitate him and others who live radically for Christ.
The Possible Dangers
As with almost anything, this spiritual hero thing can be taken to an unhealthy and sinful extreme. If you start placing the words of these men on the same plane as scripture, you are engaging in idolatry. Everything said outside of scripture should be compared with the revealed Word of God to test its truthfulness. The Bible does say that we will know false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:16), so people who are obviously bearing good fruit have more cause to be taken seriously, so long as their words also line up with scripture. It is also certainly possible for people to appear to be bearing good fruit, but are actually driven by sinful and evil motives (Matthew 7:21-23).
Another danger is making men you watch from afar into what should be reserved for the role of your personal church pastor. You need to be in a church being led by a man who is living like a hero of the faith, but can personally know and counsel you. There are also benefits to having spiritually mature friends to disciple you and hold you accountable. Do not rely on people you watch from afar to be able to speak into your particular situation.
The Possible Benefits
While we are ultimately to look to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have found it beneficial to see the spirit at work in flawed and fallen men. Rich Mullins showed me what it’s like to live a life of humility. John Piper shows me what it’s like to have a passion for God’s glory. The work of George Muller shows how much love for orphans is possible in this flesh. Aaron Stone shows me how it’s possible to honor God with his lips (by his songs in My Epic) and with his life (by his work with Charlotte’s lower class). Charles Spurgeon is estimated to have preached The Gospel to over 10,000,000 people in his life, showing that one man can minister to the masses. Jim Elliot wows me with his courage in taking the gospel to people that he knew probably would (and did) kill him. John MacArthur inspires me with his passion for rightly dividing The Word of Truth. Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis inspire me with their loving and thoughtful apologetics work. And then there are the great, but obviously imperfect, lives of Paul, Peter, David, Moses, and all the heroes of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 and throughout The Bible.
Follow Me, As I Follow Christ
Paul says, “Follow me, as I follow Christ” in 1 Corinthians 11:1. I fall short often, but I hope to be able to confidently tell people that I am following Christ so closely that they should watch and follow me. Until then, I will continue to be sanctified by Him and I will keep an eye and ear on the people who have and are following Christ in faith, truth, hope, service, and love.
God, please continue to raise up men to lead with their words and deeds and please forgive me when I’m a poor discipler. Make me a man who is living a life that makes people immediately look to You. Amen.