What Makes a Man a Hero?

from Mar 07, 2015 Category: Articles

I’ve been blessed, over the years, to teach a number of the Great Works courses at Reformation Bible College. It is my contention that we ought to cover the great books of western civilization not so we can prepare our students to join in what some call the “great conversation,” that back and forth over the centuries that seeks to answer the most foundational questions of our nature, purpose, and end. Instead, I want to prepare them for the “great confrontation.” I teach in light of the antithesis, the battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent that began in Eden and ends with the end of history. I want our students to understand the culture they are living in, the ideological water they are swimming in, so that they might both guard their hearts and press the crown rights of King Jesus.

One of the best shortcuts to understanding a given culture is to ask this question—in this culture, what does a man have to be or to do to be considered a hero? Such tells us a great deal. In ancient Greece you became a hero by courage and victory in battle. During the Renaissance you became a hero by dint of deep and wide study. In our day you become a hero by becoming the best in your field.

The high virtues of the Christian hero, by contrast, have precious little to do with accomplishment. Indeed I would argue that the first and highest standard of the Christian hero is a passion for repentance. The hero is the one who knows from top to bottom that he is not a hero. The hero moves through his days not only aware of his moral failures, but of his dependence on the grace of God in all its manifestations. He must know, increasingly, how weak and needy he is.

Second, the Christian, or the true hero, is about the business not of making a name for himself, but of lifting others up and magnifying the name of Christ. Which is why real heroes are as hard to find as pixies.

Third, the Christian hero forgives. It is likely much less difficult to do a good deed for another than it is to forgive an evil deed done to us. The former flows easily from a high view of the self—“I can do this giving thing for you, because I have so much to give.” The latter flows more from a low view of the self—“I can forgive this wrong done to me because I know my need for forgiveness for the wrongs I’ve done to others.”

The temptation that began in the garden has not yet left us. We are always eager to become more than we are. The solution then and now is the same, to recognize our need for the work of the one true hero, Jesus. May we learn to imitate those who imitate Him.

R.C. Sproul Jr. is rector and chair of philosophy and theology at Reformation Bible College. Originally published at RCSproulJr.com.