Though you won’t find the word fortitude in most English translations of the Bible, you can find its synonyms in words like courage, determination, strength, and perseverance. The word comes from the Latin fortis, meaning “strong.” Merriam-Webster defines fortitude as “strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage.” Other dictionaries stress aspects of the emotion or the length of time one endures affliction. But whatever emphasis one definition has over another, one thing is for sure: fortitude is displayed at the juncture of adversity and strength.
In the Old Testament, the principle of fortitude may be seen in places like the book of Joshua. As God’s people were about to cross into the promised land, God told Joshua to be “strong and courageous,” a phrase used repeatedly in the opening chapter. Why did the Israelites need strength and courage? Because they were about to fight the Canaanite people who, at one point, made them seem like small grasshoppers (Num. 13:33). But God’s people needed more than mere physical strength. They also needed mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to endure the conflict, adversity, and even temptation they would face in the land the Lord was giving them. In other words, they needed fortitude.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). Several verses later, he combines this courage with the unity of the Philippians’ purpose—“with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (Phil. 1:27–28). Paul needed a tenacious courage for the trials and afflictions he would endure for the sake of Christ. But his determination was to be an example for the Philippians, that they too would strive together without fear for the sake of Christ, come what may.
Paul would elsewhere write that believers should “stand firm in the faith” (1 Cor. 16:13) and “be strong in the Lord” so that we “may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10, 13). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). As believers, we are called to “stand firm,” “be strong,” and “hold fast” because of the hostility of this world, the temptations of the flesh, and the spiritual attacks of Satan. In other words, this requires fortitude.
We should note that the true source and foundation of any fortitude we might exhibit is the Lord Himself. His grace, which is sufficient for us, enables us to boast in our weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon us—“For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10). Indeed, it is His Spirit who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom. 8:26).
Fortitude, then, may be biblically defined as that strength to courageously endure adversity, temptation, and spiritual assault, which the Lord graciously supplies by His Spirit and through the promises of His Word.
So how are we able to cultivate fortitude? Let me give you two ways. First, avail yourself to the means of God’s grace by which He is at work to sanctify you—specifically, His Word, the sacraments, and prayer. As we read and meditate upon God’s Word, we become like fruitful trees planted by streams of water (Ps. 1:3). As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, God nourishes and strengthens our faith for what lies ahead. As we commune with Him in prayer, we are reminded that we are not alone; He is with us. These are the spiritual tools the Lord has provided so that we may have fortitude and persevere under trial.
Second, invest yourself in the community of faith. You need fellow pilgrims to encourage, challenge, and spur you on in your own journey. In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the character Christian needed friends and co-laborers in his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Similarly, you need others to come alongside you to strengthen and support you along the way. This is best manifested in the local church, which not only places you within the context of the means of grace, but also provides spiritual and prayer support from others.
As you consider the various trials and afflictions you might face in your life, may the Spirit of God strengthen you to courageously endure: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
This article is part of the Virtues and Vices collection.