What Does it Look Like to Have True Courage?



Have you noticed that courage seems to be in short supply in this day and age?

What is courage? 

It’s not recklessness. Doing foolish and dangerous things for thrills does not make you a courageous person.

Courage is not pretending everything is OK when it’s not. It’s not courageous to plaster on a phony smile in the midst of hardship and live in denial of reality.

It’s also not pride or presumption. Putting your faith in yourself and your achievements, or assuming you have all the right answers, is not the same as having courage.

So, What Is Courage?

According to one definition, courage (also known as bravery, will, and fortitude) is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. “Physical courage” is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death.

Courage also has been defined as “fear that has said its prayers.” Being courageous means overcoming something. It was Mark Twain who said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”

A courageous person is not one who is fearless. That is essentially a stupid person. A courageous person is someone who can control his or her fear and then do the right thing. It is overcoming the fear that you naturally have.

Courage in Action 

We certainly see courage on display among firefighters and those who are in law enforcement. Every day they put on their uniforms and put their lives at risk. And certainly the brave soldiers who are serving our country display courage every single day. 

Periodically, we read of acts of heroism in the news. I wish we would read more about these things, because they happen all the time. But they are not in the headlines as often as they ought to be.

I read an article a while back about PFC Ross McGinnis, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq. While perched on a gunner’s hatch of a Humvee that was carrying four of his fellow soldiers, a grenade whizzed past him. In a split second, McGinnis did the unthinkable.

He shouted a warning to the others and threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact. He was killed immediately, but he saved the lives of the four other soldiers. He was the fourth soldier in the Iraq war to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

McGinnis didn’t have time to think about what he was doing. He just did it. That is courage.

Moral Courage

There are other kinds of courage, too. There is moral courage. That is the ability to do right in the face of opposition or discouragement.

Having moral courage means being an honest person. It means that you have integrity. It means that you don’t cheat on the test, you don’t cheat on your taxes, and you don’t cheat on your spouse. We need more moral courage today. 

It takes courage to do the right thing, to stand up for what the Bible says about right and wrong, good and evil.

It takes courage to live honestly, with integrity, avoiding the “shortcuts” that may get you ahead but take you down spiritually and morally.

It takes courage to honor the vows you made to be faithful to your spouse and stand by them “for better or for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health,” as opposed to abandoning them when the marriage gets challenging.

It takes courage to remain sexually pure as a single person with all the pressure today from peers and the media.

And it takes courage to follow Jesus Christ, no matter how hard it gets.

Paul Needed Courage

We all need courage in our lives. And none other than the apostle Paul needed a call to courage.

Paul was not afraid of death or even hardship. The only thing that Paul seemed to fear was the disapproval of God. How do you stop a man like that? Answer: You don’t. This is why God used him in such an amazing way.

And that is why Paul and the others turned their first-century world upside down. But even Paul had moments of discouragement.

Paul had been determined to return to Jerusalem, even though he had been warned not to. And sure enough, he was arrested and thrown into prison. Then he was brought before the ruling religious party, and he gave a defense for himself. 

Next we read in Acts 23, “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (verse 11 NLT).

Paul’s middle name could have been trouble. There was never a dull moment with this guy. It was always something. But on this particular night, he seemed to be deeply discouraged.

We have to understand what Christ was saying to Paul. How could he be of good cheer in a cold, damp, dark dungeon? 

This sounds like the equivalent of someone coming up to you when you are really in pain and saying, “Hey, man, cheer up! Gray skies are going to clear up. Put on a happy face!” That is not a good thing to say to someone who is down.

In fact, by saying that, you could actually make a person more miserable.

Commanding Courage

But Jesus wasn’t simply telling Paul to cheer up. The word used in this text for “cheer” is really not the best translation of the word. The fact is that cheerfulness is the outcome of what Jesus actually commanded.

He did not command Paul to simply be cheerful or to smile. A better translation of what Jesus was saying would be, “Be of good courage.”

This is an interesting phrase that we see used a number of times in the New Testament. The first time we see it is in Matthew 9:2. There was a man who was a paraplegic, and he was carried by his friends into the presence of Jesus. Jesus saw this man and said, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” 

Then Jesus told him, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (verse 6 NKJV), and the man did it.

This shows us that God does His part and then we must do ours. God gives His forgiveness to us, and we must accept that forgiveness.

It also shows us that God’s power gives courage. His power will be there to help you in your time of need. 

When I talk to people who are going through very difficult suffering, I find myself asking, Would I have the attitude they have if I were going through that? or, Could I even go through what they’re enduring?

But if God were to ask you to do something, then He would give you the strength to do it.

It comes down to this: I would rather be in a jail, or in a storm, or in a hardship with Jesus than anywhere else without Him. A nice, happy place with Jesus is good, too. But the thing is, He is with us wherever we go. And that is what God was saying to Paul: You are not alone.

God is with us in the good times, and He is also with us in the bad times. 

The Ultimate Example of Courage

If you want to see a real example of courage, there is none greater than that of Jesus Himself. He had moral courage when He stood by His convictions and always shared what the Father wanted Him to share. 

But He had physical courage as He allowed His enemies to beat Him and mistreat Him and whip Him and ultimately nail Him to a cross. 

If that isn’t courage, I don’t know what is. 


Pastor Greg Laurie serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has campuses in Southern California and Hawaii. He is the author of more than 70 books, hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A New Beginning, and is the founder of Harvest Crusades, large-scale evangelistic events attended by millions of individuals worldwide. Learn more at Harvest.org.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Prince David


Pastor Greg Laurie serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has campuses in Southern California and Hawaii. He is the author of more than 70 books, hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A New Beginning, and is the founder of Harvest Crusades and Harvest at Home.

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