Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. (1 Cor. 10:6)
Reading the Scriptures we see a long line of men who had faith in Christ and yet sinned in grievous ways. These great saints were also great sinners.
And yet, one of the purposes of Scripture’s many depicted stories is instruction in holiness:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom. 15:4)
These examples in Scripture build us up in the instruction of faith, hope, and love. Each Scripture passage teaches us how to have godliness and humility, which are gifts of God’s grace purchased by our savior.
In an article from First Things, church historian Robert Louis Wilken reminds us of the importance of examples:
Without examples, without imitation, there can be no human life or civilization, no art or culture, no virtue or holiness. The elementary activities of fashioning a clay pot or constructing a cabinet, learning to speak or sculpting a statue, have their beginning in the imitation of what others do.
Even if our examples aren’t perfect, we still need them. The examples God gives us in the Bible of how to have faith, what not to say or do, how to persevere, and how to be virtuous are vital to our Christian discipleship.
We must encounter the souls of the many Christians and believers who have gone before us. We must understand how they struggled with their faith in their day. The Christian faith contains a heritage reaching back to the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to Adam and Eve.
These unholy examples are people who had real problems. They had moments of great courage, who knew victory as well as failure. We must be people whose souls encounter other souls on their own terms, in their own day, if we are to avoid their mistakes and emulate their virtues. Indeed, this is what God requires in the fifth commandment,
That I show all honour, love, and faithfulness
to my father and mother
and to all those in authority over me,
submit myself with due obedience
to their good instruction and discipline,
and also have patience with their weaknesses
since it is God's will
to govern us by their hand
(Heidelberg Catechism Q. 104)
We must be a people confronted by the grandeur of God's grace throughout history in the lives of others and in their deaths. We need these sinner-saints if we, like them, are to find a way to a gracious God who can save us from our own follies and blunders. That is our only hope.
This is what God intended. The Spirit of Christ has poured out his gifts to enrich our lives and give us examples in everyday life today as well. Some believers have been given greater gifts of hospitality. Emulate them. Some have a greater wisdom. Listen to them.
Whoever has greater love, follow their actions (Rom 12:4–10). We can learn from all the examples God has given us as we seek to love and serve him each day. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).