Learning from Saints: How Reading Christian Biographies Can Grow Your Faith

by Miranda Mae Ewing

I have very few memories from my middle school days, and this is probably for a good reason. Middle school is a time of life that seems to chew you up and spit you out, bruised and tattered. I attended a small Christian school, and even though the environment was a great place for me to be, and my teachers constantly talked about Christ and the gospel, I struggled with my faith. I knew a lot about the Bible and could recite plenty of beautiful thoughts about what it said, but I did not have an active and thriving relationship with Jesus.

But one morning when I walked into my Bible class, my teacher had decided to play a missionary documentary about five men who had died in order to share the gospel with hostile natives. They were killed by the very people they went to preach to. And while their wives—who had been living in the same jungle with these men—had every reason to pack their bags and go home, some of them went on to share the gospel and live with the tribe. I was hooked as each of the wives spoke on the documentary. I also was overcome with how differently they spoke of Christ, and how their faith was a part of everything about them. Later that night, I discovered there were a number of books about the story by one of the wives from the documentary, Elisabeth Elliot. I asked my dad if he could order me a few of them. One of the books I ordered was the biography of Elisabeth’s husband, Jim. I spent every spare moment I had reading that biography. I had never heard someone talk about Jesus the way he did. I wanted the passion he had. And so I began to imitate the Elliots. They pursued Jesus with everything they had, and I wanted to as well.

In many ways, I attribute my walk with the Lord to first hearing their story in my 8th grade classroom. And ever since that day, Christian biographies have helped me press on in my faith and pursue Christ. I want to encourage you to spend time with saints from the past and learn from their lives. Below are three reasons why I think reading Christian biographies is a worthy investment of your time.

  1. They are accessible mentors

While it’s important to find older women to learn from in our church communities who see us regularly and can directly speak into our struggles, there are often seasons where establishing a mentor relationship is difficult. Christian biography allows us to be mentored by saints throughout the centuries. We get a front row seat to their lives: their joys, hardships, losses, and victories. We usually see their honesty as well, especially if the biography contains portions of their journals. Mentor relationships are worth every bit of investment you put into them, but they do take time. Christian biographies allow us to immediately get to the heart of someone and take away the most valuable lessons they might want us to know from their life. We then begin to think about the lessons the Lord is teaching us, and how we ourselves are growing in light of how these saints grew.

  1. We learn from their faithfulness

It is easy to put faithful and well-known Christians on a pedestal. They seem spiritually perfect, especially because so many people look up to them and admire them. But when we read their biographies, we see that they were as human as us. They had to walk through the same seasons of life as we did. They experienced all of the same emotions, and they even wrestled with many of the same questions. We learn that these men and women were not born with a different sense about the Lord than we were. They were just as sinful as we are. But when the Lord captured their hearts for Him, they followed Him faithfully. They committed to meet with Him every day. They responded to the gospel with fervor and obedience. They allowed the Holy Spirit to change them completely. Being sanctified (becoming Christlike) is a part of the Christian experience, but some Christians are more attentive to the process. And they were faithful when only the Lord was watching.

  1. We are given an eternal perspective

When you come to the end of a Christian biography, you will probably hear about that saint’s death and how the legacy of their life has shaped the lives of other believers. You are able to see their story from beginning to end, in a way that the person you are reading about never got to see. Imagine being able to read a book about your life that examined how you grew in your understanding of the Lord and how He was faithful in every season of your life. How incredible! And while most of us will probably never read this sort of book about ourselves (unless we keep extensive diaries), we will read them about others. And the end of other saints’ lives will remind you that your life will also end, and there is more to come. They will challenge you to live for eternity.

So in order for you to begin, our staff would love to give you some recommendations! Here are a few Christian biographies that we think would be a great place to start:

This book was impactful to me because it gave a raw look at ministry. So often, authors wrap up ministry stories in a neat bow. But this book helped me realize just how difficult day-to-day life in ministry can be. We all need to depend on our Savior in every moment to make it through our days. – Jennie Heideman, Staff Editor

I always love missionary biographies from the Christian Heroes series (Lottie Moon, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael, George Mueller, etc). Biographies help me when I feel discouraged or weak, by reminding me that people before me have walked through trials and storms with the strength that God provides. They help me remember God’s faithfulness, and what lasts for eternity. – Kristyn Perez, Staff Writer

If you’re like me, reading an entire biography can sometimes feel daunting, especially if they are hundreds of pages. John Piper has solved this dilemma by putting together a book about 21 leaders from church history. These are quick glances at the lives of men whose faithfulness has given much to the body of Christ. Biographies like this stir the fire of our affection for Christ and push us closer to our eternal home. – Miranda Mae Ewing, Staff Writer

For more recommendations for Christian biographies, check out this helpful list from another wonderful ministry, “Revive Our Hearts.”

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