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We need men to be men!
Now the full explanation of that statement is another issue but we can say that there is always a need to think about what it means to be a man biblically. There has been a lot of thought and articulation of biblical manhood as faithful teachers seek to set the biblical portrait of what God wants of men in the face of the cultural’s ideas on this issue.
Let me say at the out set that I am for this development. I think that groups who are exploring what the meaning of manhood is through a biblical lens are right in doing so. By this exploration there is going to be a standard set (hopefully biblically) that men are suppose to meet.
But We Are Going to Fail…
Whenever we set a standard before ourselves we are going to fail it. We are fallen and sinful. No one will meet the picture of the perfect Father, Mother, Friend, etc. This is no different in the pursuit of being godly men. When we see ourselves failing or not obtaining the standard perfectly what are we suppose to do?
The way the theme of biblical manhood is framed at times it can make it hard to pursue. It is very easy to speak of manhood in terms of what one already possess and not what one is growing in it. If one does or does not do a certain action or have a certain characteristic then their entire identity of manhood is on the line. Men do _______ or men do not do ________. Plain and simple.
What happens, although, if a man does not do that? If we are not careful in how we frame the concept of biblical manhood then we put men who are sinners is a precarious position. No matter how central we think the characteristic or action some man is going to fail in that area.
It is at this point that our theology of manhood is revealed. Is it legalism that has more likeness of secular self-help programs or does it find it’s place if the redemptive work of the Christ?
It seems that we can easily revert to the former. We construct the law of manhood which we are to obtain. The drive to obtain it is out of the fear of failing short. If one does not meet the criteria then they fail at being a man. The voice is very clear, “Keep all the plates of manhood spinning or else you will fail at being a man.”
Because it is legalistic in nature there is a congruent means of responding to failure. When a system is legalistic in nature people either get depressed or created loopholes to deal with failure. We are all going to fail thus we have to have means of dealing with it. How we usually deal with it is the normal way of dealing with legalistic failings: depression or lessening. Depression is easy to understand, someone sees they are failing the standard and so they fall into the pit of despair.
Lessening, on the other hand, is the trick of defining the law around one’s self so that obtaining it is automatic. Thus, for some men, manhood is defined by what already defines them. For the guys who hunt it is hunting. For the guys who live in their lust it is lusting, etc. This is also where unbiblical definitions creep in. When manhood is something one has to obtain no one wants to discover that they do not already obtain it. Unhelpful standards are then crafted by what men perceive manhood should be and so exclude several men who do not meet it. But those men might have their own definition of what manhood is. Before you know it the standard of manhood can be several places. All of them very easy to obtain to whoever is crafting the standard.
All this will create, though, are men who miss the true meaning of manhood. Depression and false standards will never take us to a right understanding of what it means to be a man and help those who think and feel as if they are failing.
Through the Lens of the Gospel
The other means of dealing with this issue is to turn to the salvation that is offered in Christ. When we look through the lens of the gospel how are we to understand failure in godly manhood?
First, we have to understand that manhood is a good thing that God created. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). “Manhood” is not some social construction that has been forced upon us. God specifically means for His image to be reflected and represented by two genders: male and female. Thus, we are to embrace our identity as men and not desire to be women. Not because men are better than women in any way. But because we embrace God’s glory is the way He chose to display His image. A man is suppose to live as a man and a woman is suppose to live as a woman.
This also means that we locate manhood in the image of God displayed in us. Once again, manhood is not a social construction but created identity. God created man and women to be His representatives and ambassadors on this earth in their structure and function. Each gender is to be that image in the way their gender has been fitted. If God wanted His image in one gender He would have done so but instead He knew it would bring Him more glory to display His image in two. Manhood is not something that Adam was to obtain, it was something that he was based on how God created Him. This means that there is a two stage but related aspect of manhood. We are males that are suppose to live as men. Thus, we are men because God created us to be. Adam could stop being a man when he stopped being the image of God. And we are suppose to live out that image which means we are to fulfill biblical manhood.
Thus, we are men because we are created in God’s image and we are to live out that image in biblical manhood.
Second, The bible makes it clear that manhood has been marred and depraved by the fall. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). When the human race fell in Adam the image, the glorious display of God’s glory through humanity, became ruined. And since manhood is in the image it fell with it. What we should be as men is now ruined and marred by our selfish rebellion against God’s good, just, and righteous rule.
Thus, while we are men, the fullness of what God intended to be lived out as men has been depraved by the fall.
Third, manhood is redeemed by Christ. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The restoration of what was lost by sin was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. The cursed placed upon us for rebelling against the image God intended us to have was placed upon Christ as He hung on the cross (Gal 3:13). The new life of displaying the image, once again, was secured by Christ as He rose again (Rom 6:4). What we failed to accomplish was won by Christ. Our salvation is found in Him. By faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection the merits won by Him are counted as ours (Rom 4:24-25). And the Spirit’s work in a believer is creating him after the likeness of God (Eph 4:24) by one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18)
Thus, the restoration of manhood is found in salvation in Christ.
Fourth, the restoration of manhood is located in the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The life that has been ransom by Christ and been given new birth to treasure Christ and rest in Him for salvation is not working to re-obtain the image in a moment. The life of sanctification is not doing an action or not doing an action and so ultimately gaining perfection. It is a life long process where by the Spirit transforms the believer more and more into the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). Part of that work of sanctification is the reclamation of manhood since it is part of the image. Manhood is not something, as believers, is to be obtained in a moment. It is part of the lifetime work of the Spirit in our lives. It includes God’s mercy and grace in all the times we do not live up to our Master’s teaching. It includes the times that I quiver inside and and not take leadership over a situation out of fear. Just like any other areas of our sanctification there will be sin and failure.
Thus, The restoration of manhood is progressive, not instantaneous.
Fifth, our identity does not rest upon the law of what the perfect man should be but instead in the One who was and is the perfect image of God and so what is true manhood–Jesus Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15a). I know for myself that this God came to me when I had completely twisted and transgressed what a true man was and saved me! He has made me His child and started the work of reclaiming and restoring that image and promised that no power of this world or of me can stop that work of restoration. My heavenly Father does not look upon me as a failed attempt at being a man. No, instead, by looking upon His beloved Son in whom I am hidden He sees the image as already restored! My manhood has already been reclaimed in Christ. I can amass all the failures of being a man I could and then bring them to God to only hear, “but I am not looking upon those, I am looking upon the perfect spotless image of my Son and your Savior.”
Because that is my identity the Spirit is working into me, day by day, the perfect image of Christ through my fight of obedience. I get get to become more and more like the image of the One I already am hidden in. This is where the daily fight of manhood comes into play. My manhood is not something that is obtained but something that is reclaimed by the salfivic work of Christ in our lives. And so to for the all of us fighting.
This, I believe, is the gospel response to failing as a man. We are created as men but because of sin fail at living out manhood as we should. But God has sent Christ to fulfill the commands of God where we have failed. And Christ was given as the perfect sacrifice for the sins we committed—bearing the shame and condemnation we should bear. He rose from the dead to seal the victory and ascended to the right hand of God. Now, by faith in Jesus, His works and victory is accounted as ours so that our identity becomes one of a loved, adopted son and not a slave. By the work of the Spirit we are being renewed in the image of our creator. So failure is not a fall from being a man. It is a sin from which the condemnation has been removed in Christ and we can press on against by the power of the Spirit.
The center of Christianity…is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ. More and more, He must become the issue. Not a vague, comfortable, pleasant Jesus that everybody likes but the one who is a “stumbling block” to Jews and “foolishness” to Gentiles. The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious.
-John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, xi.
The Twelve were like the rest of us; they were selected from the unworthy and the unqualified. They were, like Elijah, men “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). They did not rise to the highest usefulness because they were somehow different from us. Their transformation into vessels of honor was solely the work of the Potter.
Many Christians become discouraged and disheartened when their spiritual life and witness suffer because of sin or failure. We tend to think we’re worthless nobodies—and left to ourselves, that would be true! But worthless nobodies are just the kind of people God uses, because that is all He has to work with.
Satan may even attempt to convince us that our shortcomings render us useless to God and to His church. But Christ’s choice of the apostles testifies to the fact that God can use the unworthy and the unqualified. He can use nobodies. They turned the world upside down, these twelve (Acts 17:6). It was not because they had extraordinary talents, unusual intellectual abilities, powerful political influence, or some special social status. They turned the world upside down because God worked in them to do it.
-John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group), 11.
Who can tell us whether this aweful and mysterious silence, in which the Infinite One has wrapped himself, portends mercy or wrath? Who can say to the troubled consience whether He, whose laws in nature are inflexible and remorseless, will pardon sin? Who can answer the anxious inquiry whether the dying live on or whether they cease to be? Is there a future state? And if so, what is the nature of that untried condition of being? If there be immoratal happiness, how can I attain it? If there be an everlasting woe, how can it be escaped? Let the reader close his Bible and ask himself seriously what he knows upon there momentous questions apart from its teachings. What soild foundation has he to rest upon in regard to matters which so absolutely transcend all earthly expereince and are so entirely out of the reach of our unassited faculties? A man of facile faith may perhaps delude himself into the belief of what he wished to believe. He may thus take upon trust God’s unlimited mercy, his ready forgiveness of transgressors, and eternal happiness after death. But this is all a dream. He knows nothing, he can know nothing about it, except by direct revelation from heaven.
-John D. Woodbridge, ed., More Than Conquerors (Chicago: Moddy Press, 1992), p. 209.