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Submission is integral to what God wants of a man.
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)
As a man my life is not my own to take wherever I want and do with it whatever I will. When Christ comes to me His words are short and deep, “follow me.” At the very core of being a Christian man is submission.
My job is not mine. “doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph 4:28) “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8) My job is for the provision of others. It is not about my personal scaling of the corporate ladder to have a successful career for a career sake. It is to provide for my family and for others. That is Christ’s plan for my job. It does not matter whether it is growing a multimillion dollar company or fixing pipes. If it does the task Christ has for it my job is successful.
My family is not mine. My family is not here to fulfill my desires and wants. The husband has a central aim, “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:25) The Father has a clear command, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:3). All this makes the point that the family does not belong to me. I am submitted to the goal God wants for them.
My body is not mine. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:19-20) My body is not mine to do with what I want. My sexual drive is not mine to command or be command by. My body is submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
My plans are not mine. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) This life is not mine to determine what I want to do and where I want to live. I am not setting my face towards the peak of my goals and going there no matter what. My life is in submission.
Men have distinct roles to play in this world. But these distinct roles are framed in the context of submission. We don’t create them or determine how they are suppose to be preformed.
Some want to construct the perception that when one speaks of roles the man gets the position of self serving leadership where the woman is given the role of subservient submission. This is a false perception of what the bible wants.
God’s Word does not call jerks to lead. It calls submitted men to lead. Only when a man is submitted is he capable of leading well.
Every call to leadership and courage is call to submission. Not to the whims and personal desires of the man the call goes to. But to the Lord who gives the call to act in accordance with His Spirit and for His glory. To be a man means one is submitted to the Lord.
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.
A worth while discussion about masculinity in the church has come up recently. What is helpful is that the discussion is among two complementarians who are working through how to be the most faithful they can in this setting to what the scripture says on this topic.
Michael Horton wrote and article entitled Muscular Christianity where he set out to critic a perceived problem of hyper masculinity being encouraged by some segments in the church.
To counter, Doug Wilson penned a response to Horton’s article where he pushed back by saying there is biblical reason for gender roles not specifically mentioned in Scripture.
I would encourage you to read each article.
There is the tension where, on the one hand, I would agree with Wilson that there is a perception of masculinity which we as Christian men are to communicate in normal things like speech, attire, etc, where we are distinguished from females. These things are culturally determined as Wilson points out. But, because all communication is culturally defined we must abide by it to communicate the glorious truth of gender distinctions. Thus, through the bible God sets the standard of masculinity, then we use culturally appropriate ways of communicating that biblical picture. For scriptural backing of this you can read Denny Burk’s post on 1 Corinthians 11 and read Wilson’s post to get the full articulation of this point.
On the other hand Horton raises a very important point where a perilous switch occurs. Cultural perceptions of masculinity become the standard and the bible is made to fit that perception. We are to start defining manhood by going to the bible and reading about how God defines men. Then we work through that meaning as it is communicated to others. But the problem occurs when we center manhood on a cultural icon of manhood—a “hunter” icon if you will. The man who has a 3 inch thick bread, who carries his weapon into the wilderness of the forest, and then slays his prey of deer or boar. If this is the pinnacle of manhood what does a man do if his wilderness is a cubicle where he settles insurance claims for customers? When the church features its annual men’s event in a hunter’s theme it can communicate to the man in the cubicle that he can come hang out with the real men. This is the issue I believe Horton is criticing. I believe he is right in signaling this out. The shift is subtle and so happens easily with many perceptions of manhood.
Below is a video that Challies linked to a few days ago where college students were interviewed over the question, “can men and women just be friends?” The result from the video was very fascinating (Note: video interviews can be deceptive things. One can just choose to include the interviews the person wants to include and so show the results they want to. So that warning must be understood and considered when watching such things). In the video several men and women are asked the question. All the women shown give the initial answer that they can be friends with no hesitation. The men, however, give the exact opposite answer stating it cannot be that men and women can just be friends. You can watch it below,
This is a very important topic because relationships play such a prominent aspect of each of or lives. And as believers relationships take on a very important role. Our God is one who exists in relationship and so have crafted His creatures as those who need relationship.
On top of that He has created different genders that are to relate to one another. They are different in that they are created equal in worth and dignity while intended to fulfill different roles. The differences are not part of the problem but instead part of ascribing glory to the God who created them. And the primary purpose of the created difference is that man can cleave to a women in marriage to fulfill the creation mandate (Gen 1:27-28). Thus, man and woman have woven into the fabric of their structure the functions of relationship and desire that will pull them towards marriage when they relate together.
Yet, there is more about how they are interact than just match making for marriage. The church is made up of both men and women. And these two genders are given commands to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor, Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 12:10, 15-16; 13:8) and many other commands of love, service, and exhortation.
I remember hearing about a distinguishing mark of Christian churches in Turkey not to long ago. And the mark was a fascinating one. Out of all the things one could think of when the believers I knew met with these churches one of the things that stuck out to them was that men held conversations with women. In the surrounding culture you do not see men holding open conversations with women. Rules, regulations, and inward chauvinism keeps that from happening. But when Christ does a transforming work, by the Spirit, with the gospel relationships change. Men and women who are made anew in Christ start treating one another as family and the weirdest thing happen…they start talking to one another.
Believing men and women are called to live together in community. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Christ calls His people to become part of Him, one body united, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Philippians 1:27). Thus, as members of the same body, Christ, there is more to the relationship than just finding who to marry.
So how does this all work out when we come to this issue? Is is right or wrong for men to make friendships with women when there is no intention for marriage.
As already laid out there is to be a relationship between believing men and women which is not mere acquaintance but which is not marriage. We could not fulfill the Biblical commands listed above if either of those were the case. So maybe it is how we think about what is a “friend” and what constitutes “friendship.” I believe that Scott Croft gives some great guidelines about what constitutes a friendship that the bible envisions between brothers and sisters. He answers how brothers and sisters are to interact with one another,
First, with care and concern. We should be concerned for each other. First and foremost, each other’s relationship with Christ. But additionally how are our lives being shaped to be more Christ like. Furthermore, we should treat each other with care. Protecting the reputation of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is part of glorifying the Lord.
Second, with interest. Relationships require some knowledge. Now I want to be careful here because the world will often tell us that more knowledge is always a good thing. In fact, that might well be inappropriate. But I think you will all agree that it is nearly impossible to have a relationship without any knowledge. Generally knowing each others lives is critical to brotherly or sisterly relationship.
Third, with encouragement. We should be spurring one another on in the faith. To do so, we need to know each other generally. We need to sit under the word together, be shaped and molded by the public proclamation of the word, discussing it and its implications.
Fourth, with service. We should be serving one another. Sacrificing our own needs and time for each other in order that others might see we are Christians in the way we love and serve each other.
Finally,…with absolute purity. Knowing how sin has twisted the good gift of sexuality , Paul exhorts Timothy to be pure so that his relationships with sisters in the faith might glorify God and not confuse or obscure the Gospel.
I think this is very helpful in understanding how we relate to one another. As different situations arise these principles of loving, honoring, protecting, and serving one another can guide us to the most faithful actions. If this level of relationship exists between us I believe it will produce much good. But beyond this I believe there is danger.
Sin is a ever present reality in our lives which works to destroy the joys of relationships. One of the things that stood out in the interviews is that both parties are working from a mentality of using someone to get what they want. Men enter into the friendship so that their might be the possibility for something more. Women enter into the friendship so that they can get what they want. Notice that most of the women knew that their guy “friends” had feelings for them that went beyond friendship. In other words they liked the attention and knowledge that a guy liked them. Lets call the drive for a lot of “friendships” for what it is, selfish ambition. Both parties are just putting themselves in a position where they can use the other to get what they want. This is in complete contradiction to the biblical command for believers to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Sin brings its destructive effect upon relationships in many ways such making people, “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Also, It is the reality that God designed men and women to marry. There is a level of relationship between a man and a woman which is only to be reserved for progress and attainment of marriage. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). The Lord knows how he has created us. Men and woman are designed to be attracted to one another so that they can become married. Their relationship capabilities are created for that end. We would be foolish to live as if this did not exist. Thus, our relationships should not communicate what we do not intend for them to communicate or try to live as we are not made to live.
When these two things are combined I think it is a strong word about not developing deep friendships with members of the opposite sex (and by deep I mean a relationship that is more than the the guidelines laid out by Croft). We play with fire where one can read more into the relationship than there is and we can easily be using one another for our own selfish purposes. The dangers out way the pros in this case.
In Conclusion, we should not retreat from brother and sister relationship. Instead, by God’s grace, we can move forward in growing to become better brothers and sisters of the risen Lord. And because we want to become better brother and sisters to one another we will guard one another in how we relate to one another. If we understand friendship in the parameters mentioned above I believe that we can live in harmony, joy, and holiness together. Yet, we must be careful that we do not let sin slip into our relationships where the only thing we are concerned about is ourselves and getting what we want.
Two posts have come out recently about the problem of manhood within this culture. First Owen Strachan used a Tide commercial to launch into the topic of who should work at home. Then Kevin DeYoung wrote about the absence of mature godly men from churches. The lack of godly men is glaring and sad. Everyone loses when men do not fulfill their part. God made two genders to be His representatives on earth. When one fails the other suffers. And this failure is all over the place.
I know that I am not wise or experienced enough to solve the issue. The complexity is very deep running from the plain sin of the individual man to the culture men find themselves residing in here in America. But here are some thoughts as being one of these men living during this time.
1. Sin lies and steals true goodness from us. “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you” (Jeremiah 5:25), “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4). The over arching problem is that the world is selling a lie about what men should be and do. God has his vision and the devil has his. the devil presents his view as the most pleasing and satisfying. The men of this day and age are biting into it hook, line and sinker. What we are dealing with, at the core, is not a motivation problem on behalf of men, but the same problem that happened in a garden when a serpent asked the question, “did God really say?” Is God’s vision of manhood really that good? They may ask, “how can that be good when what we see before ourselves seems so much better?” Feminists and Egalitarians tell men that they have no distinctive place or role in the world and so offer a world of laziness and passivity. The sexual “freedom” around us presents the lie that sexual happiness exists in having sexual desires fulfilled in selfish, debasing ways in the most immediate means possible. And where men think they will never amount to anything in the real world they can become one of the greatest Special Operation soldiers imaginable on a video game. All these are lies plain and simple. But they are the lies that men buy and the situation we are up against.
2. The glory of Christ is redeeming and restoring the people who have been ravished by this world. “And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:31-32). “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,” (Colossians 1:21-22). “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). Here are two glorious truths that come against the darkness of all this: Jesus came to save sinners and Jesus will save sinners.
a. To fight against the lie of sin the truth of the gospel is placed over against it. Jesus has come into the world so that sinful, pathetic men can be reconciled to God and be made blameless and above reproach. The way this problem gets solved is not by finding the right cultural screw which is out of place and fixing it. It is by the Spirit opening dead men’s eyes to the glory of Christ so that they may drop all their efforts and have faith in the saving work of Christ.
b. And we can walk confidently in this reality. For the Spirit is the one who is at work when we bring the gospel to bear upon the lies of sin. Our confidence in the transformation from dark, sinful men to repentant, righteous men is solely the work of the Spirit invading the darkness with the sin defeating work of Christ as a word from the Father. He is our confidence, not any contrived social construction we can think of. Transformation will happen man by man as the Spirit makes each one anew in Christ.
3. As for teaching men who are already Christians we must remember that the main problem are the lies of sin they are still believing. The biblical vision of manhood is glorious! Loving leadership is a joy! The pursuit of holiness is a fight for happiness! Purity is to be desired as treasure! Let us call our brothers to cast off the unsatisfying pleasures of the world’s vision of manhood and let us proclaim and savor the joy of Christian manhood.
a. Now, the reality is still the same, holiness is hard to get. To settle for the world’s vision of manhood is the easy road (But it is also the broad road that leads to destruction as well). Where as the road of being made blameless and above reproach is hard work. However, as a Christian, holiness is not only something a man is striving for, but is something one already has obtained in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). The pursuit of this holiness is living in the reality of the promises one has in Christ while being fueled by divine power. The joy of holiness can and will be attained by the Christian even though the road is difficult.
b. We must cast off the old school method of building men by relying solely on the law. I remember finishing a Christian book on leadership which ended by basically saying, “striving for leadership will be hard, but you have to do it.” And after finishing his, what felt like, 180 things you have to be to become a godly leader I had no desire to try to become one. Who would? I am just going to fail. Gospel-less summons to manhood will not produce the men who will lead their churches and homes in godliness. War-like calls to fight the good fight are right and needed. But if in our desire to make true men we uproot the calls from the indicatives of who these men are in Christ we will kill who we are trying to revive.
c. We must never confuse symptoms with the problem. Issues like DeYoung point out are not the problems but symptoms of the problem. Unfortunately I under went a period where these things got confused. The answer to dealing with the immaturity of men was to, as was thought, get them married. This only lead to men who were selfish, immature, but now married as well. Discipling men is not simply getting them married. It is teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. If we are not seeking them to grow in every area the bible commands (leadership, service, love, compassion, doctrinal firmness and gentleness, etc) we cause harm by focusing on one just one area.
d. Churches should encourage single men to find an identity in Christ so as to live holy where they are in life. Here is a problem that I still come across. It is presented in a fashion that the only way to be a faithful man is to either get married or go over seas to become a missionary. We miss an important stage of life for single guys where they can become trained in godliness by grace (Titus 2:11-12) if we just want them to become married or a missionary. Singleness can be for sanctification just as much as marriage can be as I wrote before. Becoming a godly husband is an overflow of a godly single life.
e. Finally, the church must realize that the men who are being made a new in Christ need to be discipled. The men being claimed by Christ these days do not know how to act like men. Single men do not know how to pursue their sisters righteously. Men do not know how to manage their fiances. Men do not know how to build relationships with other godly men. Just commanding them to do so is an effort into futility. Men who are being redeemed out of broken homes with no example or instruction to follow will need to get the instruction from some where. The church must be willing to provide actual instruction of the things it commands.
There are many more things to say on the subject I know. But these are just some thoughts from me about this topic. I don’t know if I am adding anything new or not. But hopefully they are over all helpful.