Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gospel-Centered Manhood: Three Correctives

by Joseph Rhea

As a man entering my late 20s, I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow in masculinity in a God-honoring way. Men my age hear a Babel of voices telling us what manhood looks like. I came to Christ in a college ministry where most of the leaders were extroverted, athletic, and aggressive. They they didn't uphold these things as parts of true manhood, but I feared on some level that I wasn't going to become much of a man (being introverted, bookish, and more laid-back). 
Many "traditional" voices for Christian manhood speak mostly in negative terms about modern expressions of manhood: mockery, complaint, deploring ("Grow up!"). On the other hand, however, few voices from our own generation say anything at all about manhood: they downplay or ignore differences between men and women.

But I want to "grow up." I am a man, and I want to be living out my manhood in a way that gives glory to God. I want to know what being a biblical man is about.

Common Vision

The vast majority of the Bible's vision for humanity applies to men and women alike: both genders are adopted sons of God; both genders compose the bride of Christ; both genders fulfill the Great Commission, receive the Great Commandment, live in Word and sacrament and prayer and community. These things are of supreme importance and will be the great part of a Christian man's vision for himself.

But there are some ways in which God has uniquely shaped men. Living into manhood—being sanctified into the image of Christ as a man—differs in some ways from the process of being sanctified into the image of Christ as a woman. Looking to Scripture, we can see at least five specific roles the Bible reserves for men. Not every man will fulfill every one of these roles in his lifetime; but each role expresses a dimension of biblical manhood, and our growth as men will move us toward potentially fulfilling each role.

Before I discuss these roles in subsequent articles, we must consider three truths that correct counterfeit notions of manhood. Beginning to learn these correctives has given me a right perspective on the process of growing in true masculinity.

1. God is the hero of my story, not me.
Men are drawn to heroes. We love to see men face obstacles, confront enemies, or overcome long odds. Watching heroes resonates with us, in part because we admire them and in part because we like to imagine ourselves acting heroically. We want to be heroes.
But God is the one true hero of history, and he is the hero of my story too. In Revelation 5, John "weep[s] loudly" (5:4) because no one "in heaven or on earth or under the earth" is able to open the scroll of God's purpose for history. Only Jesus, the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (5:5), has the right to do so. And every creature in all creation worships him for it (5:13). We are the "image and glory" (1 Cor 11:7) of God, designed to point to his greatness. True masculinity will direct others' attention to God.

This perspective gives us a new definition of heroism. We aren't heroes; but we act heroically when we act in a way that typifies God to the world and points others to his glory. The goal of my masculinity isn't to impress others but to prompt them to see my good works and give glory to my Father in heaven.

2. The Holy Spirit grows me in masculinity, not me.

In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches, "In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22, emphasis added). In 1 Corinthians Paul takes pains to show that God alone causes growth in the field of his church (3:6, 9). God assigns us gifts and tasks as part of the privilege of working with him, but, as John Stott writes in Basic Christian Leadership, "in God's field . . . it is God's activity that really matters."

Because manhood is part of our identity in Christ, this truth also applies to the process of growing as a man. God grows us in true masculinity. There are no self-made men of God; but we may repent of "what is dishonorable" (2 Tim. 2:20) and thus prepare the way for God to cultivate his image in us.

This is a call to caution and to courage. Caution, because we don't want to take any part of our sanctification into our own hands, and some of the "wisdom" on manhood for Christians overemphasizes human effort. Manhood is not a do-it-yourself endeavor; we are never "perfected by the flesh" (Gal. 3:3) in masculinity. But we can take courage, because we're in capable hands. The power of growing in manhood belongs to God alone, and he desires to make us "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:15).

3. I have already received my manhood in Jesus Christ.

Masculinity is not a badge we win at the end of a series of trials or a status I might one day earn. My growth in manhood, in being the image and glory of God, was earned by Jesus 2,000 years ago. He has begun the "good work" of growing me in manhood, and he will bring it to completion. I don't have to become a man; I am a man.

We will fall along the way in the process of growing into manhood. We will see the ways God is a perfect Father, a perfect Husband, and we'll know we can never hope to meet his example. But our lives are hidden with Christ in God; and when we fall short, we give thanks that God is merciful to love us, weak men as we are.

I'm still learning what it means to grow as a Christian man. I hope this series will provide others with encouragement and guidance in their growth; I also hope those who read these articles will converse with me, offering their own wisdom on biblical masculinity. May we sharpen one another like iron and learn to live into God's vision for us as men.

Joseph Rhea recently completed his Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife, Allison, belong to Redeemer Community Church, and he is pursuing ministry work.

What Makes Men Great?

by Eric Metaxas

In the news recently, we heard the tragic story of the Olympic athlete nicknamed “the Blade Runner.” Oscar Pistorius, who raced on prosthetic legs, was charged with shooting his girlfriend to death. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

And then of course there’s Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who, after years of denials, finally admitted to using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France medals.

A lot of people admire athletes, but Pistorius and Armstrong are reminders that simply having athletic prowess does not make men heroic. So what does make men great?
Like Jesus, I'm going to answer that question with a story.

Many of you have probably seen the film "Chariots of Fire," about the Scottish runner Eric Liddell, and about how, in 1924, he surrendered an almost certain Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters because the heats took place on a Sunday. And Eric Liddell would not run on the Sabbath. He felt that that would not honor God. So instead, Eric began training for the 400 meters. That was not something he was expected to win a gold medal in. But to his country's delight, he did win the gold medal in that event.

In my new book, Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, I write about seven men, among them Eric Liddell, who was willing to make this incredible sacrifice. He gave up not only the greatest prize in sports, but also the chance to bring honor to his beloved country — not to mention fame, fortune, and glory to himself.

And then he gave up the glory and wealth that goes with being an Olympic champion when he announced his intention to serve God on the mission field in China.

Eric's heroism did not stop after he won his gold medal. In the lead-up to World War II, Eric more than once put his life in danger in an effort to bring supplies to the school where he taught. On one of these journeys, he was attacked and robbed by armed thieves; on another, he was shot at.

After the war started, Eric was sent to a Japanese internment camp in China. There, he threw himself into both work and volunteer activities, teaching in the camp school and organizing softball, cricket, and tennis games for the children. Despite his growing exhaustion, and missing his family terribly, he remained cheerful for the sake of others. When he noticed that a teenager's shoes had worn out, Eric gave him his extra pair — the very shoes he had worn in the Olympic Games.

In 1945, after years in the camp, Eric began suffering terrible headaches. After he suffered a minor stoke, camp doctors believed that he had a brain tumor. On February 18, Eric finished writing one last letter to his wife and slipped into a coma. And he died that evening at the age of 43.

When the news spread around the world, not only Scotland mourned, but many other countries, as well. The Glasgow Evening News summed up the feelings of the Scottish people regarding the man who had put God before a gold medal and then spent the remainder of his life serving others. Eric Liddell, the editors said, “did [Scotland] proud every hour of his life.”

He did Scotland proud again when, 63 years after his death, China revealed that Eric had been included in a prisoner exchange. But rather than going free, he had given up his place to a pregnant woman.

For the next six Mondays leading up to Father's Day, BreakPoint will look at truly heroic men — the men I write about in my new book, Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness. I hope you'll tune in. And I hope you'll share these stories with young people who too often admire the wrong people for the wrong reasons. They'll learn that greatness lies not in stellar achievements, but in selfless sacrifice.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.