Tuesday, October 24, 2023

What Does It Mean to Be a Holy Man?

Across the left-right spectrum today, we find commentators chattering away about the crisis of
manhood—a quest for significance and identity among men who seem lost and lonely in our strange new world. In Of Boys and Men, cultural observer Richard Reeves calls out the negative views often associated with masculinity. “The problem with men,” he writes, “is typically framed as a problem of men. . . . It is men who must be fixed, one man or boy at a time.”

Many today seem to view masculinity as a problem rather than a gift. Masculinity is a word now synonymous with descriptors like “toxic” and “problematic” instead of a glorious and courageous calling—leadership that comes from an inner sense of security and steadfastness.

Questions for Our Time

What happens in a society where markers of manhood, the passing from adolescence into adulthood, become obscured, where men stagger forward without mentors or friends?

What happens to a society that pathologizes competition, achievement, roughness, and the aggression required to protect the weak or pursue what’s good?

How does it make sense to push back against toxic expressions of masculinity without a clear picture of actual manliness, a positive vision that shatters the caricatures?

Role of the Church

In the third episode of season 2 of my podcast Reconstructing Faith, “Boys to Men, for Mission,” I point out how some churches seem to have fallen for a self-centered script of manhood, dressing up all sorts of wrongheaded, worldly notions of masculinity with Christian wrapping paper so as to make the church more attractive to men.

Meanwhile, other churches can rail so much against wrongheaded notions that they fail to offer a better vision, leaving men with the impression they’ve got to sacrifice something of their true, God-given masculinity at the door to be a faithful Christian. As if imitating Jesus makes you somehow less of a man.

The church could take a different path, giving our ailing culture a vision of a positive, glorious, biblical masculinity that's in harmony with man’s nature. Yes, masculinity gets twisted and distorted by sin, but there’s a real and enduring good there—an aim to pursue. If the church is going to respond wisely to the challenges facing men today, we’ll need to get a better picture of what masculinity is aiming for.

Characteristics of a Holy Man

John Seel and I have sparred on different topics over the years, yet even amid disagreement, I always come away from our discussions sharpened. John has been pondering the crisis of masculinity in our society, and I found his recent article with Jeremy Schurke compelling. They're doing constructive work as they think out loud about what it means to be a holy man.

Not everything in their list of 18 characteristics applies only to men, of course, but I appreciate their tentative proposal—their desire to paint a picture of a consecrated man of God on a mission. We're going to need more imagination, not less, as we seek to offer a compelling vision for Christian men in the future. I've summed up the characteristics below.

  • A Holy Man possesses wild eyes. As a citizen of another world, he takes initiative as a difference maker—unsettled, yet with an entrepreneurial drive that sees beyond what is to what can be.
  • A Holy Man moves mysteriously. His pervasive dependence on God and his otherworldly orientation demonstrates he’s “set apart,” or as was said of Dallas Willard, “he lives in another time zone.”
  • A Holy Man reveres the sacred everywhere. Life is an adventure of holistic not compartmentalized discipleship, with the purity of heart to “will one thing” (as Kierkegaard said).
  • A Holy Man establishes rituals, disciplines, and traditions. He gives attention to daily routines and details, recognizing how habits shape his life and character.
  • A Holy Man walks a spiritual pilgrimage. He trusts that his destiny as a man, joined to Jesus his King, is a story unfolding by the sovereign hand of God.
  • A Holy Man abides in God. He seeks a consistent and transformative friendship with God, who provides power for the Christian life.
  • A Holy Man seeks a spiritual father. He deliberately chooses close friends and a mentor—all of whom speak into his priorities and direction.
  • A Holy Man fulfills a life mission. His life is an ongoing answering to God's call, direction, and authority over him. His life mission is to uncover God's calling and faithfully walk in it, exercising godly authority in the spheres where he has influence.
  • A Holy Man leaves a legacy. He invests time, talent, and treasure in and for others, seeing his life within the larger story of God's kingdom advancing.
  • A Holy Man seeks kindred spirits. He draws close to others who call him up to his best self and spur him on as he experiences the burden and responsibility of his calling.
  • A Holy Man catalyzes a tribe. He relies on others by creating a dense network of people who share in the causes that animate his life.
  • A Holy Man is a savage servant. He leads by serving, putting others first, sacrificing himself, and committing his best to a team.
  • A Holy Man fosters emotional intelligence. He works effectively with others through increased self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal sensitivity.
  • A Holy Man burns with the fire of a poet and walks with a limp. He ignites the imaginations of others, casting vision while being honest about his failings, leading from a place of love and suffering.
  • A Holy Man is a perpetual student. He embarks on a quest for knowledge and wisdom that expand the mind and heart.
  • A Holy Man takes his body seriously. He’s comfortable in his own skin—committed to taking care of his body, in pursuit of the virtue of chastity, determined to treat others with honor in a world where people are too often objectified.
  • A Holy Man is consciously countercultural. He appreciates the goodness of creation and mourns the distortion of sin, and he's willing to take a lonely, courageous stand for truth, goodness, and beauty.
  • A Holy Man becomes a saint. He’s committed to a lifelong process of growth, formation, and development, being consciously set apart for God as a poet, warrior, and monk. He has a vision of becoming like Jesus by being an apprentice of Jesus—to walk in his ways and love as he loves.

This is a good start in painting a portrait of a man committed to Jesus Christ. We do well to imagine a positive vision of manhood; to appreciate and encourage men in the silent yet heavy burdens they carry; to paint a picture of fatherhood, both physically and spiritually; and to help men step into their inheritance as sons of God who carry the mantle and high calling to serve the world that Jesus gave his life for.

Men must aim at this vision: to love our neighbors and fight for their good, to love our wives self-sacrificially and without restraint, to instruct our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, to set aside the sins that entangle us and run the race with endurance, trusting that the Lord will help us leave a legacy for those who come behind us.


By Trevin Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Cedarville University. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today, which named him one of 33 millennials shaping the next generation of evangelicals.

This is a Football! Remembering the Fundamentals!

In July of 1961, the Green Bay Packers gathered for the first day of training camp. The previous season had ended in heartbreak; they had lost a late lead in the NFL Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The minds of the Packer players had no doubt been thinking about this brutal loss for the entire post-season, pondering again and again how certain victory could’ve been snatched from their grasp. They dreamed of how they might advance their game to another level and start working on a new program to get them ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the NFL.

As the team assembled for a new season, head coach Vince Lombardi shared a surprising lesson with this group who, just months prior, had come within minutes of winning the sport’s biggest prize.

“Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”

His biographer explained, “[Lombardi] took nothing for granted. . . assuming the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before.”

Remembering the fundamentals paid off. Six months later, Green Bay beat the New York Giants 37–0 to win the NFL Championship. The Apostle Peter, in Lombardi-like fashion, wrote in his second letter: “I think it is right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 1:13, emphasis added).

That which was learned only once will soon be assumed and will one day be forgotten (Heb. 2:1–2).

The great Reformer Martin Luther was asked once by a man in his congregation after his Sunday sermon, "Why do you preach the gospel every Sunday?" Luther responded, "Because your keep forgetting it."

As Christians, we need to consistently revisit the basics of the faith, keep remembering them and rehearsing them to ourselves.

Brothers, here is what is of "FIRST IMPORTANCE" of those basics of our faith:

1 Corinthians 15:1-8
"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

Here's How We Can Think About and Share the Gospel:

“The gospel is not just the diving board off which we jump into Christianity—it’s the swimming pool in which we swim.” – J.D. Greear

"Our need is not self-improvement or self-esteem or self-renovation. We need salvation. We need to be saved from the wrath of God." - Dave Brown

That is precisely what the gospel promises.“We need to hear the Gospel every day, because we forget it every day.” - Martin Luther

“Every day we must preach the gospel to ourselves and remind ourselves: “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” - Derek Thomas

"The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on." - Tim Keller

"The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died." - Tim Keller

“Christianity isn't true because it's relevant. It's relevant because it's true.” Tim Keller

“The gospel is not something you can just tack on to another worldview. On the contrary, it makes you rethink everything from the ground up, from the center out.” - Michael Horton

“We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone.” That is, we are saved, not by anything we do, but by grace. Yet if we have truly understood and believed the gospel, it will change what we do and how we live.” - Deitrich Bonhoeffer 

“Gospel is not good advice to men but good news about Christ; not an invitation to do anything but a declaration of what God has done.”  - John Stott

“On the cross, God treats Jesus as if He had lived your life so that He can treat you as if you had lived His life.” – John MacArthur

“The gospel is only good news when we understand the bad news.” —R.C. Sproul

This “good news” is not moral improvement or a Christian society or any political system—whether democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist. It’s the announcement that in his incarnation, obedient life, sacrificial death, and resurrection Jesus Christ has accomplished redemption from sin, death, and hell and reconciled sinners with God.” – Michael Horton

"Whenever and wherever the doctrines of free grace and justification by faith have prevailed in the Christian Church, and according to the degree of clearness with which they have been enforced, the practical duties of Christianity have flourished in the same proportion. Wherever they have declined, or been tempered with the reasonings and expedients of men, either from a well-meant, though mistaken fear, lest they should be abused, or from a desire to accommodate the gospel, and render it more palatable to the depraved taste of the world, the consequence has always been, an equal declension in practice. So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it if found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs." - John Newton (1769)