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.
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.