God’s Idea for Manhood . . . According to Metaxas

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Our culture continues to lose an understanding of what it means that God created humans “in His own image, […]male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). With gay “marriage” on the rise to normalcy and so-called transgender elementary school students allowed to use any restroom they want, it seems that the idea and practice of biblical manhood and womanhood are all but lost in America. But, conservative evangelicals can still make an impact. However far gone our culture appears, our families, our friends, our churches, and our communities still need to hear the truth from us about how God designed men and women and see how that design plays out in real life. I hope to write more on this in the future, but for now, here are some quotes on God’s idea for manhood from the book Seven Men: And The Secret of Their Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2013) by Eric Metaxas.

Two false ideas about manhood:

The first false idea about manhood is the idea of being macho—of being a big shot and using strength to be domineering and to bully those who are weaker. […]

The second false choice is to be emasculated—to essentially turn away from your masculinity and to pretend that there is no real difference between men and women. (xix)

Both of these ideas are not the way to go. As Metaxas says, going down either road for a man leads to everyone losing out. Consider his argument:

God’s idea of manhood is something else entirely. It has nothing to do with the two false ideas of either being macho or being emasculated. The Bible says that God made us in his image, male and female, and it celebrates masculinity and femininity. And it celebrates the differences between them. Those differences were God’s idea. For one thing, the Bible says that men are generally stronger than women [….] God’s idea of making men strong was so that they would use that strength to protect women and children and anyone else. There’s something heroic in that. Male strength is a gift from God, and like all gifts from God, it’s always and everywhere meant to be used to bless others. […]

But because men have sometimes used their strength selfishly, there has been a backlash against the whole idea of masculine strength. It has been seen—and portrayed—as something negative. If you buy into that idea, then you realize the only way to deal with it is to work against it, to try to weaken men, because whatever strength they have will be used to harm others. This leads to the emasculated idea of men. Strength is denigrated because it can be used for ill. So we live in a culture where strength is feared and where there is a sense that—to protect the weak—strength itself must be weakened. When this happens, the heroic and true nature of strength is much forgotten. It leads to a world of men who aren’t really men. Instead they are just two kinds of boys: boasting, loud-mouthed bullies or soft, emasculated pseudo-men. Women feel that they must be ‘empowered’ and must never rely on men for strength. It’s a lot like a socialistic idea, where ‘power’ and ‘strength’ are redistributed—taken away from men and given to women, to even things out. Of course it doesn’t work that way. Everyone loses.

The knight in shining armor who does all he can to protect others, the gentleman who lays down his cloak or opens a door for a lady—these are Christian ideals of manliness. Jesus said that he who would lead must be a servant of all. It’s the biblical idea of servant leadership. The true leader gives himself to the people he leads. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Jesus died for those he loves. That is God’s idea of strength and leadership and blessing. It’s something to be used in the service of others. (xix-xx, emphasis added)

I think Metaxas is reading culture well when he says that the denigration of strength among men leads to two kinds of boys: one that is a boisterous bully and the other that is a soft pseudo-man. Like Metaxas says, unfortunately everyone is losing out when an entire culture shifts in the direction described here. Men lose any sense of the biblical, masculine identity, and women receive less and less chivalrous aid (which they need from time to time) from men as they themselves lose sight of the biblical, feminine identity and exchange it for a power grab.

Ultimately, the best example we have (and have ever had) is Jesus. Jesus is no bully. Jesus is no wimp. While on earth c. 30 A.D. He spoke the truth in love and He willingly gave His life for those He loves. Yes, He turned over the money changers’ tables in the temple and called the Pharisees really serious names, but He also associated with the lowly and outcasts of society and talked to women openly (which was socially prohibited). Again, Jesus was all about speaking the truth in love and living in a way consistent with what He taught and what His heavenly Father instructed Him. Of course, Jesus is also far more than our best example. He is also the Savior of everyone who would turn from sin and turn toward Him in faith. I hope that we men who follow Jesus by faith would be more manly like Him.

Biblical Knowledge, Not Applied, Torments like a Devil

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Thomas Brooks (a Puritan):

Reader, if it is not strong upon your heart to practice what you read, to what end do you read? To increase your own condemnation? If your light and knowledge be not turned into practice, the more knowing a man you are, the more miserable a man you will be in the day of recompense; your light and knowledge will more torment you than all the devils in hell. Your knowledge will be that rod that will eternally lash you, and that scorpion that will forever bite you, and that worm that will everlastingly gnaw you; therefore read, and labor to know, that you may do—or else you are undone forever.

Also look up James 1:23-24, where “Scripture warns against the self-deception that comes to the so-called believer who hears the Word, but refuses to act upon it.”

Heavy stuff for someone like me who loves to read, yet struggles to apply most of what is learned. I guess the key is whether it is “strong upon [my] heart to practice what [I] read.” I sure hope it always is and that this bears fruit.

HT: Paul Tautges

Why Did God regard Abel’s Offering instead of Cain’s?

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It’s a fairly well-known story: Cain and Abel are brothers who are sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was born first and is a farmer, and Abel is a shepherd. The time comes for each of them to offer a sacrifice unto the Lord. Cain offers fruit from the ground and Abel offers the firstborn of his flock. We are then told that “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5). Why is this? Cain was the firstborn, the one that normally was more regarded than any other sons in a family. Why did the Lord have no regard for Cain and his offering, and instead had regard for Abel?

The typical answer has been to comment on what Cain and Abel each offered. It is said that because Abel’s offering involved a blood sacrifice, God accepted it. The practice of blood sacrifice of animals would of course be instituted with the coming of the Law, and the story of Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices foreshadows that pattern. But, is this the right answer to our original question of why God chose Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s?

R.C. Sproul in his book How Then Shall We Worship?: Biblical Principles to Guide Us Today (David C Cook, 2013) argues that this common answer isn’t the right one. Looking primarily at Hebrews 11:4 he concludes that it was Abel’s heart attitude that made the difference, not what kind of sacrifice was offered. Consider that verse:

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.

Sproul bases his argument largely on the words “by faith” here in this verse, indicating that “Abel’s faith made all the difference” (30). He then goes on to speculate what it meant for Abel to offer a sacrifice by faith. Sproul cannot imagine Adam and Eve not explaining to their sons the hope God offered to them in the promise in Genesis 3:15 that the seed (descendent) of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. He goes on to say:

However, it was not enough for Cain and Abel to merely hear Adam and Eve speak of the promise. The issue was whether they would trust the promise. What would they trust in ultimately to reconcile them with the Father? What would they trust in to receive the blessing of God? (32)

What do you think? Is Sproul on to something in going against the standard interpretation of this account? Or is he way off-base? Please comment below.

I’m not sure exactly what to think of Sproul’s idea, especially in light of the blood sacrifice of Genesis 3:21 (where God clothes Adam & Eve with animal skin) that may have set a precedent for the sacrifice of animals to cover over sin. I do think, however, that those two questions which Sproul asks above are of great importance for us: Who or what do we trust in to reconcile us to the Father and receive blessing from Him?

  1. The good stuff we do?
  2. The fact that we say “I’m sorry” to God every once in a while?
  3. The fact that we’ve never done any of the “really bad stuff” like murder or rape?

None of these and a hundred other ideas count for anything, except the truth that through faith (trust) in the Savior–who did crush Satan and sin at the cross–can we be reconciled to God. I would imagine that many of my readers already know this. But, how are you (and I) living each day in light of this reality? Does it change our attitudes and actions in any significant way? Because it should, drastically so. Through our faith in Christ, our reconciliation to God is final and our relationship to Him is forever secured. It is a relationship in which Jesus even calls us His friends (John 15:14-15)! Let us find refuge in this realty and live a life overflowing with true worship to our great God and Savior and friend, Jesus Christ!

Learning from the Lives of Seven Great Men

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Almost a week ago for my birthday, I was given from a dear couple at church a copy of the book Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2013) by Eric Metaxas. It looks at the lives of seven influential men in recent world history and examines the principles they held and lived out that made them so great. As it turns out, for a little while before my birthday I had been thinking that it would be neat to read an inspiring biography of a Christian hero. Now, I have just the book to read! And, of course, I would love to share a bit of it with you as I go through the book.

As a general idea of what Metaxas is hoping to accomplish by writing brief biographies of seven famous men, consider his words:

So this is a book that doesn’t talk about manhood […] but that shows it in the actual lives of great men. You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to to behave and how not to behave. We need heroes and role models. (xiv)

I don’t think Metaxas is trying to downplay the importance of actually talking about what is right and wrong, good and bad. Rather, he recognizes the void that contemporary culture since the 1960s has had with respect to role models. Who has the authority to say or show what is right or good has been questioned. As a culture, we are largely skeptical of anyone who declares certain ideas or practices to be absolutely true. As a consequence, our children (and we too!) have settled for heroes and heroines who make them feel good regardless of the principles or lifestyles advocated. This is utterly sad. I think Metaxas is right when he says:

Can we really believe that certain lives aren’t worthy of emulation? And that others are cautionary tales? Are we really unwilling to say that we shouldn’t try to get our children (and ourselves) to see that Abraham Lincoln is worthy of our emulation and Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin are not? (xvi-xvii)

So, as I read this book I am hoping that I can see on display the lives of men who are worthy to be emulated. As a young married man, I really do need good examples of what it means to be a great husband, friend, and man. Certainly living examples, but ones from the past discovered in literature can be very helpful too. Like the apostle Paul, for example, who said “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ“ (1 Corinthians 11:1). As I study in this book the lives of other Christian men like William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Charles Colson, I hope to find aspects of their lives I can imitate. And I pray that you can benefit from little nuggets shared here. All to the glory of God!

Holiness is NOT an option for the Christian

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Recently a good friend and I have begun reading through The Pursuit of Holiness (NavPress, 1978) by Jerry Bridges. Today, we finished going through chapter three entitled Holiness Is Not an Option. I would like to share some quotes and thoughts from this challenging, yet encouraging chapter. If you have never heard of Jerry Bridges, this book is his most famous. It, and frankly all his others, are well worth reading. His writings are doctrinal, practical, engaging, and Gospel-centered. In the past I have turned to his book The Bookends of the Christian Life (Crossway, 2009) to find encouragement in times of anxiety over sin. I commend that title of his too.

As the title of the chapter indicates, Bridges argues that for the Christian, holiness is not an option. What does he mean? Simply, the man or woman who has been saved through faith in Christ is commanded by God to be holy, AND that man or woman will have a desire to be holy and will be striving after it. In fact, as Bridges says, “If there is not, then, at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine” (38).

How does this sound to you? Is this a new thought for you? Throughout the chapter, Bridges quotes a number of Scriptural verses which illustrate this and related ideas. Consider a few:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:7)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)

These and other verses lead Bridges to conclude that “The only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life” (43). Mentioning Matthew 7:21-23, Bridges states, “It is not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy” (43).

To be clear, Bridges is not saying that Christians must be perfect in this life in order to be saved. That would be demanding a works-based salvation, an idea clearly opposed to the Gospel. Upon trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a Christian is declared holy before God because of what Christ has done. This is what is meant by the term justification. What Bridges is getting at in this chapter (and in his book at large) is the concept of sanctification, or the process of becoming holy over one’s life. We must not confuse these two terms.

Hopefully, after reading the verses mentioned above (and Scripture as a whole), you and I will be convinced that we must take an active role in pursuing holiness. It is what God requires of us, and it is what we truly desire because we want to please Him.

One of the most encouraging verses from this chapter for me was 2 Timothy 2:21 because it assures us that in pursuing holiness God will bless us and we will be useful to Him:

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

I don’t know about you, but I often wonder if I am doing anything of value to God. I wonder if I am doing anything useful for His Kingdom. This verse answers my doubts by assuring me that as I fight sin by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:13) and do what is good, I am very useful indeed to my Master. What relief and hope this is!

I could write so much more about what I have learned from this chapter, but I will end by repeating some challenging questions that Bridges says everyone who professes to be a Christian should ask himself:

  • Is there evidence of practical holiness in my life?
  • Do I desire and strive after holiness?
  • Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?

Please feel free to comment on what was said here
. I would love to hear your thoughts and be encouraged to know that someone is reading and thinking about these words!

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