Evangelicalism is undergoing a crisis of manhood. By turning our attention to the perfect man, Jesus of Nazareth, we can sort through the confusion and recall a compelling biblical anthropology at a time when men – and women for that matter – require a heroic model for life.
“Biblical manhood” is a term often bandied about today in the church as a foil to the inanities of secular liberalism. Secular liberalism lauds the perverse, excuses the obsequious, and demands fealty to the false gods of sexuality, socialism, and status. We correctly point out the problems with the world’s perversity, but is this ever an excuse for bringing in and exalting our own perversity in the guise of being “biblical”? Have too many looked at our representation of Godly manhood as involving gold, guns, and gross historical fallacies, and seen not healthy manhood but hypocritical mysticism?
In his famous novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn pointed out that the real problem we face as human beings is not in the communities who oppose and oppress us. The real problem we face is in the heart of every man. If you think your real enemy is out there, such that if you could only get that laser pointer on his chest and eliminate the threat, then you fundamentally misunderstand the true war in which we are engaged. The enemy is not on the political left or on the political right of you; your true enemy is right in the middle of yourself. Your true opponent is your own heart. Our real enemies are sin, Satan, and death.
In his famous commencement address before Harvard University in 1978, Solzhenitsyn stunned his audience, not by praising the West, but by pointing out its spiritual weakness and vulgar materialism. “The West should not preen at its victory in the Cold War,” he said, “for it lacks ‘manliness’ and courage.” (Never invite a prophet to give a panegyric!)
So, what is true “manliness”? What is biblical manhood? I think some have lauded biblical manhood but have substituted their own ideals and their own foibles for that which is biblical. Fallen Adam is not the exemplar of true manhood! Don’t take Abraham’s self-preserving lies, Judah’s perverse sexual escapades, or Saul’s proud death-dealing efforts as exemplary male virtue. Rather than looking to the First Adam, look to the Last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:45).
Real biblical manhood is not about demanding what you want, dominating over others, or dallying in selfish sensuality. Being a real man is about obeying God, leading others into excellence in Christ through hearing the Word, and being respectful to the leadership of the Spirit in others. A real man is like Jesus. He doesn’t put others to the sword like Mohammed. No, he climbs up with courage onto the cross that God gives him just like the Lord, Jesus Christ!
And when you look to the teaching of Jesus Christ for who he thinks is an exemplary leader in the faith, prepare to be shocked. Jesus does not laud a son of Israel, a choice man among the chosen people. No, he points out their problems – Even John the Baptist, whom he follows and adores, is classified as being among the “least in the kingdom of God” (Luke 7:28). Instead, Jesus praises one of the occupying soldiers, and a high-ranking one at that. It is this Gentile, this Centurion, who Jesus praises as an exemplar: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9).
What does real biblical manhood look like? (By the way, men were created by God to rule. We who are men have been given real yet limited power and authority. And God will hold each one of us responsible for what we do with the gift of authority.) So, what does male leadership, courageous manliness, entail?
Luke 7:1-10 gives us what Jesus, the only perfect Man, thought real manhood looked like. In this passage, the Centurion displays seven characteristics of true manhood, biblical manhood, redeemed manhood—the type of manhood of which Christ Jesus approved:
- The Centurion is a man characterized by great “faith” (Luke 7:9). Real manhood cannot be grasped except through faith in Jesus.
- This real man honors Jesus Christ. He does not see himself as a Messiah, for he sees Jesus as his superior (v. 6). There is no “Messianic complex” at work here.
- The Centurion uses power, but not for selfish ends. He does not abuse, misappropriate, or glorify self. He does not see himself as “worthy” even to be in the presence of Jesus (vv. 6-7).
- This real man “highly valued” those other human servants whom God gave him to lead and care about (v. 2). He seeks out Jesus to heal his servant (v. 3). He continually serves those who serve him by doing all he can for them.
- The Centurion leads a life of unparalleled virtue. He is “worthy,” as even his natural political enemies testified to Jesus (v. 4). (The significant Greek terms translated as “worthy” in this passage, axios and hikanos, indicate “fittingness” and “sufficiency,” respectively.)
- This real man, whom Jesus lauded as possessing unparalleled faith, loved those who were different from him. This Gentile loved the Jews (v. 5). This man showed no evidence whatsoever of racism. He had a deep appreciation for other human beings who were different.
- The Centurion built houses of worship (v. 5). His legacy was to build up the people of God, all of which was ultimately for the glory of God.
Why did the Centurion not want to be in Jesus’ presence? Because he did not feel “worthy” enough. It is not that this man of dignity, authority, and power possessed an inferiority complex. Far from it! He was not a wimpy wallflower. Rather, he understood where true authority lies. True authority, like true glory, begins and ends with God. The Centurion’s assessment was correct, for Jesus in his manhood is worthier than the Centurion ever could be.
If you want to see what a real man, the perfect man, looks like, don’t look to fallen men. Don’t gaze at the screen or the pulpit or the podium. Instead, look toward the Man of perfection—look to where He is. The real Man is there, on the cross, providing for and protecting others, and preaching and practicing love. Christ Jesus on the cross provides us not only with our salvation but with our definition of real biblical manhood.