FIRST-PERSON: Men, temptation & the Gospel
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--A few months ago Harvey Mansfield, Harvard professor of government and 2011 Bradley Prize winner, wrote a provocative piece on the distinctive characteristics and faults of men for The Weekly Standard.
Several years ago, Mansfield penned the highly controversial book Manliness (Yale, 2006). Enjoying the freedom only tenure can bring, Mansfield has questioned gender absolutes in the academy and suggested that men and women are different. These are fighting words in many circles today. I have benefited from his insights and applaud his courage, even if I have some essential disagreements with him.
In his Weekly Standard piece, Mansfield notes that "men are more adventurous and aggressive than women. This is true for good as well as ill." Mansfield's insights are based in his observations, not in Scripture. They resonate, however, with certain tenets of the Christian worldview. From start to finish in the Bible, men are appointed as leaders of God's church and their homes (with 1 and 2 Timothy providing the essential New Testament data on the matter). As they go, so go their families, churches and societies. When men excel in righteousness, others flourish (see, in a general sense, Israel under David's reign -- 1 and 2 Samuel). When men fall into gross sin, others suffer (see the book of Judges). The sins and strengths of men have an outsize impact on others.
Mansfield is right. Men are aggressive. Men are adventurous. Men find monogamy more challenging than women. When men act on their base instincts, channeling their aggression into fornication and marital affairs, they set women up for heartbreak and pain. As Kay Hymowitz has shown in her recent book "Manning Up" (Basic, 2011), in the new sexual economy, men are loosed from traditional cultural bonds, which only increases the risks for women, children and society.
All of which leads Christian men -- men captured by the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- to realize that this is an age of tremendous opportunity. Godly men have a remarkable chance in this day to show how the Holy Spirit transforms a man. When God gets a hold of a man, He doesn't merely tinker with him, making him cuss less and smile more. When God saves a man, He looses him to destroy sin and bless his family, church and society. Christian men are not normal men who sleep less on Sunday and wear Dockers with no creases. Christian men are transformed men, other-worldly men, residents of a new kingdom, servants of a great King, as Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas make clear in their insightful and challenging book "A Guide to Biblical Manhood" (Southern Seminary, 2011).
Not every unsaved man will stray, and indeed, the media can make it seem as if every man is out to destroy the traditional family. These ideas are plainly not true. Many men, Christian or not, will not ruin their families. The point stands nonetheless: Godly men have a fantastic opportunity in a society rightly jaded by the failures of so-called "great men" -- actors, athletes, politicians, celebrities -- to demonstrate the transformative power of the Gospel in a man's life.
We face all the same temptations as lost men. Our flesh pulls at us to compromise our marriages, to take our sacrificial wives lightly, to ignore our children in order to play golf or be more successful or have more fun, to flirt when traveling, to speak ill of marriage, to generally not live sacrificially in the image of Jesus Christ and spend ourselves for the betterment of those God has entrusted us (Ephesians 5). Our flesh encourages us to allow small temptations to grow into strong desires, then to usher those desires into daring actions, then to allow those actions to blossom into patterns of sin that will, when discovered, blow our families and churches apart.
But the Gospel, praise God, is stronger. The power of God is inside us, enabling men to exchange the role of pleasure-driven narcissist for that of self-sacrificing pillar of strength. The power of God is at work in His local church, where sinful men find fellowship in the company of brothers who bear the same weaknesses but through the power of the Spirit stand as oaks of righteousness. Instead of comparing black book conquests and planning the next hedonistic plunge, these men link arms to kill sin, love their families, and propel the church's witness. Whether in a massive church or a tiny one, this band of brothers provides an awesome witness to a fallen world of the mysterious power of the Gospel. Men who genuinely find pleasure in their families, in service of the church, and in their vocations show the world that it is not a secular lifestyle for which we were made, but the far more pleasurable way of life sketched out for us in Scripture.
This very day, every man -- whether a global leader or an unknown tradesman -- has an opportunity to show the world that the Gospel does not kill pleasure or aggressiveness. Rather, as Jonathan Edwards has shown, it frees Christians to experience true pleasure and to act in manly ways for a far greater cause than ourselves. We grieve the trajectory of modern men, and we feel special pain for the wives and children who are, through no fault of their own, deeply damaged by the sins of men. In a broken world, we pray to God to show the world a better way, a greater joy, and a magnificent Savior, who delights in taking sinful men and turning them into agents of His glory.
Owen Strachan is instructor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is the co-author of "The Essential Edwards Collection." This column first appeared at TheGospelCoalition.org
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