To Be A Man

An acrostic on being a man, based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

It is Easter weekend, 2017, a time to celebrate the most important event in human history; the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We also consider how the work of Jesus impacts our daily lives. Many of the “powerful” in America in 2017 dislike much of what the Lord taught, and detest who He claimed to be. American Christians, therefore find the Bible at odds with prevailing attitudes in the media, business, government, and entertainment. It can be hard to know what to do, and harder to find strength in tough times. One friend has been unemployed for over a year; another for four months. One is strongly considering leaving his wife. A teenager struggles with what it actually means to be a man, and a recent college graduate faces a wonderful but fearsome task, becoming a husband.  Directly using the word of God, I have described part of what it means to be a man.

To Be A Man –  informed by Scripture and themed by the Westminster Shorter Catechism  

Grow in wisdom and favor with God, and with men who know and love Him (Luke 2:52).

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37-40).

Obey the Word of God, meditating on it day and night, and being careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will be prosperous and have success (Joshua 1:8).

Regard one another as more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3).

Imitate Christ, and imitate those Christians who are themselves imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Forsake not the assembling of yourselves with the Church, and with smaller groups of accountable male friends (Hebrews 10:25).

Yield to the Lord, and to those people that He has put in authority over you (Romans 13:1-4, Hebrews 13:17).

 

Give generously and cheerfully to those who ask of you (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Offer your body as a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable to God, and do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).

Determine to live a quiet life, mind your business, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

 

Always keep the Sabbath Day holy (Exodus 20:8-11).

Never allow your heart to be troubled (John 14:1).

Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

 

Examine the Scriptures daily to see whether what others say is correct, that you may be approved by God for rightly dividing the word of truth (Acts 17:11, 2 Timothy 2:15).

Never lose faith, and never give up (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Join with the great cloud of witnesses, past and present, in encouraging and supporting all Christians who are running the race of life. Then eliminating every weight and sin which so easily entangles you, and run with endurance the race that is set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Overcome yourself, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. Lose your life for His sake, and then find it in Him (Mark 8:34-35).

Yearn for His kingdom and His righteousness, and everything else will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). Delight yourself in Him and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

 

Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12).

Incline your heart towards your wife, your children, and the rest of your family, teaching them the ways of the Lord (Malachi 4:6, Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Children are a blessing from the Lord, like arrows in an archer’s quiver (Psalms 127:3-5).

Meet the material needs of your family and those that God has entrusted to you (1 Timothy 5:8).

 

Flee the evil desires and the lusts of youth (2 Timothy 2:22).

Order your life to love, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things, and rejoicing in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6-7)

Rejoice in the wife of your youth, let her breasts satisfy you at all times, and be exhilarated always with her love (Proverbs 5:18-19). Love your wife as Christ loves the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).

Exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Vex yourself about nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6-7).

Exert yourself to make disciples in all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19).

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophetic utterances, examine everything carefully, hold fast to what is good, and abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).

As we glorify God and enjoy Him forever, Christian men will know how to live, and discover the power to do so.

Conclusion

Tens of thousands of men who rarely attend church will be in the seats of the sanctuary at Eastertime. They will be performing a duty, seeking truth, or trying to appease a nagging parent or spouse. Whether they realize it or not, they will also be seeking answers for the tough questions of life, and strength to sustain them day by day. The Bible tells us what it means to be a man, and the Holy Spirit of God gives us the power to do it.

 

The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence

Open the newspaper, turn on television news, tune in to talk shows on satellite radio, or read internet news or text feeds, and you will be overwhelmed by a flood of information, mostly negative, about what is going on in the world. It would be easy to despair at the chorus of doomsday prophets describing how the world will end in dozens of different ways.

Get out of bed, get ready for work, work as best you can at the job you have, spend the evening with family and friends, and go to sleep. Throughout the day you will experience a mix of pleasure and pain, a combination of successes and failures, and if you reflect on the day you will wonder why things turned out as they did.

Be born, grow and know the victories and defeats of learning and developing, enjoy the milestones of graduation, marriage, career, and children, fulfill some of your dreams and fail to fulfill others, gradually lose all that you have and often much of what you think you are, and die.

Such is life on earth.

But why?

Why is the news so bad? Why are our days a combination of pleasure and pain? Why can’t we accomplish everything that we set out to do? Why can’t we meet our own expectations, much less those of anyone else? Finally, why do all of our lives end in loss and death?

The answer is clear to all of us and present in some form in every religion, or secular worldview…all is not right in the world. There are many wonderful things in the life we are given; beautiful sights, delicious food, exciting experiences, treasured friends and family, and meaningful work, and yet something is amiss. The world is not functioning as it should.

Christians would say that man rebelled against God, Muslims and Jews might say that people don’t do enough good works, and Buddhists and Hindus might blame bad karma. Atheists might argue that mankind hasn’t evolved far enough to eliminate ignorance and bad behavior in the world.

If we believe in some type of god, we can blame Him or ourselves for the state of the world. If we reject the possibility of god, we have to blame ourselves.

Many Christians, and perhaps Jews and Muslims, would argue that we have to blame ourselves for the state the world is in. If the account of the Fall of Man in Genesis, accepted in some measure by all three faiths, communicates any reality at all, it teaches that the fundamental problem in human existence is that man wants to be God, and he is not.

Did not the serpent suggest to Eve that if she ate of the fruit, she could be “as God”? Did not the earliest humans Adam and Eve, eat the fruit so they could be “as God”? When the ancients worshipped idols, either engaging in fertility rituals or sacrifice, were they not trying to curry favor with the gods? Even more, were they not trying to shift the cosmic balance in their favor and thereby compel their god to give them what they wanted?

I have heard many people say that they don’t really want to be God, but is that true? How often do we wish that we could bring rain, or stop rain, when it interferes with our activities? How often do we wish that we could compel a slow driver in front of us to get off the road? How many of our conflicts with others are about us wanting our way, even at their expense? Do we sometimes wish real harm to people who anger us? As we gain money, fame or power, do we not constantly want more? Is not the end of all this exalting ourselves and wanting to be like god?

Many religions tell us that we can compel God. Some Muslims believe that if someone loses his life in a holy war, no matter what else he has done, he will gain entrance into heaven. Some tell us that we can become God. A few, especially in the New Age movement, tell us that we are God. Is this not a root of pantheism, panentheism, and much modern and postmodern thinking?

If the fundamental problem of human existence is that humans want to be God, but we are not, what do we do about it? As a Christian, I would argue that the first step is to acknowledge our problem. The second step is to apologize to Him for trying to usurp His job and failing to be content with the work He has given us. The third step is to carefully consider His instructions to us, as given in the Bible, and do them. Our lives are centered around God, not His around ours. When we try to influence Him in prayer, for example, we do so as children asking for something from an all-good, all-knowing and all loving Father, not rebels who are demanding their due. The battle against our selfish will is life long, but as we align ourselves with reality, that He is God and we are not, we will win.

The Bible and the Nature of Man

Man is a magnificent and tortured creature. He is capable of the brilliance of Newton, the dedication of Paul, and the courage of Shackleton. He is also capable of the stupidity of the Three Stooges, the wavering of Congress, and the cowardice of Pontius Pilate. The same race that produced Washington and Lincoln also produced Mao Tse Tung and Shaka Zulu. The Bible has much to say about the character of man.

1. He was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The exact nature of that image is controversial but surely involves intelligence, emotion, will. It may involve the tripartite nature of man, including body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12).
2. He was made just a little lower in precedence than God Himself, with glory and splendor and might (Psalm 8:4-9).
3. He was made to have dominion over and responsibility for all of the rest of creation (Genesis 1:28).
4. He was made to be in communion with others (Genesis 2:18, Hebrews 10:23-25).
5. He was made to learn and to teach (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
6. Because of his sin, he is separated from God, the rest of creation is cursed because of him, and he will die (Genesis 3:17-19).
7. His best attempts at living well are filthy rags and none of us seeks God (Isaiah 64:6-7).
8. He is as foolish and helpless as sheep in knowing how to live his life (Psalm 23).
Dr. Michael Mitchell in Leading, Teaching and Making Disciples discussed the nature of man in a series of contrasts. Rejecting the conventional wisdom of 21st century America, he noted that:

1. Humans were created by a personal God. We did not evolve from non-human organisms as a result of impersonal forces.
2. Humans were made in the image of God. We are not a blank slate awaiting input.
3. Humans choose evil in our rebellion against God. We are not morally good or innocent.
4. Humans are comprised of multiple parts, body, soul and spirit; not just one.
5. Humans are made to live in community, not as isolated individuals.
6. Humans are active, not passive, in the learning process.
7. Humans learn both through experiences and through processes and they differ in emphasis over time.
It is clear that the Word of God reveals the true nature of man and there is an explicit the contrast between Scriptural truth and conventional wisdom. Christian teacher-leaders must hold fast to the Bible to understand the reality of mankind, tailoring our lessons to the general and specific needs of students.

What does it mean the man is a tortured creature?

Since the Fall of Man, all of creation has been groaning under the pain and distortion of sin. Everything that was once beautiful in God’s perfect creation has become grotesque compared to the glory it had before man’s rebellion. Romans 8:19-22 speaks of creation, including man, under slavery to corruption and subjected to futility. It relates how the universe suffers and groans under the tyranny of evil. Webster’s defines torture as “severe physical and mental pain, anguish or agony” and “a violent twisting, distortion or perversion”.

Due to our wickedness, man and everything else in creation, is tortured. We will be until the Lord returns in glory.

What is the problem of the modern understanding of the nature of man?

One of the fundamental problems in the world and the church today is that we either do not understand or do not accept the truth of the nature of man. The world tells us that man is basically good, which is perfectly understandable because if one refuses to believe in God as the creator and ruler of the universe, he is forced to accept evolution as the creator and man as the ruler of the universe. Therefore he must believe that man is morally good, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Another common misunderstanding of the nature of man is that man is merely a biological organism with no spiritual component. Such reductionism reduces fear, courage, and even love to chemical (hormonal) and electrical (neurological) processes. This mindset asserts that nothing exists except that which is material, accessible to study by the five senses. Fortunately, people who believe in reductionism also fall in love, despise cowardice and admire courage, proving that they don’t really believe what they say they do.

C.S. Lewis addressed this opinion in Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

“’I am a star at rest, my daughter,’ answered Ramandu. ‘When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire berry from the valleys in the Sun and each fire berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again…’”

“In our world” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

If space aliens existed, they might look at men walking around on the earth and describe them as a pile of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and trace elements. We who are men know that that is only what we are made of, not what we are.

The church, much to our shame, too often mindlessly accepts the judgment of the world, especially if smart-sounding people with lots of titles make the judgment, and a fawning media tells us how wonderful they are.

What about one’s own opinion of his sin?

The ugliest of all sins, the one which so bedeviled the Pharisees, is spiritual pride. I once heard an evangelical leader tell a large group of students at a Christian university that she had not sinned in 12 years. I, on the other hand, have difficulty going 12 minutes without demonstrating pride, worry, insensitivity, or any of a host of other transgressions. And the funny thing is that even those who recognize their sin are in danger of becoming proud that they are able to recognize it. The cycle continues, according to C.S. Lewis in Screwtape letters, in which a senior demon is counseling a junior one:

“All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them. This is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment in which he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove, I’m being humble’, and almost immediate pride – pride at his own humility – will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of the attempt – and so on – through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed. “Screwtape Letters, p 63

Sin is so beguiling. Were it not for the work of the Lord, we should never escape it.

In conclusion, man is a magnificent creature, just a little lower than God Himself, who willfully disobeyed his Creator and fell into a sorry state. He has tremendous value, so much so that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died to bring His rebellious creatures back to Him. He is also foolish and powerless as a sheep.

This being true, ministry to our fellow man is great and is a form of worship of our great Lord. The majesty of man makes us want him to be saved, and the poverty of man makes us compassionate about his frailties. We are men, and we share the summits and valleys of our race. As teachers, disciples, and disciple makers, we must do everything we can to bring others back into relationship with their Lord. We must also guard our own faith lest by neglect we drift away.

Ultimately, we go to the cross with our Lord. Many will follow and believe. Some will not, and of them we say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Spiritual Formation and the Nature of Man

“Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.” CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

“No single, essential difference separates human beings from other animals — but that hasn’t stopped the phrasemakers from trying to find one. They have described humans as the animals who make tools, or reason, or use fire, or laugh, or any one of a dozen other appealing oversimplifications.” Time Magazine, How Man Began, 14 March 1994

What is man? Is he merely an animal as our friends at Time Magazine would argue, or is he something more? The Bible teaches clearly that man is comprised both of a material and an immaterial part (Matthew 27:50, Mark 9:1-9, Luke 16:19-31, Luke 23:39-43, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Philippians 1:21-24, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12). The material part is the body and the immaterial part includes spirit and soul, but for simplicity’s sake we will use the term spirit. Animals and plants have some sort of animating force, but only man has a spirit which is created in the image of God.

The body is part of the physical universe and includes elements such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen combined into cells and organs. The body inhabits time, has a beginning and an end, and shares these characteristics with animals, plants, and other parts of the physical universe. After each body dies, it breaks down into its component elements until eventually it ceases to exist in the physical world. The component elements are used in other organisms, whether animals or plants. People living today are therefore composed of atoms that once formed the bodies of other men, plants or animals. Elements that we use will be used by others hundreds of years from now. Everything in the universe is accessible to evaluation by our five senses, often augmented by tools such as telescopes, microscopes and others, through the systematic process known as science. As a physician, I have had extensive experience in the fascinating study of the human body and have well seen the promise and the limitations of science in discovering reality.

The spirit is the part of man that many people, and perhaps Time Magazine, deny. It is the “breath of life” that God breathed into Adam after He made his body (Genesis 2:7) and it is the part that remains alive once the body is dead and gone (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). The human spirit had a beginning, for man is not eternally existent, but has no end. It is not composed of physical elements and is not a physical part of the universe. Therefore it is not accessible to evaluation by our senses and can neither be proved, disproved, nor explored by science. God has revealed to many cultures throughout history the presence of the spirit of man but the most accurate and reliable revelation is in His word, the Bible. It is spirit in the same sense that God the Father is Spirit (John 4:24).

The body has a normal pattern of development. Beginning at conception it develops and grows for nine months in utero. After birth it continues to mature and get larger, reaching its maximum physical strength in the third decade of extrauterine life. From that point, it gradually deteriorates until it is finally overcome by death. There are many things that people can do, including healthy eating, adequate exercise, and sufficient sleep, to help maintain health and form their bodies into the best they can be. All the same, while these efforts will probably prolong and will certainly enrich life on earth, they cannot prevent death (1 Timothy 4:8).

The spirit also has a normal pattern of development. When a man accepts Christ his spirit is no longer “dead” in the sense of being separated from God but alive in the sense of being united with God (Ephesians 2:1-7, Colossians 2:13). This moment is roughly analogous to human conception. For the rest of life on earth, the spirit of the Christian grows and develops into the best it can be…the image of Christ (Philippians 1:6, 2:12). Unlike the body, the spirit never weakens and dies (2 Corinthians 4:16) and therefore working to develop the spirit benefits believers in this life and in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8). The things that Christians must do to develop the Spirit are similar to those necessary to develop the body, including healthy eating, adequate exercise, sufficient sleep, but are in the spiritual realm rather than the physical one. Healthy eating for the spirit might include the classic spiritual disciples of meditation, prayer and study. Adequate exercise for the spirit might include service, fasting and worship. Sufficient sleep for the spirit might include simplicity, solitude and celebration.

When a man seeks to develop his body, he begins with a goal. One goal might be to be able to run three miles, three days per week at a nine minute per mile pace. Another goal might be to bench press 200 lbs, two sets of ten repetitions each, twice per week. A more ambitious bodily goal might be to win an Olympic gold medal in running or weightlifting. When a man seeks to develop his spirit, he also begins with a goal. The goal for all Christians is to become like Christ. Jesus Himself clarified this goal when He summarized God’s commands in the two greatest commandments (Mark 12:30-31);

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

It is in love (ἀγαπάω agapaō – selfless, taking care of, affection), both for God and for others, that Christ-likeness is demonstrated. Spiritual formation is therefore the process by which our spirits grow into the image of Christ, manifest by developing in our love for God and our love for others. The Bible further explains that Christ-likeness is demonstrated by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:23-24).

The foregoing discussion could suggest that one’s spirit develops independently of one’s body; that the material does not impact the physical. This Gnostic heresy could not be further from the truth. Pope John Paul XXIII observed “Let no one imagine there is any difference between perfection of the soul and the business of life. We are not to abandon the world in order to achieve perfection.” Spiritual development, therefore, does not occur independently of the physical world but through the physical world. The classic disciplines intended to develop the human spirit; meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration, must be done with the body as well as the spirit. Westerhof takes this so far as to say that all life is spiritual, with material and immaterial dimensions. He goes on to say that life is sacramental, (outward/visible and inward/invisible), communal (personal and social), and liturgical (ritual and routine). The Bible teaches that man is united, physical and spiritual, in all aspects of earthly life.

What then, is spiritual formation? It is the development of the spirit of man through the activities of the total of man, material and immaterial, for the purpose of becoming like Jesus Christ. It begins at salvation, continues during earthly life, and is perfected in glory with the Lord. It is manifest by agape love for God and for others, and the Fruits of the Spirit. It is facilitated by the classic spiritual disciplines. Finally, it is one of the main purposes of the Christian journey on earth.

Bibliography
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Lemonick, Michael D., and Dorfman, Andrea. “How Man Began.” Time (March 14, 1994). http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,980307,00.html (accessed March 26, 2011).

Lewis, Clives Staples. The Screwtape Letters. New York: Collier Books, 1961.

Westerhoff, John. Spiritual Life: The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.