A few months ago I was at a worship event in the mountains for a weekend when someone made a comment, almost in passing, that changed everything about the way I think about being a man. The speaker was Ben Pasley, a spiritual leader (and huge influencer in my life) whose work you should get acquainted with. Pasley was talking about sonship. “Son” is the status of all those who are in Jesus, man or woman. If you know Jesus, you’re God’s son. There’s a ton to say about sonship, and a lot has been said in Ben Pasley’s book, Orphan Slave Son.
So Pasley is talking about sonship when he says, “The identity of ‘son’ is the only identity you can have that is limitless.” Ben went on to say that you can find your identity in lots of things and that’s okay but the only true foundation for our identity must be as God’s son. He specifically mentioned manliness. He said you can see yourself as a manly man and that’s alright but if your identity rests on your manliness then it is limited and conditional. It can be taken away.
When a man like Ben Pasley is at the microphone the gold is dispensed almost too quickly so you have to be paying attention. I was and my jaw dropped when he brought up this identity stuff. The mention of manliness as a possible source of false identity felt like it was spoken directly to me. My first reaction to being “found out” is often denial but it didn’t last long because the knife was too sharp and the damage was done.
A truth as big and life-altering as this needs to be captured, filed and returned to often over a long period of time in order to be adequately processed. So in the months that have followed I’ve thought about it a lot, asking myself the question, “Where are the places I base my identity other than in Christ?” I’ve found that there are lots of these places but for our purposes, I want to talk about manliness of course.
To be sure, I would be the last person to deny the significance of manliness. You are a man, that’s how God created you, that’s an important part of your identity, and you should want to be the best man you can be. But your manhood cannot be the foundation of your identity. When we base our identities on our manliness we limit ourselves and inevitably begin to live false lives.
Some of the results of an identity founded in manhood:
- Fear. When we’re struggling as men, when we do something weak or generally unmanly, we respond in fear because the foundation of our very selves is cracking and because we’re afraid of being found out.
- Anger. Anger usually follows fear for men. We’ve put ourselves in a losing position and it pisses us off.
- Lies. We will always have to pretend to be “manlier” than we are. We end up worrying more about things that appear manly on the outside in order to maintain the impression while neglecting the manliness of the heart. We posture.
- Weakness. There is no strength to be found in a false identity.
- Wounds. We’ve built our manliness on things that have nothing to do with being men and try to hold other men to our false standards. Instead of building other men up we try to limit their identities or even tear them down to augment our own position.
It’s because of the use of manhood as a false identity that many people believe manhood is nothing more than a performance. They believe that there is nothing inherently distinct (beyond our physicality) about men and that manliness is just an act males put on in order to fit in culturally. I deeply disagree with this position. God has made us men down to the heart. It’s that truth that is the reason for this blog. Men living out a manhood that is the foundation of their identity are the source of false beliefs about the role of manhood.
First, you are a son. There is nothing you have to do to remain a son except remain. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of Christ and therefore nothing that can take away your place as God’s son. If you foul up or if you are attacked it will not damage your status as son in the least. Everything you need to do flows naturally from your identity as a son. If we want to be great men then our manhood needs to be founded on our place as sons. It is the only identity that is limitless. Put manliness in it’s right place and it is a glorious thing God can use in big ways.