I heard it again the other day for what must be the hundredth time. “How would I describe him? Hmm. Well, he’s a nice guy.” In other words, “Meh.”
It would be one thing if she had just met him, but she had been in his small group for a while. They shared countless fellowship times together, countless Bible studies together. She saw him in dozens, if not hundreds, of interactions, and heard him speak and pray many times. Yet all she could muster was “nice guy.”
Perhaps the fault was hers. Maybe she had overlooked the contours of his godliness hidden in the quietness of a humble life (1 Timothy 2:2). But are we to believe this is the case every time? How can some men in the church be so nondescript, so unremarkable, so saltless? It is a question I’ve asked myself recently, in part, because for years I might have been the guy nearly impossible to describe beyond “nice.”
Now, do not mistake me. Men of God should “avoid quarreling, be gentle, and show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Men ought to be genuinely kind (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12), which some might label as nice. But should this be the chief — and often, the only — name to describe a man of God?
When did the lineage of men, once aflame with purpose and passion, sizzle into something so pedestrian? What person — in the first century or since — when asked what Jesus was like, would have answered, “Hmm. Well, he’s a nice guy”? Whose image are we being made into?
Messiah’s Motley Men
I am not saying that every Christian man needs to be extraordinarily gifted, powerful, or brilliant. I am not talking about popularity contests or beauty pageants. Our Savior himself “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2), and he was outvoted in favor of Barabbas.
Besides this, his disciples were average dudes, fisherman and tradesmen. And despite our estimations of ourselves, most of us are the same — by God’s wonderful design:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)
What I am talking about is something different: an unexceptional, unnoticeable, saltless, make-peace-with-the-world existence unbefitting to men born of God (and women born of God, for that matter). A life that starts as a groan and ends in a whisper — with little to take notice of in between. A life this evil generation takes no notice of.
“We need men who are unashamed and unapologetic about being a force for good in our world.”
I am talking about a polite existence with no signs of that otherworldliness, that light, that aroma of Christ that is either the fragrance of life to those who are living or the aroma of death to those who are not (2 Corinthians 2:15). I am talking about churchmen who come and go from the gatherings lacking any scent at all, unanimated with spiritual life while being neighborly, polite, civil.
Common, Yet Extraordinary
This will not do. The Lord makes even the most common soldiers who have spent time in his presence an astonishment to the world: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
I know such men, and it would be a dishonor and a lie, once you get to know them, to meagerly call them “nice guys”— or any other bland, empty-calorie, sugar-free synonym. Initially, one might be tempted to call them common. They may not stand out at first glance. But they will in time.
After hearing the hushed thunder of their prayers, watching the firm tenderness with which they lead their family, after fighting next to them in spiritual battles, marveling at their unwillingness to grumble in hard times, yearning to imitate their ever-buoyant love for those who wound them, their courage to stand when others flee, their unmistakable heavenly assignment, their ability to lift all around them towards spiritual-mindedness — many, including myself, become rightfully astonished. They are not celebrities. They have not written books. You can’t find their sermons on Youtube. But with worn Bibles, sore knees, and a sincere faith, they live distinctly in the world for Christ.
Theirs is a uniqueness that cannot be hidden under a basket. Theirs is not a lukewarmness that creates an Ikea-produced manhood. They stand as different from the world’s men, at their essence, as light is from darkness, righteousness from lawlessness, Christ from Belial, the living from the dead. They draw arms against that measured devotion to religion which sickens Christ and deploys only Xbox soldiers (Revelation 3:16).
Something, Not Nothing
I want so much more for men in the church, as I want so much more for myself. Not, I repeat, because we need to be special in the ways the world considers glorious, but because we are called to live as citizens of heaven, men of God, soldiers for Christ, who are zealous for good works and for the glory of Jesus Christ. We need men who are unashamed and unapologetic about being a force for good in our world.
But what can be done? A first step: reclaim a positive ideal of a Christian man. A Philistine has invaded our ranks, a shadow has swept across culture and crept into the church. He is a suffocation, a photo negative. He has become a false ideal, a half-truth, a silhouette: a man described by what he should not be rather than what he should.
“With worn Bibles, sore knees, and a sincere faith, they live distinctly in the world for Christ.”
Real men, we are repeatedly told, do not make their career their idol. Real men do not bully. Real men do not watch porn. Real men do not abuse women. Real men do not live at home after college playing video games in their parent’s basement. Amen to what real men are not, but what, then, is a real man? Can we not say more than just a male who doesn’t do bad? We need men who not only avoid evil but embody what is good. There is a profound difference.
One sees manhood as an incurable illness of society to be managed; the other, a pillar to build civilization upon. When the first prevails, when we define a good man as one who is simply not a bad one, we create unheroic, housebroken men unfit to challenge the evils around them. They are not “toxic” nor abusive, but also not valiant nor strong — not hot nor cold, just room temperature. How many make camp in this desolate middle, this No Man’s Land? A place that starves the vigor, the strength, the nobility of manhood.
How altered is a positive picture? Real men stand up for the oppressed. Real men rule themselves, protect women, store up treasures in heaven, lead their homes, bear responsibility, live consecrated unto kingdom business. Instead of just telling a man how not to use his testosterone, his ambition, his aggression, his strength, we must cast vision on how to use them — redeemed and repurposed — for the glory of God.
Remarkable Pursuit, Remarkable Men
Manhood is much more than what it shouldn’t be. In Christ, it
- not merely lacks cowardice, but possesses courage.
- not merely lacks bad views of God, but burns with biblical convictions.
- not merely lacks a domineering spirit, but models godly leadership.
- not merely avoids self-dependence, but commits to prayer.
- not merely avoids habitual sin, but cultivates habitual repentance.
- not merely says “no” to illicit desires, but says “yes” to the local church.
“We need men who not only avoid evil but embody what is good. There is a profound difference.”
Godly men don’t merely slay their own sin; they walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). They don’t just flee youthful passions; they pursue faith, love, righteousness with others (2 Timothy 2:22). They don’t just forswear bad apples; they produce fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). They run towards something, not just away from something, keeping their eyes fixed on Christ. And their incredible pursuits, upheld by a mighty God of grace, make remarkable men of God.
Man the Sails
We must not embrace the world’s ideal of nice-enough masculinity: males who, while not brutish, linger in a nondescript, housebroken, blunted and smoothed existence. But such men, activated by God, can rise from the wreckage of what Adam’s passivity lost. Loosed from the kennel, we can yet run free and show forth a manhood this world doesn’t know it aches for.
We as men are not ships floating aimlessly at sea. We must sail. We must lower the oars, man the sails, and prepare the canons. We have work to do. We have something to live for. We have a mission, a purpose — and it extends far beyond not drowning, nor firing on our women and children.
God has re-created us for more than the bland taste of “Well, he’s a nice guy.”