Summary: To be credible as Christians, men need to acknowledge their dependence on God in everything, to make God their first priority, to make their spiritual security more important than their financial security, humbly admit their mistakes and express their sex
You may wonder whether a sermon in a Sunday service is the place to be talking about being a credible Christian man, given that at least half the congregation are women, but let me suggest that at least some of what we’ll talk about today is equally relevant to women, and even those bits that aren’t are important for all of us to understand so we can support the men among us in being more credible as Christian men. Besides which, women will get their chance later in the series.
The great difficulty in thinking about what it means to be a credible Christian man is that we first need to think about what it means to be a man in today’s world. This whole question of where men find their sense of identity has become one of the major issues, for men at least, over the past 20 or 30 years. Men are no longer sure of who they are. For example, we’ve been told so often to get in touch with our feminine side that we’re not sure what our masculine side is any more. Our place in the workforce, our position in society, even in the church, has all been changed as more and more women enter areas that were previously the realm of men alone. Now that hasn’t been a bad thing. There were inequalities and injustices that badly needed to be addressed. But men have struggled to deal with these changes, probably more than women have.
So let’s begin by thinking about where men tend to find their sense of identity. Let me suggest that most men find a sense of identity in one or more of the following areas: sporting achievement, particularly in team sports; in career achievement, how far they’ve gone in their chosen profession, how high they’ve climbed the corporate ladder, how big their business is, etc; academic achievement: how many degrees they have, how many papers have been published; they might get a sense of identity from being a parent, though again, fathers, it seems are often not sure what that means for them. But they do get something from the things their children do, the sporting, career, or academic success they have. Occasionally a man might find his sense of identity from his family background, the things his parents have done. Finally, our financial security, our financial achievements, might be an important factor for some of us.
Now you may have noticed a theme running through that list as I spoke. That’s the theme of achievements. It seems to me that achievement is central to the way men see themselves. When they fail to achieve, they get depressed. Apparently the suicide rate for men in country Australia has risen markedly over the past few months, as men have seen their livelihood burnt away by day after day without rain. Men struggle when their livelihood is taken away by something like a prolonged drought. It isn’t just that times are hard. Times are often hard on the land. But there must be something deeper that leads men to despair to the point of suicide. I can’t help but think that it has to do with their sense of identity being undermined by their inability to provide for their families.
You see a similar phenomenon with men who have recently retired. You often hear of men who have gone into a serious decline when they no longer have their work to go to. That’s why it’s so important for men to prepare for retirement. Particularly if their work is the source of their sense of identity or of their self esteem.
So if men get their sense of identity from what they do, can you see that that may be a problem for Christian men?
Let me explain. What does the gospel teach us about our identity? What have we learned in 10 months of sermons on Romans this year? Well, we’ve learnt first of all that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s approval. Our achievements as Christians don’t make us right with God. Rather, our identity as Christians comes as a gift from God who adopts us as his children. We don’t earn it. It comes as a gift. Who we are as God’s sons and daughters has an eternal reality that’s independent of what we achieve. So if we want to live as witnesses to Christ, proclaiming a gospel of grace, based on what Jesus Christ has done for us and nothing else, how are we going to do that as men? How are we going to throw off the old way of thinking that says who we are depends on what we do?
Now let me say that this isn’t really a recent phenomenon. Men have always found their sense of identity in what they’ve achieved. Even in the days of Moses God had to warn them against thinking that they were self-reliant. We read one of those warnings in our first reading today. The people of Israel were about to enter the promised land after escaping from Egypt and spending 40 years wandering from place to place in the desert. God was about to lead them in and give them victory over all the inhabitants of Canaan. They were to drive out all the people from the land and then would be free to live in their cities and farm their land. And so God reminds them that the source of all they have is the word of God (8:3), then he warns them "do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, (14) ... [and] 17Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." 18But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth." He says a similar thing in Deut 6:10-12: "When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you -- a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant -- and when you have eaten your fill, 12take care that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."