What Makes One A Man? by Justin Day
April 2, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Biblical Manhood, Thought Initiative


by Justin Day

What makes one a man? Is it being able to tear down and rebuild the transmission of a 69 chevelle? Is it being able drink four cups of black coffee every morning? Is it never laying in a tanning bed?

At Vision Quest we played a very amusing game where we made fun of how most people view manliness (you know a game is a bad judge of manliness when I last longer than our pastor). But the one thing that got me thinking was that we never actually stated what manliness actually is, at least I don’t remember it being said.

So my question for those that are reading this is how should we define manliness? Or in other words, what makes one a man?


40 Comments so far
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A real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and anticipates the greater reward (Robert Lewis, Raising a Modern-Day Knight)

Comment by caljohnson


Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Yet again the vagueness of the questions and answers on this blog continue. But in an effort to contribute I will ignore that and present my thoughts on manhood.

Really, the basics of manhood come down to the primal instincts within us all. Christians always point to the “servant king”, TV points us towards women, money and fame, but manhood should only be measured by a man’s ability to respond to instinct.

A true man does two things:
(1.)Responds to instinct. This includes everything from the need to survive, to protect and provide for those that he loves, to creating an existence for himself.
(2.)He uses his mind and logic and does not respond to emotional things. Some may say this is cold, but what it suggests is a sense of logical understanding. Emotions are the epitome of falacy, and a man would not regard them highly just for that reason.

Just my two cents. I think instinct and mind are the two most powerful things that a man can wield. It is most effective when a man is a master of both.

Comment by MarkT

Well, a man is distinct from a woman biologically/physically.

Man are generally stronger leaders than women (though there are exceptions). Men are generally stronger physically than women (once again, exceptions exist). Men are generally better providers than women (once again, exceptions exist).

I disagree with Mark T that men should not and do not respond to emotional things. Men and women both use rationality and have emotions, so I don’t think a distinction here is a good thing. I also VEHEMENTLY disagree that “emotions are the epitome of fallacy.” Emotions are a God-given thing and are healthy. To squelch our emotions is unhealthy and cold.

Comment by Maverick

Most traits people will put up that make a man would also make a woman. Jonathan said “Godly” but that doesn’t answer the question because a woman can be Godly also. In reality a man is a human with a Y chromosome.

Now, if you are looking for character traits which make a person HONORABLE (i think that is the word this blog is striving for), then look no further than the traits of a Samurai:

1. Gi – Honesty and Justice:
Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not FROM other people, but FROM yourself. To the true Samurai, there are no shades of gray in the question of honesty and justice…There is only right and wrong.

2. Rei – Polite Courtesy
Samurai have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. A Samurai is courteous even to his enemies. Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals.

A Samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men. The true strength of a Samurai becomes apparent during difficult times.

3. Yu – Heroic Courage
Rise up above the masses of people who are afraid to act. Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A Samurai must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is dangerous. It is living life completely, fully, wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind, it is intelligent and strong.

4. Meiyo – Honor
A true Samurai has only one judge of honor, and that is himself. Decisions you make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of whom you truly are…You cannot hide from yourself.

5. Jin – Compassion
Through intense training the samurai becomes quick and strong. He is not as other men. He develops a power that must be used for the good of all. He has compassion. He helps his fellow man at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise. He goes out of his way to find one.

6. Makoto – Complete Sincerity
When a Samurai has said he will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop him from completing what he has said he will do. He does not have to “give his word,” he does not have to “promise.” – Speaking and doing are the same action.

7. Chu – Duty and Loyalty
For the Samurai having done some “thing” or said some “thing,” he knows he owns that “thing.” He is responsible for it. And all the consequences that follow. A Samurai is immensely loyal to those in his care. To those he is responsible for, he remains fiercely true.

Comment by James Baby

I love the Samurai traits. But anyone can come up with that, these traits are essentially generic and not unique. What I mean by that is that these qualities can be found across the board. (Not all the time, but you can find instances of these in almost any culture)

In the context of this blog and Christianity, what makes the Samurai traits unique are when they are informed by Christ and him crucified. Anything else is merely a worldly prospective. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad in any way, but it is best for a man of God to respond in the context of the Day of the Lord, the eternal. Everything else is only temporary.

A true man is one who orients all things around Christ.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

So any male who does not orient things around Christ is not a true man?

This creates an “us v. them” distinction that I’m very uncomfortable with.

Comment by Maverick

If one wants to get technical, a “man” is a human being that has the XY chromosome. I don’t think that is what you wanted or what Justin meant, I think that he is questioning what a good man is. I assertian that a good man is a Godly man.

What is godliness? A disposition of character that emulates the image of God stemming from the dispensation of enabling grace from God. In short, a godly man is one that is holistically set apart to God in all things.

Finally, the question is not asking who is a ‘man’ for that is obvious, the question is asking what is a good man and what is worthy of striving after and becoming. In this sense, there is no them vs. us mentality as Christians are called not to cast judgement upon others and condemn them, but to proclaim the truth in love. In another sense, there is a them vs. us mentality because we will be persecuted for being Christian and if we do not suffer hardship for Christ sometime in our life, it begs the question if our lives are marked by godliness or worldliness.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Let me clarify, in the context of this blog (ie a Christian one) what makes a godly man? I don’t want to create an “us vs.them” mentality, but what we should strive for is a distinction. If a worldly man looks the same as a godly man, what is the use of being a godly man? Nothing! There is no testament to Christ, there is nothing of use in the eternal if there is no distinction.

There should be a distinction, but there should also be a compassion for our lost bretheran. So hopefully there is no “versus”, but if we don’t orient our actions, thoughts, attitudes and responses around the cross of Christ, we have nothing of value.

I like how Kelfer put it: “what is worthy of striving after and becoming.”

My point was that the samurai traits are great! Even they have compassion as one of their traits of a good samurai. But to a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, what would that compassion mean if it is not oriented on Christ, caused by a response to the gospel, and empowered by the Spirit?

I think we should embrace distinction marked by the gospel.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

In my view, everything is relative. Everything on this Earth is viewed by one’s own perspective, therefore, manliness is all in the eyes of the beholder.

To me, a man is modest, yet talented in something. He has good character, and strives to help others. He brings peace first, and only fights if he must. He does not fear in any situation. This strength comes from whatever source he chooses.

Comment by Tyler Friend

I wish I had more time to respond to this thread, but I’m at work.

Tyler, thanks for your clarification. Now that we’ve defined what we’re talking about, we can start discussing what it looks like to be a Godly man.

And Tyler Friend, I don’t think it’s all relative. It can’t be whatever you want it to be. If there are no absolutes, you can’t make the absolute statement that it’s all relative. Think about it.

Comment by Maverick

I wonder what the bible says?

But in my opinion, since Jesus was the fullness of what man is meant to be in every sense, it might go to show that a man is one who is like Christ. (a self sacrificing, humble, loving, God-centered servant-leader…)

Comment by joshcan

We can look to Proverbs, it was written by Solomon to his son. There is a lot in that book, but he seems to place stock in wisdom found through trust in the Lord.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I took this question as what is masculinity, not manliness (I’m not sure if there is a difference but when I hear manliness I hear what does a man do physically and masculinity is more about disposition toward God and others.)

So my answer to what masculinity (read manliness if you would like) is taken from John Piper… “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”

I really like this definition because masculinity is not about how much weight you can lift or how many times you’ve changed your oil but more about the way we care for women.

Comment by Jeremy O

Jeremy O, I think that’s a start. But isn’t there more to masculinity than just protecting, leading, and providing for women?

And I realize you’re probably coming from a Reformed perspective (this is an SGM blog, after all). Not only Reformed, but complementarian.

Comment by Maverick

I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance about many deep things so I’m not really sure what exactly you are asking for Maverick but my thoughts on isn’t there more to masculinity?

My thought and question – I guess I’m thinking that what masculinity is is the actions that occur due to our sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women. So what exactly that will look like will be different but for me its walking girls / women to their cars out of a sense to protect, always walking on the side where cars are, holding things for them just because, and just this deep sense to do anything for them that will serve them.

But once again I honestly have no idea if I answered the question at all.

Comment by Jeremy O

Jeremy –
I agree that men should protect and care for and honor women. I’m not disputing that.
I’m saying there are other things that define masculinity other than just that. So what else might there be that makes a man a man?

Masculinity is not JUST caring for and honoring women. What about men who live alone and do not have women in their lives to walk to the car and be a gentleman to? Are they not masculine because of that lack of a woman in their life?

Comment by Maverick

I think that it would be a mistake to define what masculinity is by comparing it horzontally to feminity (or womanhood).

I think that man is made to emulate and immitate God in certain ways, specifically magnifying God’s glory and enjoying him forever and the diverse faculties that lie therein.

To define man by woman is like defining money by itself or scale on a map to another scale on another map, it needs to be compared to something else, the real thing. If you will, a frame of reference must be applied otherwise knowledge is impossible as humans know it. This frame of reference is Christ. Seeing that Christ is both fully God and fully man, that he existed, His life is accessable for us to learn from (at least his public ministry), and He lived a perfect life, did he not conform perfectly with the image of God layed down for us? He was like us in every way, yet he did not sin, therefore, be holy like God is holy. Like Christ is holy. He showed us how to live and how to die. He showed us the effectual mans to accomplish the most worthy of ends: magnifying God’s glory and enjoying him forever.

Look at Christ’s life and that is how one should live. That is our example. Not women, just as their lives are defined by God not defined by man. If this were the case, then singleness would, without thinking too hard, probably be a sin.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I think that is why it says “a sense of” This sense of responsibility will affect the way we talk about women, the way we relate to immorality, to the kind of concern we show for marriages for the men around us.
“The worse ‘sense’ also implies the fact that a man can be mature in his masculinity when his circumstances (I think like you are saying don’t have women in their lives to do these actions) do not put him in any relationship where he actually has the possibility to relate to any woman.”

So its not JUST doing these actions but your attitude in a sense to women as well?

Comment by Jeremy O

Here’s an interesting question to consider (since you kinda brought it to the table Maverick): Is there and should there be any difference between complementarian manhood and egalitarian manhood?

Comment by Tyler Thayer

I think you are absolutely right Jeremy, but what I think Maverick is trying to get at is that what you are saying is how a godly man relates to women. But what else is part of the godly man’s picture? I would have to argue that prayer is part of that picture, and that has nothing to do with women, but everything to do with our response and thankfulness to God’s provision for our salvation and Christ sustaining us.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

Tyler, the complementarian/egalitarian discussion is always a good one. I’m a complementarian that gives women more credit and freedom than most, but I’m definitely not an egalitarian (as in men and women are not distinguishable and we can’t make any statements about them being different). However, I htink this is another discussion for another day.

As far as the Godly man discussion goes, I think the things mentioned already can apply. But I don’t want to turn this into a legalistic view of manhood either. Prayer? Check. Not passive? Check. Nah, forget that. A Godly man is creative, seeks to see others become more like Christ, puts others before himself, desires to become more like Christ, is an encourager and a leader (though maybe not a leader of men, but maybe a leader in their workplace or something). I think this gives us a start. It’s hard to nail down specifics, but if we give enough generalities within guidelines we have freedom to pursue being individuals while all the while pursuing God.

Comment by Maverick

I have yet to see any of you give a quality that makes a “good man” but not a “good woman.”

If you want to talk men, you can not help but talk in contrast to women.

Comment by James Baby

Probably no mention of what makes a good women because this is a discussion about character of men, not women.

I’d be interested to hear the diehard complementarians answer you, James. Would be interesting to hear their view of women vs men.

Comment by Maverick

There are many qualities of godliness that can be laid down as the fruit of the Spirit or as various qualities throughout scripture of which men and women are called equally to do. One such quality is to do that which there is no law against: love. That is to pursue that which is good (which is God) and to enjoy who He is and what He says. What He says that man and woman should be and do is found in Scripture, His Word, and the differences between the two are ascertained therein. Two texts to easily derive the complementarian perspective from are I Timothy 2 and Titus 2. Note of caution: Although those passages are specifically laying down the context of the character of elders and deacons, primarily, I suspect that they are also applicable to all Christians as Paul is laboring to define how to find certain Christians and place them in positions to care for other Christians.

I also tend to derive the complementarian position from the metaphor presented in Ephesians 4 of Christ relating to His bride, the Church. That has to do with a husband and wife, so the context of that passage has much to do with marriage, but, it also is far more as it exposits the relationship of the believer and his union with Christ.

As such, I tend to view godly men and women to be have simlar qualities, but not the same. Godly men and women are called to lead somewhat. Scripture calls mature godly women to lead other godly women in the church, but, godly men to be the authority of both godly men and women in the church. In the context of marriage, the wife is always called to submit to the husband, who is the head, in all things. The biblical picture of submission does not consist of being domineered, as the husband is also called to submit, to Christ, the head. He is called to serve to the point of death so that his bride may live and enjoy the fruit of his labor just as Christ did for the Church.

Ulitmately, I tend to think that there are many things that a godly man should be and that includes embracing every part of the image that God laid down for him. God’s word lays down many aspects of godliness via the vocative. The commendation of the study of scripture found in scripture would inspire the notion that a godly man is one who is zealous for The Word. An appropriate understanding of The Word would show that God is jealous for his glory, therefore a godly man ought to be jealous that God recieves glory. This process could go on for much more room permitted in a single blog, so I’ll do you a favor and stop here.

To sum this idea up, men and women should exhibit similar qualities of godliness, but, they are different in the context that God places them in. In other words, these various qualites of godliness are modified by certain roles and spheres that God places a person in, with gender being one of many (another would include being a pastor, etc.) In the end, I feel that God lays down in scripture that men and women are equal in value but distinct in form and in function and that various godly traits differ in form and in function as well in their lives as they walk out their Christian lives as men and women.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

One thing a man is not. It is what western culture tells him he has to be.

I think the most general definition of being a man or masculine is being able to deal primarily with things outside the home. It is to be externally focus such that there is stability to the circumstances of the home.

I think within the home men are called to be able to balance contrary emotions rather than negate them in their actions. To be a man, father, and husband is to be both loving, strong, and secure in action. To be a woman, wife, or mother is to be loving, gentle, caring, and secure in attitude. Men are called to cultivate and women are to nurture.

Comment by Dave M

Outside of Christ, there might as well be no difference between men and women. Cultures have tried to define the two for eons and they have come up with a multitude of different answers. Should we look to America, where “putting a notch in your belt” through sexcapades and loads of drinking are valued in some circles? Should we look to Buddhism and types of asceticism, where a man removes himself from the world? Sin has distorted the difference between the two genders. Men are not all about cars. Not all women like “The Notebook.” Outside of Christ, the difference comes down to biology and whatever distinction your culture provides for that.

Since we are not alive before we are born again, a man cannot be a true man until he rises from the dead at God’s call. What use is a corpse to the world?

Comment by David Wells

What do you think?

Comment by scott

Wow. Can-o-worms opened. A wise man once told me that the difference between a man and a boy is that a boy is told the right thing to do and does it, but a man does the right thing without being told. Simplistic, yep. True, you know it. Likely to get picked apart by you theologians, sure.

Comment by chrisgraves

Thatis a wise saying Chris. I think that does a good job as summing up a godly man!

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

“Theologians”–on this blog, we are loose with that word.

Comment by David Wells

Well, one can be a bad theologian (Like Dawkins). Over all, a theologian is someone who studies God/religion.

Comment by J baby

Jeremy took the question of manliness and transformed this thread by discussing masculinity, using Piper’s definition of masculinity from his book What’s the Difference. I agree with both Piper’s quote and Jeremy’s use of it. John believes that masculinity goes further than a man’s relationship with a woman and that it should center more on his relationship with Christ. While I can see that, I would counter and say that woman was created for man, and vice versa, and that this is the realm in which we are relate on this earth.

As Christ is to the church, so man should be to the woman (within the covenant of marriage…but are you not a man while single? I think that the standard Christ holds married men to can and should be upheld by single men as well). I think if you were to study Ephesians 5 with the depth of study that Piper has, then you will walk away with a greater understanding of Piper’s definition of masculinity. And there, I would say, is the true measure of a man.

To counter and say that there is a degree of “godliness” or spiritual disciplines that should follow or mark the measure of a man…I say that the same is true for women. The spiritual disciplines, the piety and discipleship that a Christian should execute in their daily lives (as called for by scripture and as desired by a transformed heart) is both relevant and necessary of both men and women.

And I believe if you were to look at the way the world defines manliness/masculinity, you would see threads of Ephesians 5 running through the fabric of the world’s definition. I recently chanced upon an Esquire article that discussed what a man is. It was interesting to note that some of the characteristics/qualities listed would fall in line with the definition given by Piper…leading, providing and protecting. One funny excerpt from the article states that, “A man fantasizes that kung fu lives deep inside him somewhere.” I question why men may fantasize about that. Is it just because they think Bruce Lee is cool? Do they wish they could make their own movies? Would they want to be able to defend others? If they desire to defend, who are they wishing to defend, and thus protect?

The world’s definition isn’t inherently wrong, it has been muddled. And I think the Christian errs on muddling the definition of a man in added extraneous criteria/characteristic/qualities to what scripture says.

Ultimately, I think manliness/masculinity is a simple concept to grasp…it’s not being a woman.

Comment by Jill

That is very good Jill, but, what is a woman? šŸ™‚

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Boo, bad Kelfer!

We don’t need to know that, in fact it is impossible to know. We just need grace.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

A woman is someone who does NOT have a Y chromosome.

Comment by James Baby

Sorry, I didn’t use discernment in posting that. I publicly apologize for my pride.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Jonathan, I think your question was a very legit one, and very helpful to starting to wrap up the discussion. I don’t think you have anything to apologize for.

Comment by Maverick

Tyler, I think you’re wrong. It’s not impossible to know. I think we can make some very good statements about what makes a woman, what makes a man, and how they’re different (speaking in generalities of course, realizing that there are exceptions).

What does “we need grace” have to do with the discussion?

Comment by Maverick

Oh and Jill, your comment was very very good. I agree with you. I really like your balanced approach to the topic, and you just added a great degree of insight and wisdom to the discussion.

Comment by Maverick

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