The Heart of Masculinity

All boys want to know how a man is supposed to act.  Our model of that role is what teaches our sons what it means to be a man.  But for those of us who were not blessed to be raised by a good role model, what does this look like?  Below are some thoughts on authentic masculinity.

An authentically masculine man puts aside his needs, desires, wants–and sometimes even his dreams–for the benefit of others. He does this without fanfare and frequently without anyone even noticing. His life is not about his individual rights, achievements, or happiness; it’s about making life better for others. His sacrifices are part of his character and give his life significance. He meets these sacrifices with the stoic nobility that God granted all men by right of their birth gender.

A real man has honor. He stands tall as the fierce winds of adversity blow around him. He cherishes and protects women and children. He knows he has an obligation to mentor those who follow in his footsteps. He recognizes his sphere of influence and uses it for good. He understands that life does have fundamental truths and lives his life according to a firm set of principles. He uses his God-given warrior spirit to fight for justice and equality. He stands for something. Too many men today stand for nothing—they are directionless.

Men who exhibit authentic masculinity live lives of significance. They lift up others to help them achieve their potential. They make sacrifices in order to make a difference in the world–for everyone, not just their own family. They have passion and vision and are genuinely interested in giving of themselves for the betterment of others. And they probably don’t make a big production out of doing it either. Men like this are other-centered, not self-centered. They are other-focused instead of self-focused. Authentic men live to a higher standard in life.

In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, a young widower blacksmith first meets his father as he travels to defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. His father introduces himself to his son for the first time and asks forgiveness for never having been a part of his life. With nothing to keep him in his village after the death of his wife and child, the young man follows his father and trains to become a knight. In the short period they are together before his father’s death, the young man flourishes under his father’s tutelage and follows in his footsteps, becoming a man of honor. Throughout the movie the young knight relies on his father’s instruction and example. In one powerful scene near the end of the movie while he is preparing the city of Jerusalem against attack by overwhelming forces, he endows knighthood upon the city’s commoners defending the city by quoting the same oath that his father did to him:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies,
Be brave and upright that God may love thee,
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death,
Safeguard the helpless.
That is your oath!

The local high priest admonishes him by saying, “Who do you think you are? Can you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?”

As the knight looks him in the eye and boldly proclaims, “Yes!” you can see all the men who have been charged with the challenge to greatness swell with pride and determination. They do in fact know that the expectations and exhortations of greatness can make a man more than he would be without the knowledge of God’s vision for his and every man’s life.

Manhood as defined by the Bible requires men to put the needs and best interests of others before their own. It’s about living sacrificially.  A man uses his strength and influence to help others and defend those who cannot defend themselves. Read how manly this verse sounds and how it speaks powerfully to a man’s heart:

“I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him…I made the widows heart sing…I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” Job 29:12,13,15-17 (NIV).

Authentic men are passionate, fierce, and noble—they care. In fact, they are a little dangerous, but it’s a good dangerous. You might not see this passion on the exterior, but it’s bubbling under pressure just beneath the surface, forcing its way into every area of his life. They have a spiritual longing for adventure, for a battle to fight that’s bigger than themselves, for significance in their lives. Like modern-day gladiators they stand in the ring facing the challenges of life with courage and passion.

When you see a man with a passion for something bigger and nobler than himself, you are looking authentic masculinity in the eye.

Question: Does your son know the definition of authentic manhood?

  • Joseph Villa

    Rick, what an awesome message. Thanks for the words. I don’t have a son, but this still resonates with me because I pray that my future son-in-law will be a man like you’ve described. I want to teach my daughter what authentic manhood looks like.

    • Rick Johnson

      Good point Joseph. Our daughters need to know what authentic masculinity looks like so they don’t get fooled by bad masculinity or taken in by “boys.”

    • blackbird

      Excellent point Joseph. Something tells me your future son-in-law will be a good and honorable man.

  • Alan Noble

    Interesting, although I don’t think I agree that any or most of these are specifically masculine traits. I dealt with this in response to a resent interview of Eric Metaxas here:

  • Lukindo Tenga

    These so-call natural traits of manlihood aren’t natural at all. They are cultural, and emerge only in a patriarchal society where men are in control. Otherwise a different, more individualistic version of manliness emerges. Take for an example the African American society, where men have historically felt powerless in dictating their lives. The oft-lamented drifting lifestyle that has characterized black men is also quite manly in its own way.

  • ron collins

    Passionately presented, yes, but glaringly omissive of the most un-manning influence in modern men’s lives: WOMEN. I have known men all my life who have had all the manly traits described here, but when dealing with the opposite sex they just fold up and submit, submit, submit. This feminist lie that there is a patriarchy oppressing women is comically ridiculous: most men today are terrified of women’s psychotic episodes, sexual bribery, parental interference, false accusations, duplicity, hypochondria, and general all-around disrespectful approach to anything and everything male, and do NOTHING to oppose it, refute it, or prevent it. And this self-righteous misandry takes place in front of men’s children nonstop.
    Let’s not go eagle-watching, when the room is full of elephants, shall we?

    • Titan000

      “Men” are not on the same level as women. When men consider themselves
      “equal” to women, they are resented and disrespected by women. The sexes
      are different, and thus need different things from each-other.”

      “Thus, if he remains “equal” to a woman, she has no use for him. A “man” has to graduate beyond
      the level of women – if he doesn’t he will be completely flattened
      by women when he encounters them. It is women’s natural right to be in
      authority over children but it is not right for women to be in control
      over men. If a man behaves as a boy and relates to his wife as “Is it OK
      for me to be me, Mommy?” he is not a man equal to women – he is beneath
      them. This is what happens in many marriages today – the husband ends
      up treating his wife as his mother, and as such she begins to resent
      him. How can something that is her own creation (a boy, a child) be
      equal to its creator?

      Only when boys separate from the totalitarian power of the Mother and grow into men do they truly have a sphere to address women and from which women respect them as men.”

      Men cannot be truly men unless they can escape being governed by the feminine. Become sovereign in their own right and return as masters to protect and provide.

  • ronthebuilder

    I abhor and eschew this language of “sacrifice.” The uplifting of sacrificial conduct is the hallmark of all cults religious and secular. Behind every one individual foolish enough to believe that sacrificing their own well-being is somehow noble or “manly”, follow a host of those observant enough to realize that they can benefit from the sacrifices of others in ways that cost them nothing and benefit them everything. And, it is laughable to think that this obedient surrendering of self-worth is somehow the hallmark of Christian masculinity, or that men placing their own needs and priorities behind those of others is some kind of leadership. After a half-century among evangelical Christians I can confidently assert that there is no more matriarchal or man-hating code of personal conduct, than among the faithful of this delusionally foolish, and politically reliable, flock of readily available sacrificial sheep for the aims of any faction cynical enough to use the right kind of language to get them to comply: that the Bible, the flag and the Constitution (especially the Second Amendment) are all equally the handiwork of God His Ownself, that voting Republican (before 1980 it was Democrat, but that’s another discussion) is of the same righteous order as attending church and regular prayer, that sending young people to die or suffer permanent wounds in wars of cynical conquest is “serving one’s country”, (which, see above, translates to the same as serving God, and never mind that the other side is serving their country too).
    I had forgotten about this preposterous and offensive article for some time, until someone replied to my prior comment and I saw it on my Disqus profile, probably for good reason: the entire mindset behind this piece of right-wing propaganda is based on the notion that men have no value whatsoever, other than to willingly seek our own self-destruction in order to uplift those who sit back and reap the benefits, primarily women. No wonder so many Christian men stay away from home so much, pursuing impossibly risky and unhealthy work lives that use them up in service to their lazy beneficiaries: the life of the evangelical man is best described by an old blues song: “get it, bring it, and put it right here, or else just don’t come home at all.”
    How DARE you equate this slave’s existence of producing well-being and comfort for the unreciprocated demands of others, with manhood?