Friday, July 25, 2014

Beards, Bacon & Badass - Justification by Manliness

This is the second post in a series called functional justification...
OK OK before we get too far into this post I am not ignorant of the fact that most of the junk that gets put up on Facebook is purely lighthearted entertainment... but behind every cultural quip is a cultural norm being expressed in one way or another.  So when my newsfeed is flooded with images of "real men", it is not hard to deduce that there is a huge push on at the moment to set the cultural markers of manliness.

This is not new... for some reason from generation to generation men have always had very clearly defined markers of masculinity.  But the advent of social media has heightened the rate at which young men can be indoctrinated with the latest ideas of what it takes to be a "real man".  From scrolling through my Facebook feed and viewing TV and print advertisements, the image modern young men are obviously trying to live up to is that of a well built man (in other words a guy who lifts), with some sort of inkwork, facial hair and a styled haircut who knows how to rock a tailored suit.  Throw in an abnormal love of bacon and apparently you have more testosterone than the East German weightlifting team from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Now let me just say that all these markers of masculinity are completely neutral... at the end of the day there is nothing dangerous or detrimental about beards and bacon.  In fact common grace tells us that in every generation's image of manliness there is going to be something of benefit to human flourishing.  So I am not opposed to any of these markers and I am not advocating that everyone pulls out the old Gillette Blue II and shaves their hipster beards off.  The problem is not in these markers themselves but in the fact we seek to justify ourselves with them.

I am just going to come out and say it... as men we struggle with feelings of insignificance!  From the day that the curse of sin entered into humanity men have been struck by the helplessness of working hard but accomplishing nothing.  Perhaps for a man there is no more crippling  fear than feeling you will never contribute anything, amount to anything or be recognised for anything.  So us men are suckers for the cultural markers of manliness... because if you can achieve all the markers it fills your significance tank; it marks you as a true man.  And so we will line up to get ink done, grow our beards, fork out for that tailored suit, start benching at the gym and constantly post it all to Facebook so that everyone will know that we are men!  This is how we prove ourselves... this is how we feel good about our masculinity... this is how we build our sense of significance... this is how we justify ourselves.

The problem is that the cultural markers of manhood make for a terrible source of significance... because culture is always changing... and our capacity to make the grade is always deteriorating.  Sooner or later we will find ourselves outside of culture's picture of the perfect man and we will feel ourselves slipping into insignificance again.  The cultural benchmark of manhood keeps moving further and further away from us and we are left languishing in the wake of a new generation of men who seem far more manly than us.  Justifying yourself through your manliness is destined to failure.

There are biblical markers of manhood and they have nothing to do with beards, bacon and badass no matter how much the young evangelical beard wearers want to deify their beards.  The biblical markers of manhood have more to do with responsibility, initiative, stewardship and loving sacrifice... but even our ability to display these is not what justifies us.

The doctrine of justification by faith frees you from having to justify yourself with the cultural markers of manliness.  It calls us to consider our beards, bacon and badass look as dung compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.  See in Jesus we don't have to measure up to the ever changing manly image... in fact only in Jesus can we admit our failings as a man because we don't have to prove ourselves to God or anyone else... Justification by faith means that we can rest in the reality that Jesus lived the life of perfect manliness that we have so often failed at... He took initiative to take responsibility for the mess we had made and lovingly sacrificed Himself as He became insignificant in our place; beaten, mocked, shamed and killed.  According to Isaiah's prophecies Jesus even offered his cheeks to those who would tear his beard out (Is 50:6). But God raised Him from the dead and gave Him victory over all of His enemies.

And so by all means grow a beard and eat a bacon sandwich wearing a badass suit... but know that it proves nothing... It is not through our beards, bacon and badass that we find our vindication; but through faith in the truly perfect man Jesus.  Only through Him can we be set free from trying to measure up to our culture's image of the perfect man and the burden of our failings.  Only in Jesus can we find all the significance we crave.

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