“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Christlikeness isn’t for Sissies
by Randall D. Kittle

Recently, I was reminded of a discussion I led at a men’s retreat a few years back. I shared about Jesus’ reproof of the Scribes and Pharisees, His driving the greedy merchants out of the Temple, and His willingness to rebuke both His family and disciples. Afterward, one of the men said to me, “You make Jesus sound like Superman. Most of the things I’ve heard about Him growing up in the church made Him sound more like Clark Kent, the mild-mannered reporter.”

For many years Satan has been promoting the idea that only soft, cowardly sissies follow Jesus. The enemy has used this deception to get men to avoid the Church or at least limit their involvement. “After all,” they are told, “real men don’t follow this wimpy Jesus.” If it isn’t stated so emphatically, it is still clearly implied.

I remember when I was in middle school some of my friends and classmates said things to me along this line while making fun of others. I have heard of coaches questioning players’ toughness and their ability to get the job done because they were a follower of Jesus. In other words being a Christian might make them soft, so they wouldn’t be aggressive enough.

Like any lasting illusion, there has been just enough “evidence” to make it believable. For example, if you listen to what many Christian leaders in America say about Jesus and the way He has been depicted in our messages, art, and music, you could easily get the image of a sweet, milk-toast sissy. This fabricated philosophy has been promoted for years and is far more ingrained into our thinking than we realize. Let me give you a notable example.

What Will People Think?
In his book God in My Corner, George Foreman has a chapter entitled “What will People Think of Me?” In it, he shares his struggle with this common but seldom talked about frustration for Christian men. Although George Foreman wasn’t afraid to step into the ring with the toughest boxers in the world, like: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Ken Norton, he said that he feared being rejected by others. Like most of us, he wanted to be loved and accepted by everyone. After George received Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he quickly discovered that unanimous approval was never going to happen. Friends started avoiding him, and even his family didn’t understand what had happened to him. They thought he had just “flipped out.” He admitted he, too, had felt the same way about “church people” all his life.

After giving his testimony at Robert Schuller’s church, he panicked when he discovered it would be broadcast nationwide.
“I didn’t want people making fun of me, and had no desire to be fodder for some late-night comedian’s routine.” Immediately an incident in his past popped into his mind increasing this fear. Some of his friends had come to watch him box in Canada. One girl mentioned that she had recently talked with a star baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Guess what he told me?” she asked, rolling her eyes, “He said he’s been born again.” The other girl laughed and said, “You better get out of my face with that junk!” Before the player had become a believer, they admired the guy. Now they were making fun of him.

Because George Foreman couldn’t stand the thought of being ridiculed in front of a camera, he resigned his lucrative television contract as a boxing commentator working alongside Howard Cosell. He decided he never wanted to be seen in public again.

Men and the Church
While this example might sound extreme, many men have these same struggles. The truth of this has been well delineated in a recent book by David Murrow. When I first heard the title of this book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, it seemed like a catchy overstatement. But the author notes that, of the world’s major religions, only Christianity seems to have a problem getting men … and the statistics back him up. His assessment is that many men have a prior commitment to masculinity and that modern Christianity seems to threaten their sense of manhood.

Murrow states clearly that he is not calling for male dominance or an absence of women leaders. He believes the Church was meant to be marked by a healthy expression of both masculinity and femininity. What the author is trying to awaken us to is this: from inside the Church most of us cannot see that we have extracted from the Bible a church-culture that speaks, sings, and teaches in a language of
“gentle, meek, personal relationships, marked by intimacy, sharing, transparency, love, and submission.” While Murrow affirms these basic Christian values, he says we have lifted them out of context. Too often, we have failed to balance the love of Christ with the risk, danger, challenge, and sacrifice that marked His life, and which He expects our lives to display.

Murrow is probably right when he says that more than a few unchurched men hear us talk about Jesus as if he is a woman in a beard. While he knows that some might say,
“C’mon, can’t men get past all that macho stuff!” His response is that if we expect that “… we might as well expect women to dismiss their maternal instincts.” After all, God created men and women to be different by design.

Regaining Our Balance
This “sissy syndrome” problem has been strengthened in America by both the teachings put forth by the Church and the example and expectations of those in leadership. In most churches, the only spiritual gift visibly functioning is the pastoral gifting — a gift of nurture and encouragement. But the Church was never meant to function without the other gifts of power and instruction being in operation (the apostolic, the prophetic, teaching, and evangelism). These other gifts bring a fullness to the Church that gives it the proper, healthy balance God intended it to have.

The teaching of the Church has also been wantonly out of balance. Whether we realize it or not, the Church has selected certain portions of the Bible to focus upon and expound, while other areas have been downplayed or neglected. Although I don’t believe there are many who have purposely emasculated the Word of God, the effect of this bias upon the Church is still the same. We have expounded on patience, submission, and mercy; but said little about power, authority, and boldness. We have heard numerous messages on turning the other cheek and “Jesus wept,” but not very many on the violent taking the kingdom of God by force or Jesus’ demand that His disciple set their allegiance to Him above a new wife or a parent who has passed away. I have heard so many messages on the parable of the Prodigal son that I have long ago lost count. Yet, about the only time you hear a message on the letters to the seven churches found in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation is when it is used to call a sinner to repentance; even though these letters are written to believers and are the last recorded teaching and instruction from Jesus in the Bible. Perhaps this is because the warnings these letters contain do not fit in with the “user-friendly” image of Jesus to which we have grown accustomed. Clearly, our representation of both Jesus Christ and the life He has called us to live as believers has been distorted from what it was meant to be into something weak, wimpy, and watered down.

The Fullness of Christ
We need the Church to have the full gospel, and start to reveal the fullness of Jesus Christ as He really was and is. Men, both believers and seekers alike, need to hear “the rest of the story.” Remember, we are called to come “into the fullness of Christ,” not the shallowness of some familiar fallacy.

This image of Jesus as weak and wimpy bears little resemblance to the Jewish, revolutionary, “man’s man” who Jesus actually was. Although He was extremely kind to the common man and woman, He was extremely demanding of those who were prideful or merely religious. He willingly forgave the sins of publicans, tax collectors, prostitutes, and an adulteress, but called the prideful religious leaders hypocrites, vipers, whitewashed tombs, and sons of Hell. Far from being a mild-mannered, “goody-two-shoes,” Jesus was such an extraordinary irritant to the religious leaders of His day that they did everything they could to shut Him up, eventually plotting to have Him nailed to a cross.

The idea that Jesus Christ was an impeccably polite and diplomatic gentleman could not be farther from the truth. It certainly did not originate from Jesus, who said of Himself:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34–37).

When we water down the truth of whom Jesus was, it also dilutes the Christlike walk that God has called us to. It leaves us with the impression that it doesn’t take superhuman strength, courage, risk, initiative, sacrifice, and character to be Christlike. But it does. Nothing on earth is as challenging as truly being a Christian and answering the Lord’s call to Christlikeness. When a man chooses to really pursue Jesus Christ and His kingdom, it doesn’t make him less of a man. In fact, just the opposite is true. To be a wholly devoted follower of Jesus you have to be more of a man than you do to follow the crowd. You have to be willing to stand up against the crowd, to swim upstream against the moral pollution of our culture. You might have to refuse to do something when everyone else is doing it. Anyone can go along with the crowd. It takes courage to refuse to do so, and to act differently from those who are around you at home, in your neighborhood, at work, on the team, or part of your club. It doesn’t take any strength to cave in to pressure. Real masculinity has enough courage to refuse to do wrong just to fit in, and it has enough internal strength to do what is right even if no one knows the difference. Anyone can do something good when everyone is applauding, but it takes great strength of character to do what is right when everyone is mocking you for doing it.

The Rest of the Story
Men need to see the truth of whom Jesus really was and is, and then have the courage and strength to be willing to live a Christlike life. That is what George Foreman did. After he had spent a few months renewing his mind by praying and reading the Bible, he said, “Finding Jesus Christ was the best thing that ever happened to me, and my life gets better every day, so I’m going to tell my story regardless.” He called the girl who made fun of the baseball player and told her about his conversion. He was surprised to hear her say, “I’ve been trying to get my life together, and that’s what I needed to hear.” Many people were thrilled he found God; others didn’t like him because of it. He would call and leave messages and they never called him back. “I wasn’t surprised when I lost some friends.”

George Foreman said,
“Ultimately your belief in God will meet resistance, which forces you to either shut up or speak up.” Courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it. George overcame the craving for people’s approval by making his desire to please God greater than his urge to make others happy. He discovered that following Jesus Christ takes great courage, but by meeting this challenge he finally found his acceptance in God, not in people.

I want to conclude by briefly sharing one more story of a man who bravely set his heart on being Christlike regardless of the cost. Soon after graduating from college, Jim Elliot wrote in his diary,
“God, I pray You light these idle sticks of my life that I may burn for You. Consume my life, my God, for it is Yours. I seek not a long life but a full one like You, Lord Jesus.” The cry of his heart was for Christlikeness — to be like Jesus Christ. Jim Elliot died young on the end of a spear for the Auca Indians taking the gospel into the jungles of Ecuador.

Jim Elliot’s most famous quote is,
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This only makes sense. It is most reasonable, because if you try to save your life, you will lose it anyway in time. If you live for self or the praise of people, it will be fleeting … temporary. But if you lose your life following Jesus, He will keep you for all eternity.

Christlikeness isn’t for sissies. It requires unwavering commitment, resolve, and perseverance. It may not be viewed as trendy by the world, but it is sure to capture God’s attention. When all is said and done, isn’t that what really matters?

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