by Jonathan Chua
What does it mean to be a real man?
When I was a young boy, I looked to the world for what it meant to be a man. Finding a clear definition of masculinity was an especially difficult one which only led me to superheroes or the ‘perfect’ men in movies. Living in a highly sexualised world where the depiction of manhood is his sexual prowess also distorted the understanding of my masculine identity.
As I entered my adulthood, I realized that it was a sense of conviction of who I was that my heart was searching for. Amidst the noises of the world was a gentle but firm voice fighting to remind me that I was made for greatness. While every man is on a different path, the journey is the same. This quest to discover our true identity as men is the resounding longing of our soul that will lead us to our deeper purpose.
We look to Christ as our perfect example
Knowing Jesus has been the greatest encounter in my life. He was God himself who came down as man to save men. If true masculinity has a definition then it has to be in the one whom the Creator of men is.
Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). With these words, my eyes were opened to a promise of fulfillment through him. He became the direction to meaning, the example I strove to live after, and the truth which continues to nourish my soul. Despite my sin and my brokenness, the promise of Jesus Christ to me and to all of us is that it is in Him that we are made whole.
As Jesus walked the path of his humiliation and suffering, he paved the way of true humility for me. As he bore the wounds of his passion and crucifixion, he infused in me the strength to embrace my unique woundedness. Through his utter baring on the cross, he showed me that vulnerability makes the mark of a true man. With this, all that I ever needed to know about being a real man pointed to the answer on the cross.
Christ is the divine and perfect model of what it means to be a man. His life shows me that even as I struggle with my pride and stumble through this search of my identity, that my being is to be more like him and less of me (John 3:30).
We rise up to our duty against passivity
The first words from God to man after the fall of humanity was, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) This is the same question that He asks us when we fall to sin and hide in the darkness of our shame. If we take a moment to observe our own actions, how often have we chosen to be like Adam instead of Jesus?
As men, one of our dangerous slippery slopes is to fall to passivity. Let’s look back at the story of the first woman and man (Genesis 2-3). Right at that moment when Eve fell to the seduction of the evil one, Adam was next to her and could have stood against temptation to protect themselves from their imminent fall. As the guardian of all creation, he faulted his post and succumbed to his passivity by following suit. Is this a familiar parallel for some of us today? We might have chosen to justify our passivity for cautiousness, but if timidity and failure to stand for what is true and fight for what is right is the outcome then perhaps we are doing ourselves and others an injustice.
The good news is that God is always inviting us out of our shame and mistakes. In fact, God so loved the world that He gave us his only son Jesus, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus Christ shows us, through his obedience to God, his willingness to enter into his Passion and persecution, and his refusal to hide in shame or fear, how we can all live up to the purpose of our lives. If not for his choice to abide in his Father’s will, we would not have been granted eternal salvation. One man’s resilience and obedience changed the paradigm of humanity’s destiny.
The world is in desperate need for holy men to rise up. The difference we can make is the choice to settle for the comforts of our passivity or to accept the invitation to wholeheartedly pursue our duty for God. Your will to co-author your story with God can influence the world to move a step closer to our Creator’s beautiful intent for us all.
We come alive together from our hearts
Masculinity in our world today has been distorted. I was taught as a young boy to be ‘strong’ and to cast away any sadness or fear that comes. As a teenager, I recall many of the boys in school rousing a false sense of masculinity by posing as the ‘cool kids’ or fighting back impulsively at one another. Many young men, including myself, have turned to women for validation and for others, they have fallen deep into their “never say no to sex” mentality that warps their understanding of the gift of sexuality.
Throughout the history of mankind, many have used their power to put down others for the sake of building their own kingdoms. Today, we still see the abusive use of authority for selfish gains around us, be it in our workplace, community or even family. Being a real man has thus been falsely associated with a need for dominance and control over others, especially over women and the vulnerable. Our culture is one that is pervaded by individualism, but we are called not to conform to such patterns of the world (Romans 12:2). Jesus Christ who claimed to be God himself was the most powerful man who ever walked on this earth, but even with all his mightiness, he showed us genuine compassion and mercy. He was the King of the universe but came humbly to serve the last, the lost and the least.
As men, we need to persevere in rekindling the spirit of brotherhood in the midst of a society that perpetuates self-centeredness and inequality. Our happiness is important and God desires that for us, but true joy arises when we transcend beyond ourselves and unite together as one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). It is only when we begin to open our hearts to each other that we can grow in meekness and love for one another as God first loved us (John 13:34).
Many men would prefer to walk alone in life and carry the world upon their own shoulders. However, I propose that this is actually the quickest way to discourage and destroy a man. In my own experience, my stubborn pride often leads me to prove that I can accomplish greatness by myself. In reality, when I journey alone, I find myself more susceptible to the influences and temptations around me. In contrast, the more I persevere to follow Christ, the more I realize how this road to heaven was not designed for one man alone. Although solitude with God comes before community, it is precisely when we enter deeper into this journey with God that we discover our longing to be part of a larger family, our desire to build something greater together.
We need to remember that our real battle is against the forces of darkness and not against one another (Ephesians 6:12). Being in a brotherhood founded upon Christ can help us be more honest about our struggles with vulnerability, impatience, and weakness, and encourage us towards healing in the person of Jesus Christ. As we use our strength to build each other up, we will challenge ourselves and each other to mature in faith and live fully in our vocation of holiness. It is this authentic brotherhood that will teach us how to forgive and celebrate, to trust and to be grateful, and to love and to be loved. When we begin to embrace our unique brokenness and claim our unconditional belovedness in God, we will find genuine relationships blossoming in every area of our lives, whether it be with our families, our partners, or our friendships. We will begin to live freely as our true selves.
We battle our fears with our faith
One of the simple truths I’ve learnt to accept is that life is difficult and unpredictable. We live in a world that requires us to live with risks because God wants us to live by faith. Our goal is not to make life easier or more certain, but to overcome the enemies that cripple us with our faith as the stronghold of our lives.
Fear is a familiar ‘friend’ of mine. The fear of failure, commitments, being judged, making decisions and not being good enough are my persistent thorns. I have made many mistakes (and still do) and those from my relationships cut me the deepest. For a long time in my life, “Don’t be scared, just be strong.” was my ‘refuge’. It was excruciating having to acknowledge that I was afraid, but even more uncomfortable bringing them into light and sharing them with others. What was worse than fear, was fearing fear itself and I soon found myself shaming and beating myself up for being weak and dependent for support. The suppression of how I truly felt manifested into an insidious form of self-rejection and self-condemnation because I thought that it was wrong for a man to be afraid. This became a lonely battle between my anxious self and my fears, and I was gradually deceived by the lies that the evil one was corrupting me with.
But God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). It is easy to feel overwhelmed by our many fears and problems, but it is in faith and prayer where we can cling on to Jesus, to see hope and light even in the darkness. At a recent retreat (SOW 2019), I was challenged to invite Christ into my own darkness. During prayer, I had an image of a storeroom filled with boxes and each of them stored the hurts and fears from the past and present in my life. “There is only true joy in the presence of Christ, and not in the absence of problems.” was the guiding light that saw me through this valley to my renewal.
Like any man would have been, Jesus was terribly afraid as he entered his passion. He had the choice to run away from his fear or to lay his life for all of humanity. Surely we know that he loved us and in the hour of his greatest trial, his perfect love overcame his fear of what loving would cost him. This was a pivotal moment in my journey with Christ which began changing my attitude on how I faced the challenges in my life. I was no longer persistently praying for God to eradicate my fears, but to pray like Jesus did to his Father for the courage to encounter and enter my fears boldly.
A favourite inspiration of mine is David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17). We see a story of a young boy rising up to become the man that God has been preparing him for. David spent his youth tending to his flock of sheep and has never entered battle before. But now, here he was standing in front of Goliath who was overwhelming in stature and thirsty to kill. Yet in this moment, David placed all his faith in the might of God and stood firm against his fearsome enemy. While everyone saw how big Goliath was, David only saw how much greater the strength of his God was. This is the same God who fights beside us and for us.
Similarly in our lives, sometimes the giants placed in front of us are meant to draw out the David in us. It is okay to be afraid. But when we do, let us bear our faith as the shield in our battles against fear. With that, our true courage will be born and we will become a source of light to the rest of the world (Matthew 5:14).
We make the choice
Brothers, we are all unique in our blessedness and brokenness. Our Father has also bestowed in each of us special gifts and charisms. But the journey to claiming our identity as men of God is an ongoing journey that we share. We are in the midst of a real battle between good and evil and God desires us to rise up as his true disciples. The world has its version of what it means to be a real man, but the marks of a true Christian man is one who stands firm for Christ regardless of the influence of culture and the circumstances he finds himself in. Nothing can take away a man’s faith unless we choose not to exercise it.
As we desire more to be men of God, we need to transcend beyond ourselves and pray faithfully not to be informed but to be more conformed to his will. He is always listening and he is perpetually inviting us into a deeper relationship with him. When we begin to allow God to father us, then can we realize our calling to be His beloved sons just as Jesus did. God has to be the Lord of our lives and he has to dwell at the center of our hearts. Above all, we need to claim with conviction that we are God’s beloved.
Brothers, let us rise up and claim our identity as God’s masterpieces, made in His image and likeness. Let us commit to being men of God, and live as we are meant for God!
Office for Young People seeks to raise up a generation of young people passionately in love with Jesus and His Church.