Believe it or not, church-going Christian Men have become a rare commodity. In fact, most American men, whether or not they identify as Christian, do not attend church on a weekly basis. In his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow cites the following sobering statistics:
- Just 35% of the men in the USA attend church weekly
- Women comprise over 60% of the typical adult congregation on any given Sunday
- At least one-fifth of married women regularly worship without their husbands
- The majority of men attend worship services and nothing more
- Men 18-29 are the LEAST LIKELY demographic group to be in church
Why is this happening? Why are men in particular dropping out of church? Murrow, in his book, says the culprit is the feminization of the church, he says evangelicals are making going to church something as inappropriate to the male gender as wearing a pink sweater. But while what Murrow says is true, he’s actually identifying a symptom that exacerbates the problem rather than the cause. Of course we should expect that as men leave the church and women begin to play a more and more dominant role, that churches will become more feminized and that men will react to that feminization by leaving in even greater numbers. But that, while it is helpful doesn’t tell us what the root of the problem is. We need to ask what caused men to leave evangelical churches in the first place? In my opinion the answer to that question is that in the evangelical world generally, and especially amongst men, if we concentrate on anything theological at all its salvation. When we go to church we are told how to be born again, and usually we are told that we are born again by “asking Jesus to come into our heart.” Then the following week when we attend church we will be told how to be born again, again.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I firmly believe that preaching about the necessity to be born again is a good thing – far too many churches aren’t even doing that anymore – but I fear we have forgotten that being born isn’t the end of a life, it’s the beginning. When someone is born that’s the beginning of their physical life, and we don’t expect them to remain babies, we expect them to grow, to mature, if they were to remain babies that would indicate that something was very wrong. Similarly, when someone is born again, if they do not grow spiritually, that is also an indication that something is wrong. Paul points out in 1 Cor. 3 and the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 5 that a failure to grow and mature in the faith is actually a serious problem that needs to be fixed.
In Biblical Christianity after someone is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, there is an expectation that they will begin to grow, to mature, to be sanctified. Someone genuinely regenerated will begin to do the Good Works they were saved to do. In that process they become less and less like Adam, dead in sins and trespasses, and more and more like Christ. As the Apostle Peter put it in verse 2 Peter 1:4, they become “partakers of the divine nature” through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Peter acknowledged that that it is God’s divine power that does this amazing transforming work, but he also tells us that we are called to be “giving all diligence” to seeking after sanctification.
It is this process of sanctification in the life of male Christians that I find to be the missing element in American evangelicalism. Men receive no discipleship, no instruction as to how to grow in grace, no teaching on how to become more like Christ, and so they find themselves making little or no progress, falling prey to the same old sins, and looking very much like the world. Unfortunately, if all they’ve been instructed in is how to be born again, their answer to the besetting sins every Christian struggles with is inevitably going to be to go back to the beginning. I can’t tell you how many Christian men and boys I’ve spoken to who have “walked the aisle” multiple times thinking they are either being born again, AGAIN, or that they are “rededicating their lives to Christ.” They hope that this time it’ll finally take and they’ll be free from those sins that keep tripping them up. But that simply isn’t biblical. In fact, you can search the scriptures all you want, but you won’t find going back to the delivery ward given as the method for dealing with sin in the life of the genuine believer.
The biblical answer to the sin problem is SANCTIFICATION generally, and GODLINESS specifically, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.
Outside of the bible, the Christian author who helped me to understand the process of sanctification better than any other was a Puritan minister by the name of Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) and while all of his books helped, it was his book entitled The Godly Man’s Picture which most helped to explain to me what it means to become a Godly Man – not that I’m there yet, I write merely as a pilgrim on the road that leads to Godliness. While I wish I could read the book to you, I can’t so what I hope to do in this essay is to briefly touch on some of Watson’s main points and hopefully encourage you to pick up The Godly Man’s Picture and read it devotionally either by yourself, or with your sons if you have them.
I. What is Godliness anyway?
I want to give you 4 definitions that encompass different aspects of Godliness.
i) From Watson – “What a rare thing godliness is! It is not airy and puffed up—but solid, and such as will take up the heart and spirits. Godliness consists in an exact harmony between holy principles and practices.”
There we have an important preliminary principle. A Godly man isn’t just someone who holds to right beliefs and right doctrines, he also practices them, and there is a harmony between the two. Therefore to quote 2 Peter 1:8, the Godly man is “neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
ii) Also from Watson, ” ‘Godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal he is made spiritual.’ When godliness is wrought in a person, he does not receive a new soul, but he has ‘another spirit’ (Numbers 14:24). The faculties are not new, but the qualities are; the strings are the same, but the tune is corrected.”
Godliness is the work of God in us, and it’s like the process of tuning an out of tune violin so that it sounds like a perfectly tuned instrument. The first time you pass the bow over the strings it makes an awful racket but by gradually adjusting it, the better and sweeter it plays.
iii) A Definition of Godliness from AW Pink, the English Baptist theologian – “ “Godly.” This is the attitude of our hearts towards God, ever seeking his glory. Godliness is made up of three ingredients, or more accurately, it issues from three springs: faith, fear, love. Only by faith can we really apprehend God: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Forty years ago we often heard the expression so and so is a God-fearing man”: the fact we rarely hear this now is a bad sign. But there are two kinds of fear, a servile and a filial—a dread of God and an awe of God. The first kind was seen in Adam when he was afraid of the Lord and hid himself. The second kind was exemplified by Joseph when tempted by the wife of Potiphar: reverential fear restrained him. Only Divine grace can “teach” us this. While love constrains unto obedience: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It is only love’s obedience which is acceptable unto God: the heart melted by his goodness, now desiring to please him.
So we must understand that true Godliness flows out of a sincere love and reverence for God, not a slavish fear.
4) Finally here is a simple definition of Godliness from the NKJV Study Bible for those still having difficulty – “Godliness is to imitate God in a love for what is just and true.”
II. Characteristics of Godliness
Those are the general qualities of Godliness, but what does Godliness look like in a Christian man? What qualities make a Christian man, a Godly man, or a being made Godly man? I will not be able to discuss all the characteristics that Watson does, but I want to go over what seem to me to be 3 of the most important ones, and then immediately apply them.
1. A GODLY MAN IS A MAN OF KNOWLEDGE – A godly man has what Peter calls “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2), and that knowledge is true. It is grounded in the study of the bible and the hearing of the word, and I don’t mean occasionally I mean constantly. He values that knowledge, he’s hungry for more, As Watson puts it “So sweet is spiritual knowledge that the more a saint knows—the more thirsty he is for knowledge.” It is also not a knowledge that he is storing up for its own sake, it is a practical knowledge that he applies every day.
The Godly man doesn’t seek this knowledge out of a sense of duty, but because he loves it, and he love this knowledge because he loves its Source.
Those of you who have been in love, know how much you longed for a phone call or an email or even a word from your beloved. You thought constantly about what they’d said and you couldn’t wait to hear from them again. The Godly man can say in with the Psalmist, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”(Psalm 119:97). This knowledge transforms and changes him, it becomes part of him and thus flows out of him all the time. As Spurgeon said of a Godly Man – “Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.”
This knowledge is particularly important at this moment precisely because we are passing through a time when there is a dearth of the knowledge of Word in the Christian world generally and especially amongst Christian men. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) Christians by and large do not read the bible or edifying books of theology, and it shows.
I’ve heard that in our denominational seminary it used to be that two thirds of the incoming class passed the basic English Bible exam. NOW I am told that two thirds of the incoming class routinely FAIL the exam. Sadly, I believe it. I taught at a local Bible College for several years, and routinely encountered Pastors who couldn’t name the Ten Commandments or tell you where to find them, who couldn’t tell you anything about entire books of the bible, or explain doctrines as basic as justification. Now if that kind of kind of ignorance of basic bible knowledge is to be found amongst pastors, then what can we expect from the members of their churches?
Nothing will substitute for the knowledge of God’s word. If husbands and fathers do not know the word, how will they guide and teach their wives and children? Therefore, if you have not already done so, get a bible reading program like McCheyne’s, and use it to get the word of God into you. Let God’s Word transform you until you too “bleed bibline!”
2. A GODLY MAN IS A MAN OF PRAYER – Just as the Godly man longs to hear from God in His Word, so too does he long to speak to Him in his prayers. That is the divine dialogue. He opens his day with prayer, and then prays constantly throughout the day. I don’t mean that he spends the entire day on his knees, but that he prays throughout the day offering up “arrow prayers” and interceding for others as they have need. One of the great blessings of the age of Blue Tooth is that you can pray out loud in your car or while walking and people will assume you are on the phone, rather than that you are crazy. But regardless, the Godly man can and will pray wherever he is. He is not ashamed to ask God’s blessing over his food at a restaurant or at work or at school.
The Godly man speaks to God from the heart, he doesn’t just know about God, he knows God and speaks to Him as a friend through Christ. The Godly man goes to God first for counsel, before he begins to do anything, rather than last after everything has fallen apart. He prays believing prayers, knowing that God will answer them, although not necessarily by giving him what he wants. Like Spurgeon, the Godly man knows that, “God will give the good which we did not ask, and withhold the ill which we so unwisely requested.” And he is content in that.
The Godly man also perseveres in prayer. What does persevering prayer look like? Well, let me give you an example:
William Still was the Pastor of Gilcomston South church in Aberdeen, Scotland from 1945 to 1997. Every Saturday Still held a two hour prayer meeting, where the church would pray systematically for all the continents of the world. One of the things they prayed for most ardently was for the persecuted believers behind the Iron Curtain and for the fall of Communism. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I’m told that Pastor Still told the prayer meeting, “We have prayed for 40 years for the fall of Communism and God has answered our prayers, now we must pray about Islam.” William Still has gone on to glory, but I am convinced that the example he set is the right one. Another forty years of prayer could well bring about what drones and bombs and bullets never will, the lifting of the dark veil of Islam and the opening up of the closed nations of the 10/40 window to the gospel.
If I might also add a word of application at this point. A Godly man is a man of prayer, and the great African Missionary David Livingstone was a Godly man. He died thirty-three years after first setting foot in Africa. His African helpers found him several hours after he died, still kneeling by his bed in a praying position. Now imagine the joy of one moment speaking to your Lord as through a glass darkly, and then suddenly to have the incredible joy of addressing Him face to face! But is that likely to happen to you? Would it require some fairly precise timing on the part of the Lord for you to die during prayer? I hope not! Strive then to become so constant in prayer that it becomes as natural to you as breathing.
3. A GODLY MAN PRIZES CHRIST ABOVE ALL THINGS – The Godly man is not perfect, nor without sin, but he can say in honesty with Peter, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”(John 21:17) He understands instinctively what Spurgeon said when he preached that, “Christianity is a heart religion; and if you cannot say, from the very depths of your being, “Christ is all,” you have neither part nor lot in the blessings and privileges of the gospel; and your end will be destruction, everlasting banishment from the presence of the Lord.”
The godly man would rather part with anything, even his life, rather than lose Christ, for he knows that the things of this world are so many sandcastles compared to the excellence of knowing and serving Christ.
This may often bring him into conflict with those who do not love Christ, sometimesa Godly man’s “enemies will be those of his own household.”
What Godly Man is there who has not at some point had to choose between following Christ and pleasing men? Whether it is the boss who wants you to work on Sunday instead of going to worship, or the friends who think you were more fun before you became a Christian and keep trying to drag you back into your old way of life, or even the wife who notices that she has become second in your heart after Christ and does not realize that it is far better to be second in the heart of Godly man for life rather than to be the temporary idol of an ungodly man. All she knows now is that she is angry at being displaced. Who is this Jesus and why is He taking up so much of your thought and attention? The Godly man though understands and approves of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
The Godly man also knows that while men are supremely fickle – loving a person one day and hating them the next – the love of Christ never changes, and that in Jesus the Godly man has a Friend who has proven His love by dying for Him. The Godly man also knows that Jesus didn’t die for him because he was a friend of Christ or a good man, he knows that Jesus died for Him when he was still an enemy and a sinner without hope in the world (Romans 5:10). What has Jesus done for him? Christ, who knew no sin, took that man’s terrible sin burden upon his own shoulders, a burden that would have sunk that man lower than the grave had he died with it, and Jesus endured the righteous wrath of God that would have fallen upon that man in an eternity in Hell upon the cross. And then Jesus, having removed that man’s filthy rags, clothed that man in His own righteousness so that on the last day, God looking at that man will see only the perfect spotless righteousness of His own Son and will be able to say on the last day, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt. 25:21)
For the Godly man, Jesus is the true north of his heart compass, it always points to Christ. His compass may occasionally get spun around by sin, yet it always returns to Christ.
The godly man also knows the truth of what Paul said in his last letter to Timothy written from a prison cell – 2 Tim. 3:12 “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Finally, here are two considerations that should concern any man who is striving for true Godliness.
1) A Godly man will want to raise Godly children, so what is the key to doing that? This is the key to raising Godly Children: You yourself must be Godly and live a life of Godliness before them.
Children will not grow up to become the perfect people they’ve never actually seen modeled before them, they also do not grow up to be the people we merely tell them to be, rather it is almost always the case that they grow up to resemble their parents. Even if they don’t like to hear this, most people know within their heart that it is true. Ask yourself, why do sons like their father’s favorite sports and favorite teams? It is because they are modeling themselves on them. That simple truth will affect every part of their character development. So if a father swears, his children will also swear. If a man blasphemes, his children will blaspheme. If a man has a taste for pornography and violent games and movies, his children will develop the same kind of taste.
We teach our children what is desirable and important by our behavior not by our words. So if a parent drops a child off at Sunday School in the morning and then goes home and goes back to bed, the real lesson that child learns is that Church isn’t as important as sleeping in, and that when they are older, they’ll finally have that privilege as well.
It is by our ACTIONS that we “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) A godless, amoral family will not produce godly, moral children simply by keeping “mature” videos and games away from their children. Instead they will seek after and find the very things that their parents are trying to keep away from them precisely because they know it’s the real treasure of their parents and their peers.
As a personal illustration of the way this principle works; my own parents told me NOT swear and when I did, they punished me for it – I remember at least one occasion of having my mouth cleaned out with soap – but I still swore like a trooper as a child because my parents swore.
This is not to say that every child of a Godly man turns out to be Godly themselves. Sometimes you have a Samuel whose sons do not walk in his ways, and we know nurture alone will never produce a Godly Man, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary. But in my years as a pastor, I have found that almost every single time I meet a godly young man, behind him was a Godly Father who obeyed the command of Eph. 6:4: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
2) Let me close with a word about hypocrisy– There are many men who express a desire to be Godly but who also know they are under the dominion of some chronic sin.
Thomas Watson wrote in The Godly Man’s Picture that this combination was a sure indication of hypocrisy, “Question: When is a man under the dominion and power of hypocrisy? Answer: There are two signs of its predominance: (i) When one serves God for sinister ends. (ii) When there is some sin dear to a man, which he cannot part with. These two are as clear signs of a hypocrite as any I know.”
If that describes you, then do not despair, Thomas Watson also offered this sound counsel, “Christian, if you mourn for hypocrisy—yet find this sin so potent that you cannot get the mastery of it, go to Christ. Beg of him that he would exercise his kingly office in your soul, that he would subdue this sin, and put it under the yoke. Beg of Christ to exercise his spiritual surgery upon you. Desire him to lance your heart and cut out the rotten flesh, and that he would apply the medicine of his blood to heal you of your hypocrisy. Say that prayer of David often: “Let my heart be sound in your statutes” (Psalm 119:80). “Lord, let me be anything rather than a hypocrite.””