Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice

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“Male and female he created them.” —Genesis 1:27

It’s one of the most important—and controversial—topics of our time.

God created men and women in his image—equal in value and complementary in roles. These distinctive roles are not the vestiges of a bygone era, but integral to God’s timeless good design for humanity.

Designed for Joy includes fresh contributions from fourteen young leaders, casting a unified vision for Christian manhood and womanhood. Whether discussing the significance of gender, the truth about masculinity and femininity, the blessing of purity, or the challenge of raising children in a confusing world, this practical resource challenges us to embrace God’s good design—for his glory and our joy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433549281
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 07/15/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 592 KB

About the Author

Jonathan Parnell (MDiv, Bethlehem Seminary) is a writer and content strategist at, and is the lead pastor of Cities Church in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Owen Strachan (PhD candidate, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, and serves as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Read an Excerpt


Being a Man and Acting Like One

Jonathan Parnell

Paul writes to the leaders in the church at Corinth, "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Cor. 16:13–14). When Paul says to "act like men," he means something different from "act like women." There is actually a word for it in the original Greek — andrizomai — literally meaning "behave like a man." The only place it shows up throughout the New Testament is here in 1 Corinthians 16.

As the context and classical use suggest, the idea has to do with courage and bravery. To "act like men"— or "be courageous," as the NIV puts it — is to act in a way that is somehow different from a boy, in terms of maturity, and is somehow different from a woman, in terms of gender. As Paul shows us, masculinity — to act like men — is something that fits with standing firm and being strong. And standing firm and being strong fits with masculinity. The connection is apparently so natural that the words are synonyms. So what is that? What does it mean to act like men — to be masculine?

Getting to the Who

Actually, before we get to the understanding of what it means to act like men, we need to know who, most generally, should act like men. The obvious answer here is that men should act like men, but the qualification "most generally" is important. There are instances when both men and women are called to exhibit masculine traits, just as there are instances when both men and women should exhibit feminine traits. In fact, the healthiest examples of humans are those who know how to employ either traits when different circumstances require them.

Paul models this for us in his letter to the churches in Thessalonica. He describes his ministry: "We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children" (1 Thess. 2:7). And then, "Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God" (1 Thess. 2:11–12). Nursing and exhorting, tenderness and toughness — the apostle Paul's ministry featured two different characteristics commonly associated with two different genders. Sometimes men and women need to be strong and stand firm (i.e., act like men), and sometimes men and women need to be gentle and nurturing (i.e., act like a mother). Neither masculinity nor femininity is exclusively tied to maleness or femaleness, though masculine traits are most generally (and appropriately) associated with men, and feminine with women.

Understanding True Manhood

With that said, it is this most general association of masculinity that is worth more thought. It is obvious to most of us that men are most naturally called to exhibit masculine traits. But who are men? What does it mean to be a man? Apart from what we do, what is a man in the most basic, God-given sense?

This is an important question because only the combination of being a man and acting like one constitutes true manhood. This is the equation at the heart of this chapter. There are two essential parts:

1. The divinely ordained fact of being a man (maleness)

2. The man's derivative behavior of acting like men (masculinity)

Both of these parts are necessary to realize true manhood: God gives maleness in his creative design for man; men cultivate masculinity as our behavior in response to that creative design. In other words, maleness + masculinity = true manhood.

If we skip immediately to behavior, to the characteristics of masculinity without some understanding of male identity, then we run the risk of truncating manhood as mainly about what we do, and therefore leave room for the misunderstanding that manhood is a lifestyle option rather than something built into our being by our Creator.

So first we ask, what is maleness? Because then, after considering what it means to be a man, can we most responsibly ask what it means to act like one and thus understand mature manhood. Or for starters, and more foundational to both questions, we need a real sense of why it even matters.

Why It Matters

It matters what a man is and how he acts because that says something about the God who made him. This is key to any thinking about ourselves. Our existence is a lot bigger than the little you and me to whom we are most accustomed. If we fail to understand this, if we short-circuit our minds and move straight to the perfunctory details, we'll simply go on puzzling ourselves over hollow implications drawn from the wrong starting place. We shouldn't jump ahead to roles without knowing why. There is more for us to see.

God created us for himself — to behold, and be happy in, the manifold perfections of his character displayed in Jesus Christ, his perfect image. He spoke us into existence to join him in the gladness of his Son, the radiance of his glory (Heb. 1:3), and then reflect that same radiance with our lives. All the details of this universe are hardwired toward this end, including the corn and grits of manhood. What makes men men, or women women, is intrinsically connected to the majesty of the God in our design. We each exist as we do in order to display that glory. Which means, when it comes to understanding "man," how we see God is more important than knowing what we're supposed to do.

And it's actually here, in beholding the glory of God, in seeing Jesus, that we experience our deepest joy and learn how to live. We were made for this. In fact, because understanding what a man is and does is ultimately about God's glory, it is simultaneously about human flourishing, because only God's glory can truly satisfy the human heart. God's goal in manhood and womanhood is that we would know him, and in knowing him, be forever glad in all that he is for us in Christ.

So now, upon this foundation, we step into what might be the densest part of this book. By way of disclaimer, in view of the shorter, more practical chapters to follow, this chapter might feel like a trip down to the boiler room — looking less pretty and requiring more work — but hopefully filling the rest of these pages with heat. Here goes.

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

God created humans in his image — "male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). The Genesis account says it straightforward. There is the human being, brought into existence by God as the pinnacle of his creation and bestowed with an unparalleled dignity. We have dominion over the rest of creation. We bear God's image. And there are two kinds of us: male and female. That's the way it is, and God said it was good.

So much of what it means to be one and not the other — to be male, not female; or female, not male — is left to natural theology. The Bible doesn't tell us about chromosomes, and it doesn't need to. In those instances when anatomy is the topic, Scripture doesn't make the case for our differences but assumes that we already know them (as is so clear in Song of Solomon). Scripture's virtual silence on these specifics suggests that we understand it naturally. And therefore, because the mechanics of maleness are so generally intuitive, the brief explanation of maleness here will draw from the natural revelation common to us all, which the Bible implies and ultimately enlightens. This natural revelation can be considered in three aspects: the observable world,human society, and human interaction with the world.

Using these three perspectives to view the reality of natural revelation, we can focus more closely on sexuality through a similar grid, examining sexuality from the three vantages of sex,gender, and gender identity. These categories provide a natural lens through which to understand what it means to be a man. Sex is biological, recognized in the observable world; gender is sociological, recognized in the perceptions of masculinity and femininity in human society; and gender identity is psychological, recognized as an individual's personal interaction with the observable world within human society.

Biological Perspective

The first perspective is biological. It is something that we cannot choose, but rather is given us by God. Therefore, this perspective regulates the others. It refers to our chromosomal makeup expressed in the anatomy. Put in the simplest terms, the male anatomy is different from the female anatomy. I hope that doesn't shock you. Undeniably, this biological difference is part of the observable world. By the simplest inspection, we can identify the differences between being a male and being a female, and we often operate based upon these observations.

In the early weeks of my wife's first pregnancy, we jumped headfirst into the exciting task of finding a name for our child. We scoured books and websites and even took a weekend trip with the sole purpose of landing on a name — two names, actually. See, we weren't sure yet if we were expecting a boy or a girl. Our plan was to choose two names, but let the twenty-week ultrasound "make" the final decision. What we were going to call this child was ultimately up to not what name we thought sounded best or had the most meaning, but what kind of child God had given us — which we could discern by looking at a certain spot of our baby's body with the help of medical technology. I remember well the nurse telling us, in a much less dramatic fashion than I had anticipated, "It's a little girl," to which I replied, "It's Elizabeth!" That was five names ago now, and each decision since has still come down to that same moment.

Males have male parts and females have female parts, and they always will, unless some unnatural inhibition occurs — in which case we are reminded that though this biological perspective is normative, the holistic picture of maleness is formed by two other perspectives.

Sociological Perspective

Second, there is the societal witness. These are the culturally conditioned characteristics that we identify with the God-given realities of maleness or femaleness. In short, this perspective shows us that there is a male way to look, walk, and talk as perceived by societies of men and women, and that when men express themselves this way, they are identified as males. Additionally, when a male doesn't correspond to this societal expectation, it is considered unnatural or strange. Every human culture is ingrained, at some level, with this binary lens of understanding itself. And though these societal markers vary among different places and times, Scripture suggests that it is right for us to abide by them as male and female, so long as they are not sinful.

Case in point, consider Paul's instructions to the first-century Corinthians when he says it is a disgrace for men to have long hair (1 Cor. 11:14). According to that culture, and our own in similar ways, there is a masculine way for men to wear their hair. Commenting on this passage, Kevin DeYoung says that Paul is making two universal statements about gender: (1) it isn't right for men to act like women; and (2) society influences the norms of masculine and feminine expression.

At the most basic level, this societal witness points to the human consensus that certain actions correspond most appropriately to certain beings.

Psychological Perspective

Third, there is a psychological aspect to being a man. According to one's personal interaction with the world, males will typically perceive themselves as such. They embrace the biological and societal witness to their gender identity. Males feel male. They sense maleness in their makeup and conform to the societal perception of how that should look. In most cases, males interpret the normative perspective of male anatomy and the situational perspective of gender labels to mean, existentially, in profoundly common terms, "I am a man."

There are situations, however, when the fallen nature of our world impairs this understanding. Sometimes men may not feel like men, even if they have male anatomy and look like men. For example, transgender individuals typically claim that something is missing in the existential correspondence to their given anatomy and societal appearance. They perceive themselves differently than who they are and how they look. Sadly, these individuals grant this personal perception the ultimate authority and attempt to manipulate the other perspectives through the use of hormones and surgical procedures. Ironically, the goal of becoming transgender is to have all three perspectives saying the same thing, even if by inauthentic, superficial means.

Parts, Traits, Sense

To be sure, no one of these three perspectives testifies to our sexuality on its own, but they all work together — as three vantages on one whole — to form our identity as male or female. And that information is adequate in almost every case, even if one perspective is blurred by our sin-tainted world.

In general, to be male is to be created with male anatomy, to be considered male according to the societal perception, and to understand oneself as male in light of one's personal interaction with biology and society. Or put even more plainly, being a male is to naturally have male parts, male traits, and a male sense.

This is what it means to be a man. This reality of maleness is the fundamental aspect of manhood exclusively given to the man by God and from which the man answers the masculine call.

Defining True Manhood

The following two chapters of this book, by Joe Rigney and David Mathis, target the question of true manhood: What does it mean for men to act like men? But before we get there, I'd like to lead into that discussion by first anchoring masculinity in the most basic calling of every human: the calling to love.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 16, notice verse 14, following the string of imperatives that includes "act like men": "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (vv. 13–14). "Let all that you do be done in love." The call to love is certainly not exclusive to men. It is at the heart of the two greatest commandments, where Jesus said, in essence, love God and love people (Matt. 22:37–39) — which goes for everybody. Men and women both should love, and the question of masculinity (and femininity as we'll see) gets at precisely how that looks, distinctive to gender.

Masculinity, then, is more than how a man should act; it's an expression of a man's love. And its distinguishing feature is self-sacrificing leadership. In a phrase, masculinity is gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility. Given our understanding of maleness above, combined with this description of masculinity, our working definition of true manhood goes like this: True manhood is man's response to God's calling for men to gladly assume sacrificial responsibility. There are three key words here worth highlighting.

First, manhood is a response. This is central to masculinity, which is derivative from our God-given male identity. Manhood is not one option among others for whoever is interested. It is a reality that corresponds to God's creation. It is mainly the result of who we are, which gives rise to what we do. Therefore, we should be clear that manhood itself is never self-creative. We are not making ourselves to be anything. Rather, we are responding to what God has designed. In essence, manhood is our realization, through masculine action, of our God-designed male being as witnessed in the three perspectives.

Second, manhood is accepted gladly. This important qualifier connects back to the point of why this all matters. Manhood can be a great burden. It is a heavy responsibility to carry, as we'll soon see. But the Christian response to this weight is not grudging acceptance, because it is full of faith. We understand that God's design for manhood has our eternal joy in view. Our journey of maturing into the character God has intended for us means that we will encounter more of his sufficiency. He will prove himself, through the gospel of his Son, to be our all-satisfying anchor and hope. Just as Jesus, "for the joy that was set before him," endured the cross (Heb. 12:2), we can be sustained through the weightiest parts of the masculine call because we rest in the deeper pleasure on the other side.


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Table of Contents

Foreword by John Piper,
Introduction: How Does the Gospel Shape Manhood and Womanhood? Owen Strachan,
1 Being a Man and Acting Like One Jonathan Parnell,
2 Masculinity Handed Down Joe Rigney,
3 The Happy Call to Holistic Provision David Mathis,
4 The Feminine Focus Trillia Newbell,
5 The Nature of a Woman's Nurture Gloria Furman,
6 What Is Submission? Christina Fox,
7 Every Day Godward Tony Reinke,
8 Discipline for Our Good Andy Naselli,
9 Training Our Kids in a Transgender World Denny Burk,
10 Good News for the Not-Yet-Married Marshall Segal,
11 Purity We Can Count On Grant and GraceAnna Castleberry,
12 My Recovery from Feminism Courtney Reissig,
13 Immature Manhood and the Hope of Something Better Brandon Smith,
Afterword: The Glad Conviction Jonathan Parnell,
General Index,
Scripture Index,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A fresh and engaging look at the rich, biblical teaching on gender. The world has lied to our generation: freedom and power are not found by throwing off the created order, but in recovering it. This book renewed in me an excitement to teach these concepts to a rising generation!”
J. D. Greear, President, Southern Baptist Convention; author, Not God Enough; Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

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