Holiness. The Cross. These are two objects that shine with sufficient beauty to liquefy the heart into a molten state of spiritual worship. To see them is to joyfully tremble in the presence of God. Yet, we cannot stop here. There is one other point of focus that has the power to push the thermostat a few degrees hotter. This is a vision of the glory of godliness.
Pick Your Perspective
There is nothing uglier to the eyes of unbelief than a radical pursuit of holiness. Submission instead of assertion, meekness instead of pride, self-control instead of self-fulfillment, persecution instead of comfort, heavenly treasure instead of earthly reward, spiritual joy instead of momentary pleasure – this reads like a blueprint for misery to a secular audience. But the captivated man has a different point of view. To him, the gain of godliness infinitely outweighs the costs. Will there be difficulties? Yes. Are there sacrifices? Of course. But with Paul he professes that ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21). For him, the way of the cross is the only path through life that could satisfy his deepest longings because only the way of the cross leads to eternal joy, unfading honor, and unbreakable camaraderie.
How does a Christian man catch a glimpse of the radiance of a godly life? The answer is by tracking with men who run close to the Savior. Godliness is nothing more than an incarnation of spiritual truth in the life of a particular man. To see a godly man is to view a moon, which, while not as bright and glorious as the sun itself, nonetheless reflects the same light in a different setting. A man cannot live without heroes, and any Christian man is impoverished if he cannot readily name four or five men who heroically exemplify to him the life he hopes to live.
In light of this, serious Christian men ought to keep a good biography on their nightstand. In a thrilling lecture entitled ‘The Greatest Fight in the World’, Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, says,
When I read the lives of such men as Richard Baxter, David Brainerd, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and many others, why I feel like one who has bathed himself in some cool brook after having journeyed through a dark country which left him dusty and depressed. I feel this way because such men embodied Scripture in their lives and illustrated it in their experience…To see the effects of the truth of God in the lives of holy men confirms faith and encourages holy aspiration.
I have certainly found this to be true in my own life. To read the life of Dawson Trotman is to feel a passion surge to go out and train up disciple-makers. To spend a few days surveying George Mueller is to feel a painful longing to become a man of prayer and of trust. To track with George Whitefield or John Wesley is to feel convicted of wasted time and lost opportunity and to experience a creative spark igniting further passion to live and die for Christ. Typically, men who are bored by godliness are men who are ignorant of the godly. Those feeling their passion for God on the wane can do nothing more beneficial than taking up the life of a Christian hero and spending time in his, or her, company.
But what is true of the dead is also true of the living. Saints do not need to be buried in order to be admired. If a man is serious about improving his vision of godliness, living role models can be as useful – at times even better – than completed lives. The reason for this is that, whereas Christian biography is often a form of hagiography, highlighting strengths while ignoring weaknesses (and thus generating despair while inspiring fervor), in the living we see both the ore and the dross together. This is one reason why having a mentor is so important, or, at least, keeping fellowship with more mature, and older, Christian men. In their lives we see a picture of what we hope to become. They spark our imagination and, in doing so, excite our desire for change.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
1. Who represents for you the kind of man that you hope to become? Think of men you have known during your life and also men you have read about or whose lives you have seen depicted in movies.
2. Why are godly role models and heroic examples of faith important for spiritual development?
3. The media is constantly surrounding men with images of celebrities, athletes, and CEOs. What do you think will happen to us as Christian men if the world identifies our heroes and channels our admiration?
4. Re-read the Spurgeon quote in the blog post. What are the benefits of reading Christian biographies? Name one Christian whose biography you would like to read in the next year.