The Virtues of Manhood

Steve Zollos

[Editor's Note: the following excerpt is taken from the book: time for the talk: leading your son into true manhood (Copyright by Steve Zollos, published by Shepherd Press). Reprinted with permission.] 

It was a warm spring day and I sat working behind my desk. I had been to an event a few days earlier and had won a BB gun that I gave to my son as a present. Along with the gun came clear and detailed instructions on how and when it could be used.

The phone rang and I picked it up to hear my son Stepheno crying on the other end. "Stepheno? What's wrong?" I asked as my heart began pounding. I had never received a call like this before, and I knew something had to be very wrong.

Stepheno started in a halting, almost undecipherable sob, "Dad, I didn't mean to … I didn't think it would shoot that far … I'm sorry … I didn't mean it."

By now the sobs were making complete sentences indiscernible and I began using the scant pieces of information to paint a picture of what had happened in my mind. It had something to do with the BB gun. He shot his brother Phillip, or maybe Emerson with it, but it wasn't too close and it appeared that Mom wasn't home, or she was taking him to the hospital. My mind immediately shifted into panic gear.

"Stepheno," I replied rather sternly, "slow down and stop crying. I can't understand you. Now tell me what happened."

He tried to slow down, but instead of adding details his sobs filled all the voids. "I … took the BB gun and … I didn't know it would shoot that far. I really didn't know, I didn't even pump it up all the way," and the sobs broke out again.

"Stepheno, who did you shoot? Who did you shoot with the BB gun?" I asked as calmly as I could. My heart was racing now and I was already berating myself for ever giving him the gun in the first place. He must have shot Phillip, but was he okay? Were they in need of help? "Oh my God help us!" I thought as I awaited his response. "Stepheno, tell me who you shot!"

"It was … sob … a dove, but it was all the way to the woods and I shot him from the bathroom window. I didn't mean it! … I didn't know that the gun would shoot that far, I'M A POACHER!" he exclaimed bursting out in tears again.

Relief swept through me like a head wind over the bow of a ship. In a split second I went from trying to hide my panic to trying to hide my laughter. I thought he had shot one of my other children only to find out he had shot a bird, and accidentally at that. What a tender heart, what conviction, what power!

Stepheno was undone by the conviction that he had done something wrong. He wasn't scared of the consequence that I might bring, but rather what the incident itself had made him … a poacher.

When I got home I walked my son through the implications of his poor decision to use the BB gun without permission. He was appropriately disciplined, but my primary concern was to guard the spiritual seed within him that brought such strong and powerful conviction. 

We all need to understand our relationship with God and how that relationship dictates the man we will, or will not, be. You need to teach your son how to discern the voice of God's Spirit and how to respond to that small still voice. It is that very voice of love, mercy and kindness that we can somehow find ourselves at odds with when we are tempted.

Your young man needs convictions and they can't come from you. Convictions come from hearing the voice of the Lord. They come from having a holy fear of God and knowing in your heart of hearts his will for you. Convictions allow a man to steady his walk in order to stay on the narrow road that leads to life.

To be able to hear the voice of the Lord, discern his will in your life, and to act upon it in a way that brings him glory is everything you need to be a true man.

Putting Off, Putting On

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Ephesians 1:3). Then he added, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" —Ephesians 4:21

How can we—creatures who are physical and spiritual and fallen in our sin—obey this verse? How can we triumph over our sin and our flesh to perform this profoundly spiritual act? More to the point of this book, if you and I have a hard enough time trying to obey this verse, how can your immature young son accomplish this? 

Simple answer: Your son's spiritual victories will have the same origin as every one of your spiritual victories. To rise above the temptations of the world your son must set his mind on the things of the Spirit. Scripture teaches us to put to death those thoughts and desires that are of the earthly nature and to begin to show evidence of our new spiritual nature that is "being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator." 

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. —Colossians 3:5

We have been made in God's image. We have the amazing privilege of being spiritual beings, just as God is a spiritual being. The responsibility that comes with that privilege (privilege and responsibility always go together) is that we are called to pursue spiritual growth. We are called to become ever more "like God in true righteousness and holiness." This pursuit is the essence of honorable manhood, even honorable young manhood.

That's a daunting project, isn't it? Does it seem impossible? As impossible as, I don't know, a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle? If that's how you see it, you're on the right track. Not only that, but you're in the right place to be able to communicate this truth accurately to your son. For our Savior told us that, "with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

Here's the challenge your son needs to understand. Like Adam, we are required to be perfectly blameless and completely holy in our obedience to God. The problem, of course, is that none of us ever do this perfectly. As James said, "We all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). So if we are sure to fail from time to time, yet God calls us to be perfectly holy, what does it mean to walk as a man before God? It means that we must put our trust completely in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who alone can make us holy and pure. It means that when we stumble and fall short of the glory of God we do two things. First, we return to the Lord and ask him for forgiveness, genuinely repentant yet confident that this specific sin we just committed was a sin Christ died to forgive. Second, we pick ourselves up again and keep going, continually seeking to obey God by the power of his grace.  This is the basis of all repentance: turning away from our sin and in our love of God heading in the opposite direction, back to him again and again.

This is where our degree of familiarity and our current experience with God's Word becomes crucial. Through the Bible we learn and are reminded of what God commands of us, and we recall the power and love and grace he offers us for both obedience and forgiveness. This means we should be continually growing in our knowledge of God through his Word. The Psalmist certainly got it right when he wrote, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your Word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you" (Psalms 119:9).

The Metrics of Manhood 

So then, we are spiritual creatures. We are made in God's image. We are called by his grace to live in perfect holiness before him, and when we fail we can look to Christ for forgiveness and fresh grace. How then can we measure our progress, our success? How can we know we are becoming more like God in righteousness and true holiness? Actually, it's not that difficult. As we press on toward this goal our growth can be readily seen in the virtues, or character traits, that rise to the surface. What virtues should we aim for? What do we want our sons to be like? 
Let's start with a definition of manhood that is currently popular in much of western culture. According to this definition, a "real man" can be described something like this:
Muscular and athletic 
Never overweight
Definitely not an acne sufferer 
A rugged individualist who answers only to himself 
A person who is tolerant of everyone and everything, because there are no absolutes in his life, only opinions 
Open to many views of morality, truth, and right and wrong 
A ladies' man, with the emphasis on the plural, even if his choice in "ladies" is another man 
Basically deserving of anything he might want or desire 
Focused on being (or at least appearing to be) wealthy, smart, accepted, talented, liked, and admired

Is this the kind of man you hope your boy will become? Are these the "virtues" you want to see manifested in his life? I doubt it. In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul describes the natural tendency of our sinful nature to lead us into "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." 

Paul then contrasts these detestable things of our sinful nature with the fruit of the Spirit of God in Galatians 5:22. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

I believe we can distill from Scripture six virtues to use as benchmarks and goals, things we can hold onto, measure, evaluate, and work to improve as we mature. It is not my intention to make an airtight case for these six being the only possible choices. Certainly there are other virtues that can be identified in Scripture. My goal here—especially as you prepare to talk with your young son—is to keep it simple by providing a biblically solid list that is easy to remember and will point your son in the right direction.

A Biblical description of a real man is as follows. A real man is:

Morally pure

How well do these terms line up with that first set of bullet points—the worldly view of a man? Not a lot of overlap, is there? Where is the self-centeredness, self-seeking, and self-glorification that the world continually emphasizes? Where are the themes of consumption and indulgence? Where is the sense of entitlement? In their place, we see a striking emphasis on looking outward. The second set of bullet points describe a man who takes the attitude of a servant toward others, whose life is focused not on self-exaltation but on glorifying God with his life. The world's version of a man essentially sees others as raw material for his own gratification and glorification. The true man, on the other hand, according to God's definition, seeks to love his neighbor and to consider others as better than himself.

Six Key Virtues for Men

These six virtues are spiritual fruit, closely and directly associated with being like God in true righteousness and holiness. The more we become like God, the more these virtues will be evident in us. For each virtue there is a short definition and a few verses for emphasis and elaboration. Paying close attention to these virtues will help you set your sights on exactly where you want to lead your son. 


To pursue humility means choosing to accept the fact that your knowledge and abilities are limited, and in light of that, you are regularly seeking help and graciously receiving advice and correction.
This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 1:8).
Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).


To pursue courage means choosing to do what is right despite the opposition of others or of your own desires (often the more difficult enemy to fight). 
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong (1 Corinthians 1:13).
So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:25).
Act with courage, and may the LORD be with those who do well. (2 Chronicles 2:11)


To pursue moral purity means choosing to live by the highest moral principles in both speech and physical relations, despite your own desires to do otherwise, and despite any external pressure to compromise.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word (Psalms 119:9).
Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1).
Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 1:12).
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure (1 Timothy 1:22). 


To pursue faithfulness means acting in integrity, keeping your word, and doing what is right before God, with fortitude and without complaint, because you trust God to give you the ability to complete all he has given you to do. 
So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Corinthians 4:1).
Love the LORD, all his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD (Psalms 31:23).
A faithful man will be richly blessed (Proverbs 28:20).


To pursue selflessness means placing the well-being of others before your own needs and desires.
An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment (Proverbs 18:1).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:2).
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:16).


To pursue self-control means to live according to the Spirit of God, choosing to glorify God with our lives and deny the sinful nature when tempted to do otherwise.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 1:8).
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control (Proverbs 25:28).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22).

We All Need Help

When society settles on a false definition of what is good and desirable in a man, the streets become full of males who have never grown into Biblical manhood. Guys like these might look cool, but morally they may be little more than children. What a sad and tragic thing that so many boys today fall into this trap and never get out! They buy into the world's definition of manhood and end up going to their graves morally stunted. The externals of chasing this worldly definition of manhood—things like sexual conquests, shiny new cars, and rugged good looks—can never qualify anyone for true manhood.

Your son doesn't have to become a man like that. He has you to help him, and you have Christ, the Word of God, and fellow believers to help you. 

The truth is that we all need help. Being a man is a daunting task, impossible on your own. To become more like Christ in true righteousness and holiness, a man's mind must be renewed and his heart must be regenerated. In short, your son needs divine intervention, and you must remind him of his dependence on God and the regenerating work of Jesus Christ. For your son to be the man that he was created to be requires full and complete reliance on Jesus Christ.
It is in these God-given, God-empowered virtues that your talk with your son should be wrapped. I guarantee these are not character traits or choices that have been discussed with your son at a public school. They are rarely seen on television or in the movies. If you want to be sure your son has an understanding of what it means to be a man, you will most likely need to be the one to tell him. In any event, you are far and away the best one to tell him. 

1. Your son's spiritual victories will have the same origin as every one of your spiritual victories. He must learn to trust solely in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Without a relationship with Christ it is impossible to walk in the holiness required to be the man God has called him to be.  
2. Scripturally, a real man is humble, courageous, morally pure, faithful, selfless, and self-controlled. Your talk with your son should continually emphasize these God-given, God-empowered virtues. 
3. It is in these God-given, God-empowered virtues (humility, courage, purity, faithfulness, selflessness, and self-control) that your talk with your son should be wrapped.

4. Scriptural manhood means hearing the Lord's voice, discerning his will for your life, and acting upon it in a way that brings glory to God.


Steve Zollos is publishing editor of GoodHealth Magazine, and a community liaison helping to bring health and wellness to struggling people and neighborhoods while leading the Building Healthy Communities Initiative in the City of Norfolk. He and his wife Debbie have four sons and one daughter. 

Originally published April 18, 2012.

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