In a world of individualized truth and hyper-defensiveness, we’ve lost the ability to decide what to do with our instincts. We have lost the wisdom necessary to discern when to trust and when to reject our own impulses. Most men don’t know the difference. Some may have never even considered their instincts could be wrong.
It’s time to put your instincts to a test. It’s time to ask them some tough questions. When you force your instincts to explain themselves, they suddenly lose some of their power to control you. This is the path to something better. Something more than what you are. It is possible.
So, what are these instincts, robbing so many men of a better manhood? I want to offer you five of these masculine instincts and five biblical men who have struggled with them, men who by their success and failures can show us a better way. They are our guides to a better manhood.
The Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested, “An instinct is weakened when it rationalises itself.”
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The instinct of sarcasm is usually felt first as annoyance. The world forces us to face things we have little interest in facing. At its root, sarcasm is a defense mechanism—a way of avoiding things while appearing to take them seriously. Sarcasm allows us to laugh off what we don't want to actually consider. It is too often a thin cover for immaturity and an unwillingness to pay the cost of true maturity. We all occasionally love a sarcastic joke, but when it becomes a disposition toward God and others it risks turning away from the possibility of true maturity. The story of Cain is a good example of sarcasm’s risk and the divine possibility of something better.
As Dave Barry rightfully joked, “You can only be young once but you can always be immature.”
The instinct for adventure is often felt as passion, idealism, and restless energy. At its best, adventure produces new discoveries and has the potential to broaden our experiences and perspectives. But the instinct has a blind spot. A constant desire for adventure can weaken commitments and create a deep sense of discontentment for common life. It's worth rereading Samson's story. His restless passions and inability to embrace the commitments of his calling—his Nazarite vow—helps us better consider our own desires for adventure and the necessity of deeper commitments. This is the real adventure.
As Proust put it, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
The instinct for ambition is often felt as a drive to achieve something meaningful and to have a lasting impact on the world. At its best, ambition leads men to make great sacrifices, take on difficult leadership responsibilities, and give their lives to meaningful causes. But the instinct also has a tendency to outpace what God is asking of us and attempt to bear responsibilities too great, leaving many men disillusioned. Burnout, pride, and manipulation can poison what was once a worthy cause. Moses was clearly a man who wrestled with ambition. His attempts to lead Israel and himself through failure and discouragement will challenge you to humbly and gratefully recognize where God is leading you, even when it is less than your ambition can imagine.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned, “God hates visionary dreaming. It makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.”
The instinct to protect your reputation is often an experience of obsession, cover-up, and image manipulation. At its best, reputation produces a sense of honor and responsibility. But the instinct has a tendency to compartmentalize and ignore undisciplined portions of a man’s life. A desire for reputation can lead men to ignore their inner lives, wear public masks, and lie to protect their image. While David is remembered as one of the great men of the Bible, his impulse to protect his reputation came with dire consequences. Through David’s attempts to portray the image of a king, you will learn the necessity of integrity, rightfully defined, not as perfection, but as wholeness. A man of integrity is able to inventory and take responsibility for even the difficult parts of his life.
As Nathaniel Hawthorne expressed it, “No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
The instinct to disengage is often felt as a desire to be alone, self-reliant, and to avoid controlling complexities. At its best, independence leads men to think for themselves and to develop deep personal convictions. But the instinct also has a tendency to lead men toward isolation and apathy. Men can withdraw from responsibilities and the complexity of social relationships, settling for hobbies and their own comfort. Abraham lived a life of faith and knew the pull of Apathy. Through Abraham’s struggles to hold onto God’s promises and maintain the vigor of his faith, you will be challenged to keep your faith engaged through the sacrifice of control, fully participating in all the complexities of life, family, and community.
As C. S. Lewis famously warned, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
These instincts are neither exclusive to men nor fixed in a man's genetics. They represent many of the common experiences and temptations men have long faced. Each man bears the responsibility of understanding his own masculinity, both the risks and the potential present in it.
Consider Paul's advice to the young man Timothy. “Watch your life and doctrine closely." This is the path by which men mature. We must learn to understand our own instincts and also how the Christian faith offers a path to maturity. It is this process of learning to understand yourself and the gospel that allows men to mature into Christlike masculinity.
It's my hope that The 5 Masculine Instincts can help you begin this process of self-examination and gospel-application. Together, God is calling us to something better—a better instinct of faith.
Maturity does not mean you are everything you could be, instead maturity begins by taking responsibility for who you are now, submitting to the divine lesson at hand, and humbly seeking a path toward something better.Take the Instinct Profile