Take Me Instead

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There are times when I feel like that peace-making fellow at Gettysburg who decided to usher in national harmony by parading between the two armies wearing a blue coat and gray trousers. The only thing that happened was that he got shot at by both sides, and retired from the field a bit wiser.

Of course my status as a racist misogynist is quite secure among the enlightened ones, and yet a week or so I got a couple of emails from two young men upbraiding me as a cultural Marxist, one who long ago sold out as a “limp wristed cuck,” etc. And so I naturally wonder . . . who is going to reach out to these marginalized voices?

A Summary of Biblical Responsibility:

There are various hot button issues that are tearing us all apart, including race, sex, class, and so on. But when it comes to relationships between the sexes, particularly between husband and wife, there is a particular stumbling block. That stumbling block is a common misunderstanding of the distinction between responsibility and fault.

Scripture plainly teaches that the husband is the head of his wife. This headship brings true authority with it, but it is an authority of a particular kind.

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).

So my teaching on federal headship and marriage is this. Masculinity in the husband is essential to the health and vibrancy of any marriage relationship, and this kind of masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. A man who leads his family properly is a man who takes responsibility for everything that occurs there. This is not a responsibility without authority because true authority flows to those who take responsibility. Authority runs away from those who seek to evade responsibility.

Taking responsibility does not mean taking the blame for everything. It means taking responsibility for everyone. It does not mean doing everything the wife wants, and then calling it servant leadership as a face-saving maneuver.

So when I say true authority it necessarily includes what enemies of the gospel are petulantly calling “the patriarchy.” It is not egalitarian, and it is not what might be called soft complementarian. The husband is the head of his wife, and is also the head of the home. Do I then embrace patriarchy? Yes, I do. I accept that the Scriptures teach father-rule.

But this is to be distinguished from a cheap knock-off, what might better be tagged as lunkhead-rule, about which more later.

The Dalrockian Complication:

We live in a time that blames men by default. Our generation blames boys for being boys, it faults men for being men, and it scorns males simply for being males. Resentment of masculinity, and even resentment of residual forms of masculinity, is one of the characteristic sins of our time. So if a marriage melts down, and both husband and wife come out from it telling a horror story about what happened, the wife will get the kind of sympathetic hearing that the husband will almost never get. This is particularly true in vast stretches of the feminized evangelical church.

Now you can’t do that for extended periods of time before a significant number of men begin to kick. They do this in various ways, some godly and some ungodly. Some resort to pornography, others to the MGTOW movement, some muse that sexbots will never become part of the #MeToo movement, others go on marriage strike (Matt. 19:10), and others go the Dalrock route. And countless others imitate B’rer Rabbit—“he lay low.”

You can also see the delicate position that those teachers are in who emphasize the federal responsibility of the husband. This is the teaching that men must assume responsibility for everything and—as if this were not difficult enough—they must do this in the midst of a chorus of ungodly voices that are blaming them for everything.

Then throw into the mix all those many occasions where the husband is to be blamed for his individual sin. So there is righteous blame to accept, unrighteous blame to reject, and federal responsibility to assume. There is a true spiritual challenge here. The problem is worthy of more attention than we have given to it.

So let’s say I have a marriage counseling situation walk through my door. Let’s take an imaginary couple who moved to our town and our church as the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. She has disregarded her husband’s financial parameters over the years and run up their credit cards over 100K, has cheated on him a couple of times in their ten-year marriage, is in close communication with some ever-helpful-always-blame-the-man counselors online, while he has been wringing his hands quite a bit, not quite sure what to do. On top of that, just to keep the counseling sessions zesty, he has confessed to her five or six occasions where he has used pornography. She is deeply hurt by this and is not sure she can ever forgive him.

How do we parse this out? He is responsible for all of it. She is to blame for her sins as an individual before God, and he is to blame for his sins in the same way (e.g. the porn). If we were holding an individual guilt competition, her guilt is much the greater. But it is not a competition. At the same time, his biggest sin is what might be called a meta-sin, the sin of refusing to take responsibility for his marriage and family. But when he takes responsibility, this is not the same thing as pretending that he is the one who ran up the credit cards. The taking of responsibility gathers up what others have done, but without confusing itself with what others have done.

The Example of Job:

Job was a good and godly man, and his understanding of this principle is one of the things that Scripture sets before us. When the (grown) children of Job would invite one another to their homes in order to feast and celebrate, what would Job do?

“And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually” (Job 1:5).

What is Job doing here? He is not cursing God himself. He is not seeking forgiveness for cursing God himself. Later when his wife invites him to curse God and die (Job 2:9), he refuses her suggestion, and he rebukes her firmly (Job 2:10). When his wife sins by talking about God’s sovereignty the way foolish women do, Job speaks to it directly. At the same time, he is taking responsibility, as the head of the clan, for a possible sin of blasphemy that may have taken place in somebody else’s heart. This is part of what Scripture sets before us as his godly and good example. As such, we must learn from it.

The First Adam’s Failure at Just This Point:

It is not surprising that we have such a hard time making this distinction between responsibility and fault because a failure to make it lies right at the heart of the aboriginal sin. Eve was the first human being to sin, being deceived by the serpent as she was (2 Cor. 11:3). She sinned in that she did not listen to the voice of her husband. The tree had been prohibited before her creation (compare Gen. 2:17 with 2:22), and so she was going against what Adam had told her.

But when Adam sinned, he was going against what God had told him. Because of Adam’s position as head, and because of his place in the order of creation, this meant that Adam was the one who introduced sin into the world. This is crucial. Eve was the first human to sin in the world, but Adam was the first human to bring sin to the world. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned . . .” (Rom. 5:12).

Eve’s sin did not entail death upon all her descendants. That did not happen until the head of the family took the fruit. That did not happen until the head of the human race took the fruit.

After Eve sinned as she did, the Fall had still not happened.

But what follows from this? It means that in the temptation and disobedience of our first parents, there was a period of time—between the sin of Eve and the sin of Adam—when our first father was in exactly the same position that the Lord Jesus was in later. Adam was unfallen, and his bride had been defiled. Adam was sinless and Eve was not sinless. Adam had been obedient to God and Eve had been disobedient. The first Adam was in the same position that the second Adam would be in centuries later. An unfallen Adam had a fallen Eve—just as an unfallen Jesus came for His fallen bride centuries later. So given the circumstances, what should Adam have done?

The answer should be obvious. The first Adam should have done what the second Adam did do, which was take responsibility for something he did not personally do. Adam should have gone straight to the Lord and said something like, “There is a grievous sin in my family. We have failed to keep your word. I know that You told me that death would be the certain result of eating that fruit, and so I am asking you to take me. Spare my wife, and take me instead.”

We do not know what would have happened had Adam done this thing, but I think we do know that it would have been glorious.

But he did not do it, and he, by abdicating his responsibility for his wife, and choosing rather to share in the fault with his wife, plunged the world into darkness and despair. In addition to this, he provided the paradigm juke move for all his future sons to use as needed: “the woman thou gavest me” (Gen. 3:20).

All About Jesus:

Our problem is that we have no trouble understanding all this when Jesus offers it to us, and then we pretend to get completely bewildered by it when God calls us to imitate what we have received. We love it when someone takes responsibility for us, but we really struggle taking imitative responsibility for others.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25).

Now husband cannot duplicate the substitutionary, vicarious, federal death of Christ on the cross for the sins of His people. Let me say that again. Husbands cannot be a federal head at the same level that Adam was, or that the last Adam is, in the same way. But what we cannot achieve completely, we are nevertheless commanded to imitate.

“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself” (Eph. 5:28).

Christ is the head of the church, and He took full and complete responsibility for the sins of all His people. When Christ died on the cross that was not a moment where God was somehow deluded into thinking that Christ had somehow sinned. Christ never sinned, even on the cross. Even in His cry of dereliction, He was still quoting Scripture, was still addressing God as “my God,” and was still clinging to the promise that is found in the conclusion of the psalm He was quoting. Christ never stopped trusting God. He was never a sinner.

And yet . . .

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

That is what husbands are called to imitate. A masculine husband is one who is constantly mortifying his impulse to evade responsibility, and who has gladly assumed the task of learning how to say, “Take me instead.”