What it means to be a man and a woman is increasingly referred to as “gender.” Today, perhaps unlike any time in history, there are fewer rights, privileges and expectations tied to our physical sex. Roles are said to be determined by our culture or religious beliefs, so they must constantly be explained and evaluated. What’s more, the academic world has sought to change our world by changing our words.
What has gone on in the West is so shocking that it could not have been imagined even 100 years ago.
While many developments have been positive, others have not been: Illegitimate births have increased, marriage has been and continues to be redefined, and divorce has skyrocketed, even among professing Christians.
The implications of these changes reach beyond the family and into our very understanding of God. And with such diverse and quickly changing views of gender in the world, we must turn to the Bible to see what God has to say on these issues.
The basic storyline of the Bible isn’t that everything is OK. No, it’s that God created us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), but we have rejected His authority in our lives, and, consequently, have sinned against Him (Rom. 3:23; Jam. 4:4). As a result, we are subject to God’s judgment.
But God provided His Son as a substitute. Jesus died to take the wrath for our sin and was raised back to life (Rom. 5:6-10). Forgiveness of your sins and reconciliation with God is possible.
In the following areas, we see that God has made His will on the issue of gender inherently obvious.
The loudest voice for the Christian in gender discussions is always God (Gen. 1:26-27). God specifically creates a worshipper in His image, who is special from the rest of creation—male and female He created them. This is the first chapter in the Bible, and it starts with God. God is the uncreated being in the universe; He is the One from which everything else has come.
What is God like? Look at people around you. Talk to them. While God is certainly not like us in every way, we learn something of Him by His creation of us. The ability to think, to know, to communicate, and to be in relationship is at the core of this description.
Gender is no biological accident. God’s image is seen in male and female — individually and together. The mystery of marriage speaks to the love between the persons of the Trinity, and the perfect love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. The image of God
Being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from animals. We see two creation acts in relation to mankind in Genesis: physical creation and a spirit breathed into man by God.
The doctrine of the image of God is what gives Christianity a reason to defend people of both genders and all races. It is our very belief in God that makes us an encouragement for the good of all (Gal. 6:10; Pro. 3:27).
The image of God in us can’t be abolished, and our innate knowledge of God can’t be totally eradicated. That’s why God’s purpose in your life isn’t comfort but conformity. In all things, He is making the Christian into the image of Christ. In issues of gender or otherwise, the pursuit of a trivial life isn’t befitting for creatures made in the image of a weighty God full of glory. God didn’t save you and me simply to take us to heaven. He saved us to conform us into the image of Jesus.
The image of God didn’t dissolve when Adam sinned. We can act contrary to the image of God, and it is diminished by sin. But man reflects God’s image as a spiritual and physical being with the capacity for relationship.
Biblically, men are to take responsibility and are called to initiate and protect (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 5:8, etc.). Men are to be the head of their families. Masculinity is to lead, not desert; to provide for, not take from; to protect, not kill. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, perfectly exemplifies this.
In the essence of biblical masculinity is a man understanding that authority is not authoritarian but humble, sacrificial responsibility. Biblical masculinity is meek. Not passive. But meek. At the heart of biblical masculinity is the taking of responsibility — period. Taking responsibility is true masculinity. Passivity is marital sabotage.
Too many people have a distorted sense of masculinity characterized by a lack of responsibility and a freedom from any obligation that might tie him down. This isn’t masculinity, but adolescence! Men are to cultivate self-sacrificial love as demonstrated by Jesus. The call to leadership is a call to repentance and risk-taking.
Biblical femininity is a disposition of affirming, receiving and nurturing the strength and leadership of worthy men (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Col. 3:18, etc.). The Bible doesn’t teach that God created men and women as duplicates, but as complementary to one another (1 Tim. 2:8-15).
In fact, the cultivation of good male leadership benefits women. Women’s liberation has often turned into women’s domination, or a complete denial of any differences between men and women at all.
The vision of harmonious relationships between men and women isn’t possible when one or both parties aren’t pursuing God’s call for their particular role. True freedom comes in submission to God’s will and the affirmation of His wisdom.
5. Popular confusions
When the authority of the Bible is rejected or distorted, the beautiful differences between men and women are deserted. As men try to put themselves first, or as women try to dominate, life becomes more like war. The evil one hates all that is good and is working hard to distort the truth and beauty of God’s creation.
Alternative understandings of gender are promoted in our culture — while more “flexible” norms are marketed. Family units are now chosen instead of being biological in nature. And sex is divorced from the responsibility of reproduction.
What intimacy is there in non-monogamous relationships? Look at the drug use, depression and disease among those involved in sexual behavior outside the context of biblical marriage. Is this the “freedom” offered by the alternative?
6. The explanation of gender
Gender isn’t a “choose your own adventure story.” God didn’t make us gender-less.
God has included hierarchy in the fabric of creation. God creates mankind (people) to rule over creation in His stead. Whenever authority is correctly used, God’s own character is reflected. Good authority is fruitful in the lives of others; it creates stability and promotes good for all. This is why abuse of authority is so terrible, whether in marriage or the church or in a nation.
The issues of trust that crowd around this topic lie very near to the Gospel itself. Gender is now, in the culture at large, understood to be an expression of personal autonomy. Tolerance is not enough. The biblical Gospel calls us to strong love for others. The image of God is there. Christian eyes see it.
Can you see something of the way God structured this life to mirror how we are to approach Him? Yet we may rely on and submit to Him wholly, without any fear of failure or potential betrayal of trust.
The good news is that the grace of God isn’t bound by race, gender, age, social class, language, ethnicity, history or location. God offers grace to all. You can trust Him today!