Gender, Confusion, and Conversation, Part 1

biblical genderMy first memories of being taught about gender and gender roles are from early elementary school. It was the 1970’s, and Marlo Thomas and friends had released a record album and TV special, Free to Be You and Me. The messages of the songs and skits were designed intentionally to teach children to reach beyond the gender stereotypes of earlier decades and pursue whatever interests we felt would fit our particular personalities.

While some of the individual messages of the songs and skits contained some important truths, the overall message of the work was to encourage an unbiblical, post-modern gender neutrality. We were to understand that men and women are basically the same, and any differences we may see or experience are not to be turned into generalizations about either sex. What I learned was that a woman can do anything a man can do, and a man should be able to do anything a woman can do as well.

Defining My Womanhood

As I grew and became a teenager, this message seemed to be confirmed by my life experience. I was a girl who loved Star Wars, enjoyed math, excelled at school, preferred my Industrial Arts class over Home Economics, and generally got along with boys more than girls. There were more boys who shared my interests, and I struggled with the drama of junior high and high school girl relationships.

Even with all these traditionally male interests, however, I never questioned my own sexuality or gender identity. I was a girl who had a specific set of interests, but I was definitely a girl. (The teachings of the world had not yet reached the fevered pitch of today, where feelings and interests are taken to imply a specific gender identity.) I knew that my passions, interests, and giftings ultimately did not define my womanhood. And yet, I didn’t fully understand what did define my womanhood.

Feelings Versus God’s Design

Looking back, I can see God’s hand protecting and guiding my understanding. A biblical understanding of sex and gender does allow for each of us, man or woman, to have interests and passions in any arena. But those interests and passions, those feelings, are not what gives us our identity as a man or woman. Our identity is found only in God’s design for our lives, how God has created us to bear His image in the world.

Biblical Gender

In order to continue this conversation, we must first agree on some definitions. We use the term sex to describe the physical distinctions between our male and female bodies. We use the term gender to describe the categories of behavior and being—masculine and feminine . God is spirit and does not have a body; therefore, God is not male or female.  However, we do see God exhibit gender; we see God exhibit both masculine and feminine qualities.

Based on what we have seen in Scripture, we define what is truly masculine as the power to act. God demonstrates the true masculine in many ways, including the ordering of chaos in creation (Genesis 1:1-10) and the initiating of relationship with us through Jesus (Romans 5:6-8). Furthermore, we define what is truly feminine as the capacity to be. God reveals to us the true feminine in multiple ways, including resting in peace after creating all things (Genesis 2:1-3) and comparing himself to a mother who nurtures her children (Isaiah 49:15).

Image-Bearers

Genesis recounts for us that God created all humans in His image, both male and female. Each man is a full image-bearer of God, and each woman is also a full image-bearer of God. We each bear God’s image in the deepest part of our being—our spirits. Because we each bear God’s image in our spirits, all humans—male and female—will exhibit both masculine and feminine characteristics.   In fact, in relation to God, we all behave in feminine ways, receiving the Word of truth in our hearts and minds, responding to the relationship that God initiates with us. Additionally, each of us must protect and guard the truth in our hearts so we may stand firm against deception, exercising true masculine strength.

Distinction on Purpose

Still, God’s intention for distinction within creation and especially humanity is clear.  He could have chosen to create just one type of body —an androgynous human that would be like any other human in every way. But that’s not what God did. God created two distinct and different types of persons: male and female. God created us male and female in order to reveal even more fully who God is and how God acts in relationship.

Since we believe God’s creative act is intentional, it follows that our physical bodies reflect a deeper truth about our spirits and souls. That is, knowing God’s character, the decision to make two different types of bodies implies that the male-female distinction extends into our spirits; it is not only a distinction in body. It also encompasses our souls–the connection between body and spirit; home to our emotions, thoughts and decision-making abilities.  Thus, a person with a male body—genetically XY—is fashioned with  a male spirit and soul, and a person with a female body—genetically XX—is created with  a female spirit and soul.

Body, Soul, Spirit

A male body encounters the world differently than a female body, due to physical differences. Likewise, a male soul will think, experience emotions, and make decisions differently than a female soul. Finally, a male spirit needs to be connected to masculine traits to find identity as a man, and a female spirit needs to be connected to feminine traits to find identity as a woman. We encourage males to connect to their ability to initiate relationship, move in strength, and stand for truth in order to be fully connected in body, soul, and spirit. Likewise, we encourage females to nurture beauty and be receptive and nurturing in relationship with others in order to be fully connected in body, soul, and spirit.

Fully Bearing God’s Image

In order to fully reflect the image of God, however, we make sure that these connections are not to the exclusion of the other; that is, a male is also created  to exhibit feminine traits, and a female to also exhibit masculine ones. For example, a male can and should initiate relationship and stand for truth (the true masculine) while also being receptive and nurturing to others and being able to rest (the true feminine). Likewise, a female can and should be receptive and nurturing while also showing strength, standing for truth, and protecting others.  The encouragement of one type of trait does not mean we overlook or dismiss the other.

True Woman’s Lib

For me, this understanding means that I can acknowledge the differences between men and women while also acknowledging that we each can do whatever it is God has gifted us to do. I am a woman because God has created me with a female body, soul, and spirit, and it is good to be a woman. I act in both feminine and masculine ways, but I do those things as a female. To be a woman of God is to bear God’s image into the world through my femaleness.

This is true woman’s liberation! To know that I am perfectly and fully loved as a daughter of the Most High King; to know that I can fully bear God’s image in the world; to know that God has gifted me specifically to do the work designed for me and my gifts; and to do all this through my femaleness, as a woman. May God grant us each the strength and wisdom to stand firm in the truth and lovingly share it with those around us. May we truly and fully bear God’s image in our manhood or womanhood, as God has created each one. May we truly be free to be you and me.

This post is the first of two. Part one covers the topic of biblical gender; part two, coming soon, will address gender confusion and ways to have life-giving conversations with family and friends.

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About Wendy T.

WENDY T. is the Associate Development
Director at TCJHOP and coordinates speaking and seminars at Outpost Ministries.