Conversation #1: Gender (April 15, 2018)
By Pastor Jerry Ingalls
April 15, 2018
FBC in New Castle, IN
Over the next five weeks we are going to dive into one of the most important conversations in the church, as well as touch upon some of the most politicized issues of our culture—gender, sexuality, marriage, and family—but we are going to do so in a way that builds strong bridges for conversation and not higher walls between the church and culture. We are going to talk about our identity—Who are we?
Please remember that during these talks, we are discussing people, real people and not agendas (yours or theirs or mine). Remember this as you listen and respond, we are talking about real people who go to schools in our community and are members of our families. This is not an “us vs. them” conversation; God has a plan for each of us.
My vision of identity is that of a call and response. How we see ourselves is in response to a call. Whether you see that call as originating from a voice outside of yourself or from within is significant. Because our response to the call shapes our identity, our lives, and our influence. What is calling you? Who is calling you? How are you responding?
Today we are going to dive into the first conversation, one that is an essential starting point. It is the identity of our gender. Our gender is deeply embedded within the very construct of who we are, how we see ourselves, and how we relate to the world. This is an issue of the very nature of our created being.
Jesus answered important questions by going back to “the beginning” so I thought I should too. Please turn with me to Genesis. Read Genesis 2:7-9, 15-25. This is the foundation of the biblical Christian worldview on the topic of gender because gender is a part of God’s creative intent in creating humanity in relationship with God as uniquely male and uniquely female. God created us fully equal in value and intentionally complementary in design to one another. Complementary is not intended to take away from equal in value nor is equal in value meant to take away from being unique in design. We are equal before God, but not the same before one another. We are designed to bring out the best in one another to the glory of God!
According to Genesis 1:26-27, the genders are both equally and uniquely created in His image and both are for His glory. In fact, when the genders relate to one another as God intended in His design we bring God greater glory together in our relationship than we could by ourselves in our uniqueness. And this is not just in marriage and not just in having kids, and this is not in pigeon holing one another in culture-bound gender stereotypes or roles. From the beginning, before we knew and identified ourselves by our male or female design, we were known by God as His creation and as image bearers of God. We knew God and He knew us in the Garden and we found our worth, our value, our unique-yet complementary design with one another and we were unashamed!
Why, then, are issues of God’s creative intent so controversial today? Whether that be in gender classification or relationships between the sexes?
Because we all live in a broken world where things just aren’t the way they are supposed to be! When God created the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve), he declared all that He created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Unfortunately for all of us today, all that was once “very good” is now very broken due to what is called the Fall (Genesis 3). The Fall was caused by the lack of trust Adam and Eve had in God’s creative intent and intended desire to bless all the people with every heavenly blessing primarily through a relationship with Him. Let me say that again very clearly: God’s creative intent and intended desire is to bless all the people with every heavenly blessing PRIMARILY through a relationship with Him AND THEN SECONDARILY in our relationships with one another and creation. Adam and Eve turned away from their primary identity in God to find their happiness and fulfillment on their own in secondary ways. As way of introduction to a larger concept, they started exploring their secondary identities as moral free agents in the world God had given them to steward (rule) and enjoy abundantly, and they did so in rebellion to God’s desires for them. Allow me to be very clear here: it was not the exercising of their God-given freedom that brought about the curse on them and all of creation that has led to the very broken world we experience today. Rather, it was that they rejected God in doing it. And in rejecting God, they hid from God for the first time in the shame of their nakedness (genders). Listen to Genesis 3:8-13.
God created all of us with an incredible amount of freedom that comes with responsibility to steward the creation and care for one another. Our freedom has always been intended to be exercised in relationship with God for us to experience the fullness of joy God intends for all of us. Jesus Christ came to give us salvation with God, which in every way is God’s plan to return us to His original intent of the Garden before the Fall. God could not ignore the rebellion, but God in His very nature dealt with the consequences of our rebellion so that we could return to our primary identity as those who walk with God; what the Bible calls being a “friend of God”. This is salvation—more than forgiveness of sin, it is impartation of righteous standing before God, and an invitation to relationship with God in this life and for eternity. This saves us to return to God’s primary intent for His creation, but it also delivers and rescues us to reconciled relationships with one another as unique created beings; as male and female.
Listen to Galatians 3:25-29. Allow me to explain: In Christ, before God’s throne (an image of pre-Fall relationship with God), we are neither male nor female, but in Christ we are one. This is NOT a removal of our secondary identity as male or female or the equal-yet-complementary design God intended, but a calling forth of our primary identity over our secondary identities. Remember: IDENTITY is about CALL and RESPONSE! There is a primary identity that God created us for (a right relationship with Him) and through Jesus Christ the way is made for us to respond and come home and be found safe and secure in who God originally intended and designed us to be.
Sin, which caused the Fall and continues to this day in us and in our world, deprives us of a right relationship with God, deforms our understanding of ourselves, and destroys our relationships with one another. All the confusion (in all three of these directions) is because of the Fall and not because of a design flaw in God’s creation or in us as distinctively male and female, or that we are designed for one another. We all struggle with this; this is not an “us vs. them” struggle; this is what it means to be human living in a fallen world!
For point of clarification and illustration on the pervasive impact of sin on creation and humanity, some people are born as a hermaphrodite, meaning they are born with both or modified male and female natures. This is not God’s creative intent nor loving design for them or anyone in humanity, this is the ongoing effects of the Fall. When we struggle with such cases and others that are very personal to us, please know that there is a distinction to be made between the effects of sin on the world and God’s desired intent to restore and redeem the world through His Son Jesus Christ. Sin has marred all of creation, but God has made a way for His creation to be returned to the pristine status of the pre-Fall Garden. That in fact is the promise of Revelation 21 & 22. During this in-between time—the age of the Church—we are to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ to all people. We all struggle with the effects of the Fall in our bodies and in our communities. Not a single one of us is better than any other person; it is pride to cause any one person to think they are better than another. Our primary identity in Christ forbids such pride and invites us to love people and to know them.
Listen to Paul’s promise to all who are rescued and delivered by Jesus Christ, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When our primary identity is found secure “in Christ” then we find our unique individuality in the expression of who God made us to be and what He designed us to do with our lives. Listen to this promise, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That is where our secondary identity follows suit (as a male or female). I am not male primarily; but I am male secondarily. I am a child of God primarily and all else flows in the security of being known as an individual. My expression of my maleness is healthiest when I am resting in Christ rather than when I am trying to prove my identity to myself and the world.
I have an equally profound need to be known apart from all other people, just like you I want to be an individual and not pigeon-holed because of my gender or the color of skin. My need to be known for who I am and not for who I sleep with or what I do for a living is just as inherently strong in me as in any other person. It seems to me that the rising issues of identity are because western culture as a whole has moved away from a sure foundation that we can have a primary identity at all—that we have a soul that can only be satisfied in Christ. As we move away from knowing who we are as a call and response with God, the only other way we can then know who we are and find our uniqueness is in our secondary identities, a call and response with people. That is moving us from building our identities on the rock (of an unchanging God) to building our identities of shifting sands (of ever changing viewpoints and fads of people). God has repositioned us in Christ and has seated us with Him in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:4-7). Let us never diminish ourselves with any second-class rendering of who we are; in Christ, we are redeemed children of God (1 John 3:1)!
Our secondary identities were never designed to fulfill our soul, our deepest and eternal need to know and to be known. Therefore, we rage to know and be known, to be unique, to be free…
Friends, it is the truest desire of every human heart to know and to be known, to be an individual and accepted, to be found precious and loved unconditionally. That is just as true for a person who believes in God as it is for a person who doesn’t believe in God. The reality of this situation is that at no time has culture or society been able to meet this need. All cultures demand conformity to a group norm. That is history, present, and future, and that is just as present in the demand for a lack of classification as it is in classification of one’s “people” or “preferences” of how we see ourselves and others. All cultures, all societies will fall short of providing for us our deepest need to know and to be known which means that there has to be a different way to have this need met. I invite you to this thought: God designed you to not be able to find your satisfaction apart from Him on purpose. God loaded the deck—not against you, but for you! As Ecclesiastes 3:11 states, “God has planted eternity in our hearts.”
God did this so that you would turn to Him and find rest for your souls and abundance for your life. God designed you to find your identity in Christ, who is bigger than any other category or relationship. Our desire for identity can only be met in the God who created us on purpose male or female, for a reason that can only be satisfied and realized in Christ. As all the secondary identities fade away in our oneness in Christ then our ability to be unique or special in our maleness or femaleness is expressed according to His will and His purpose since it is no longer paramount in how we see ourselves or in how we relate to others. Then and only then is Christ truly preeminent in our lives (Colossians 1:13-18).
Here are some applications for each of us to consider: If we are able to start thinking about one another and relating to one another as children of God who are equally in need of God’s grace, before we see or think anything else about the other person, then that alone will bring about transformation in us. And it will touch the other person and bring about the thriving we all want to see in our relationships, families, and communities. When you see the person as nothing more than something you don’t like or agree with, then I think God is giving you an opportunity to love as Jesus loved. When someone is struggling with their gender identity, remember that they are a real person that Jesus died for and not a person to be feared or hated or mocked or glared at or talked about behind his/her back. When we are struggling with how we relate to one another as male and female, remember that he or she is a real person made in the image of God. It is very important that within the church we learn how to value one another, work together, and bring out the best in one another to the glory of God.
Finding your identity is a call and response with the God who made you on purpose for a reason that brings God glory and promises abundance in your life. There is a God in Heaven who knows you, everything about you, and He is calling you by name right now. May you find peace in Christ and may we all love people in such a way as to encourage them to include God in their deepest pursuits of knowing and being known.