The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
Listen to the sermon audio: Creation and Gender (Gen 1:27)
*Originally preached August 8th, 2021*
– Your body is a gift given by God and is part and parcel of your identity as an image bearer; everything created by God is good (1 Tim 4:4)
– Sin has affected all of our bodies, resulting in both physical (sickness, disabilities, etc.) and moral (sinful desires, identity confusion, etc.) problems. Our bodies do not function they way they should and we find within us many conflicting and confusing desires that are contrary to our identity as image bearers.
– Rather than embracing these confusing desires that come as a byproduct of sin, we should embrace and participate in the identity God has given us that comes with being embodied beings, male or female. God has designed our bodies for the purpose of glorifying him (1 Cor 6:13; 19-20).
– While this may be clear in the Bible, sometimes we can doubt whether or not this is good. Given the nature of current discourse about gender, it may be tempting to suspect that God’s design is not loving or fair. But we can trust God’s design to be not only authoritative but also good–even if our impulse is otherwise–because God has revealed himself to be both loving and trustworthy in the gospel. If God loved you enough to send His own Son to die for your sins, then we can be confident that His commands are for our good, are given because He loves us.
The less significant something is, the less catastrophic is the nature of it being used wrongly. If my child uses his bath time toy boat to play in the sandbox, it does not matter. It isn’t hurting anyone. But if someone attempts to take a yacht and drive it up upon the sand dunes, things will be much, much more consequential. The yacht is much, much more significant than the toy boat, and so the consequences of not honoring its design are much more catastrophic.
What about human beings? Do they have a design?
Is there an innate design to life? A way things should be? A way we ought to live?
Of course, we all recognize that there are some things in life that just do not work. No matter how much my child wants me to believe that the plastic fruit he “cooked” for me is a real meal, things won’t go well for me if I try to digest it. If you attempt to stop sleeping and live on energy drinks and protein bars, you will eventually collapse. If I plant lemon seeds, no matter how much I may want oranges, a lemon tree is what will come up. There is a certain given-ness to reality that cannot be ignored.
But while it is obvious that there is a kind of design to our bodies and our world that can only be ignored at our own peril, is the same to be true for morality and identity? Is there, to use an older philosophical word, a “nature” to human beings that explains and guides how we are to live? A design with which we should seek to shape our lives to?
Of course, Christians would answer with a resounding “Yes.” As we examined last week, we believe that all human beings (Christian and non-Christian alike) are made in the image of God, thus there is a universal human nature that undergirds us all: a reflection and image of God’s character and nature Himself. God has conceived in His mind, so to speak, what a human being should be. And this nature persists even through sin, though it is marred by sin. While our union with Christ helps restore the image to its original design, those outside of Christ still bear God’s divine image, and thus there is a universal human nature that is indelibly stamped on us all. Thus, I argued, all human beings are left with an innate, even if imperfect, sense of the knowledge of God and what He requires of them (Rom 1-2). But what does this identity have to do with our understanding of gender?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. – Gen 1:27
Gender has traditionally been understood to be the display of one’s sex, male or female, through cultural means of dress, speech, mannerisms, etc. that telegraphs either a masculine or feminine characteristics. So our sex is the biological reality of us being either male or female and gender is a culturally appropriate display of that biological reality. Gender, thus, has been assumed to be necessarily tethered to our biological sex. A more modern definition of gender, however, can be found from Yogykarta Principles, a standard model used for formulating many SOGI (sexual orientation gender identity) laws today:
Understanding “gender identity” to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.
Notice a couple of things in this definition:
1. Gender identity “may or may not correspond” with biological sex. Even further, sex is not discovered, but “assigned” at birth. The sexual anatomy of the infant is not itself what determines that the child is male or female; it is the designation that the doctor or parent assigns the child. This not only separates gender from sex, but removes sex itself from the biological and anatomical phenomena of the body.
2. If the anatomy, chromosomes, and physiology of the person do not determine their gender identity, then what does? It is “each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender.” Last week we spoke of the recent model of turning first inward for identity formation. Transgenderism is the most recent logical outcome of this method of forming identity: if the world around me and God above me are at best secondary or tertiary guides to consult to discover who I am, and at worst something to be disregarded entirely, then not even something as close to myself as my own body can tell me who I am. The inner psychologized self has been shorn from the body like a kernel from a husk.
3. One way for those experiencing a disconnect between their sex and gender to alleviate this problem is through modifying their physical experience through dress, speech, mannerisms, or through medical solutions, such as surgery or hormone therapy.
We could summarize these three insights by saying:
1. The body is unimportant
2. The self knows best
3. The solution is to remake yourself
What should Christians think about this? How do we respond? These issues strike at the very heart of some of the most vital truths God’s Word: the image of God, gender, the body, and sexuality.
As we look we will find three answers to this dilemma:
1. Our bodies are very important
2. Sin affects both our bodies and our understanding
3. The solution is found in Christ
A Theology of the Body
The early church struggled with a false teaching called “Gnosticism” which viewed the created world and our bodies, and all its attendant appetites, at best as unimportant, and at worst evil. It was the immaterial, the spiritual world that was pure and undefiled, and the more one distanced themselves from the pleasures and comforts of the material world the closer one would be to the spiritual. Bodily appetites were debased and could not be trusted. So the individual who lived the most strict and ascetic life, denying themselves comfort, food, and sex, who were viewed as the most spiritual.
There appear to be forms of this cropping up in the New Testament church that the writers of the New Testament address. Paul warns his young protégé Timothy of false teachers, “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving ,” 1 Tim 4:3-4 (cf. Col 2:18-23). Everything that God created is good. As God is ordering and creating and filling the world in Genesis 1, what is the constant refrain? “It was good.” And after God creates human beings in His image, male and female? He declares, “It was very good,” (Gen 1:31).
Back in June when we covered the resurrection of Jesus I made a brief comment about what God thinks of our physical bodies. When the Son of God became man, He did not just temporarily dawn a “human suit” so that He could live and die, and then cast it aside so as to return to His previous spiritual existence. No, when Jesus took on flesh, He permanently added to Himself a human nature that He will never set aside, and that human nature is inseparable from His bodily existence. After Jesus was put to death on the cross, significantly His body was resurrected. He did not appear to His disciples as a disembodied ghost. He hugged people (John 20:17), invited Thomas to touch his hands and side (John 20:24-29), and ate food (Luke 24:36-43). And, most significantly, when Jesus ascended into Heaven to sit on His heavenly throne, His body went with Him! Jesus’ human body is so significant that John tells his church that anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh, is not from God (1 John 4:2-3).
If Jesus is the human par excellence, and His existence as the perfect being involved a human body, then that means our bodies matter to God. He designed them, He created them and, as Paul told Timothy, “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim 4:4). Psalm 139 pictures God lovingly and intimately fashioning each one of us within our mother’s womb, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our bodies are a stunning display of God’s brilliant handiwork.
While we experience a temporary separation from the body upon death, this is not anyone’s final state. The book of Revelation tells us that the final state of all human beings will be in a resurrected body (Rev 20). The New Heavens and New Earth will not be a plane of spiritual ether, we will not exist as disembodied spirits, but will live in a renewed world where creation is not bypassed but remade.
While we understand that there is a distinction between our soul and body, the Bible gives us little room for imagining a great deal of distance between these two. We are embodied beings. Your entire human experience happens through your body. What you do with your body bears direct impact on your soul. Try staying up all night and notice how much tempted you are the next day to snap in anger at someone or bow in reverence for five minutes and notice your ego deflate. Further, we don’t disassociate people from their body: if I attack you and you get angry, you will not feel sympathetic if I attempt to explain that I was not attacking you, just your body. If a racist treats someone else differently because of the color of their skin, the individual doesn’t comfort themselves that they are just treating their skin, not them, unfairly. While there is not a one for one identification with ourselves with our bodies, it is impossible for us to conceive of anything happening to, through, by or against our body, and not seeing it directly affecting ourselves. This is God’s design for image bearers—to be embodied beings.
Our Fallen Bodies
But, of course, there is a problem. Our bodies are often the source of much frustration in life. Since the Fall, sin has cursed all of creation, including our bodies. We get sick, our body hurts, our “outer self is wasting away” as Paul says (2 Cor 4:16). Further, we find within our bodies cravings and impulses and desires that are in direct contradiction with what the Lord requires of us, so much so that Paul can use the word “flesh” as a metaphor for his sinful nature. This leads Paul to write:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:20-23)
All of creation, including ourselves, groan under the weight of the curse. Last week we spoke of how human beings are made in God’s image, that is our fundamental identity, and that is stamped on all of us from our creation. Sin creates a distance between us and God. And thus, since we bear God’s image, it leaves us feeling internally out of sorts. We are left uncertain of who we are and alienated from ourselves. Reflecting on this, the prophet Jeremiah writes: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Our heart’s lie to us, they cannot be trusted; they are sick, not healthy; and they are an enigma, who can understand the depths of their own heart? We are strangers to ourselves. We now find desires inside of us that feel right, the seem desirable, but are at odds with God’s design for us.
As a by-product of the Fall all of our bodies are now not functioning the way they were designed. And like no two mirrors hit with a hammer crack exactly the same, we all are broken differently. Further, as we live in a wider society of other broken people, the influences of that wider view affects how we think of our bodies, use our bodies. For some, the unique way sin has affected them and the way the wider world thinks leads them to denigrate their body through cruelty to their body, for example, through self-harm, or eating disorders, while it leads others to indulge their body, through gluttony or greed. It leads some people to treat other people’s bodies unjustly because they look different than them, are a different sex than them, or race than them.
And because an unavoidable aspect of our bodily experience is our sex as male and female and the sexual activity those different sexes include, sin taints this as well.
This can lead to all sorts of different kinds of brokenness—from the abusive and manipulative husband who abuses his wife to the young college student viewing porn and pursuing casual sexual encounters with others, from the woman who thinks that because she is a woman she is less valuable than a man, to the man who thinks any sexual act is permissible as long as there is consent involved. Sexual sin manifests itself in many, many different forms.
In the case of transgenderism, this looks like someone experiencing a disconnect between their biological sex and their inner sense of identity. Most transgender activists today blanch at the notion that transgenderism is rooted in biological phenomena, such as a chromosomal abnormality or hormonal deficiency, but nearly 1 in 5,000 births today are classified as a “disorder of sexual development” (When Harry Became Sally, p. 88). The majority of these simply lead a person to be sterile or infertile, but a small minority of some of these lead to an ambiguity about which sex the child is. This certainly results in painfully difficult cases where much wisdom and medical insight is needed. These tragic circumstances fit within the Christian doctrine of sin and how it affects our bodies, much in the same way we would explain the presence of cancer or other physical disabilities in the world. But, like I said, most transgender activists today reject the idea that their gender identity has any biological grounding whatsoever. Most transgender activists speak in almost mystical language referring to a soul or spirit that is either male or female or neither, and it is that inner immaterial reality—not their body or chromosomes or anything like that—that determine who they are. The body is an obstacle to be ignored or overcome.
But in the Bible we see that even in the fallen world we inhabit, even with a body that is fallen and prone to this internal conflict, God still cares about what we do with our body.
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. – 1 Cor 6:13b.
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!… Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor 6:14-15, 18-20 (cf. Rom 12:1; Rom 6:13; Phil 1:20).
You may not think much of the body God has given you, but He does. And He has a specific design for that body: glorify Him. That means use this body in such a way that, as Paul says, “always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” (Phil 1:20). That means that all of our life—and our death– with whatever we do with our body, we are to honor God, to display to the watching world that God is King and ruler.
This means that we draw our sense of gender from the body that God has given us and happily participate in it by expressing our masculinity or femininity outwardly. We can see this in the Old and New Testaments
A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God. – Deut 22:5
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. – 1 Cor 11:14-15
What are these verses telling us? That it is wrong for men to make themselves look like women and vice versa. It is contrary to “nature” for a man to have long hair and is disgraceful for a woman to have short hair (1 Cor 11:6). “Nature” here isn’t referring to what we may understand “nature” to mean—it is referring to God’s design for how the world functions. Of course, the standards for what counts as “long hair” and “short hair” is relative, determined by cultural norms. Many of the authors of the Bible likely had what we today would consider “long hair,” so what does Paul mean then? Is he condemning all of them? Do tribal women who normally have shaved heads in their culture need to begin to grow their hair out? The specifics of how this is applied in each culture will be different, but it tells us is that in whatever culture we are in we should adorn and present ourselves in such a way that does not blur gender lines, but demonstrates that we are presenting ourselves in accordance with our identity as “males” or “females.”
Our statement of faith, in point 18, “On Human Sexuality and Identity,” states: “That despite sin’s ruinous effects on creation which may lead to a confusion in identity and desires, our identity as “male” or “female” are not socially constructed identities, but are given by God and to be embraced, displayed, and participated in without confusion or ambiguity.”
Romans 8 concluded with this beacon of hope: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” Rom 8:23. If something is to be redeemed, we can learn two things about it: 1) it is in trouble, and (2) it is valuable. When God made you a man or a woman, He did not make a mistake. Maybe it feels that way to you. Maybe you have a voice that plays inside your head that tells you that something is terribly wrong with you. Maybe you hate your body. But God doesn’t, and I want to invite you to consider listening more to His voice today than that other internal voice.
While it is possible to demonstrate what the Bible says about our bodies and gender, I think the dilemma that many are in today has less to do with what the Bible says about it and more to do with whether or not what it says is good. The rhetorical question that Abraham asks in Genesis 18, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” doesn’t seem terribly obvious to many people.
Is it right for God to forbid people from transitioning genders? Perhaps we can see that the Bible’s teaching is clear, but is it good?
We could answer this a number of ways. We could look at how our intuitions of what is “good” are often more influenced by our culture than we realize, and thus we are often more discipled by the world than by our Lord. We could examine God’s sovereign freedom to do whatever He wills, and thus need not provide explanations for His decrees, or the fact that God is not bound by our modern sensibilities and thus it is our job to shape our sensibilities to Him, not the other way around. All of those would be correct and helpful.
But I think what would be best would be to think of this: Ultimately, God is not asking us to accept a set of impartial rules or theoretical set of principles in the abstract—He is asking us to trust a Person. And that Person has revealed Himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ.
Trust is usually earned through a person demonstrating that they are worthy of your trust. What has Jesus done to demonstrate that He is worthy of your trust? Recall what 1 Corinthians told us: “you were bought with a price.” What is that referring to? Jesus does not merely bark commands at you and then sigh in disappointment when you fail. He came down, He drew near. Jesus knew that your sins had put you into bondage and slavery to sin and death. So what did He do? He redeemed you. He paid the price with His priceless blood. He took your guilt and the punishment your sins had earned, and bore them away at the cross, and died as your substitute. Further, He resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father and now intercedes on your behalf as an advocate. Even more, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell you, regenerate you, and aid you in walking out the Christian life; He adopted you into the family of God and has set before you a glorious future of dwelling with Him forever.
This person—the one who has seen you and your sin in its totality, and not only didn’t turn away from you but intervened to save you—this person is worthy of our trust. This person says hard things to us like “deny yourself,” (Mark 8:34), things that seem so strange when the wider world screams at us to indulge ourselves, listen to ourselves, and follow ourselves. But Jesus says, “Trust me—deny yourself, and there you will find life,” (Mark 8:35). Maybe you struggle with what Jesus calls us to in regards to our gender or identity, but look at what He has done for you and know that He is worthy of your trust, He knows best, and above all, He is committed to you. Jesus can be trusted, friends.