How significant are individual marriages to the Body of Christ? How important is a Biblical understanding of gender?
Many Christians believe that marriage and sexuality are private issues which often distract us from the more important matter of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But could it be that when we bypass doctrines of sexuality, we throw out critical evangelistic tools? And could it be that when we embrace God’s gifts of gender and marriage, we create compelling revelations of God?
In the beginning, God sculpted the cosmos as a stunning revelation of Himself. And then, God designed men, women, and marriage to tell us even more about Himself.
God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NLT)
We know that God is neither male nor female. Yet there is something unique about our being male or female that is unlike that of the animals, for only people are created in the image of God. Imago dei is stamped into God’s design of men, shaping them to reveal the divine attributes of masculinity in glorious ways. And imago dei is stamped into God’s design of women, shaping them to reveal the divine attributes of femininity in glorious ways.
While being male or female is a component of physical biology, masculinity and femininity are components of personal relationship. They are profound reflections of the triune God, whose very nature is rich, full relationship.
Our gender is a divine commission to reveal the greatness, the beauty, and the strength of God in compelling ways. The DNA of our assignment is written into every cell of our body; it is printed across the fibers of our being several trillion times.
“… maleness and femaleness are objectively rooted in biology, and should be valued and affirmed, not rejected or altered.”1
Although we often struggle to flesh out the glory of God in our daily lives, we can embrace this sacred calling to live fully and faithfully as imago dei. This high calling is one which extends to every part of our lives, including our sexuality. Ravi Zacharias points out that when we deny the sacredness of our sexuality, we deny the sacredness of human life itself.2 Although our bodies are physical and temporal, they have spiritual and eternal purpose. Our material bodies are knit with our nonmaterial spirits so that together they share in the dignity and worth of human life.³
Telling the Truth About God
It is the goal of evangelism to tell the truth about God. The psalmist marveled at the power of the natural universe to tell the truth about God:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
(Psalm 91:1-4, NIV)
Are the voices of God-created gender and God-designed marriage any less persuasive or wide-reaching? First, creation tells the truth about God’s existence and power, and then marriage tells the truth about God’s loving nature and faithful character. When we “preach” this good news through our relationships, we are laying the groundwork for sharing the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Masculinity
God initiates the relationship with His beloved, the people of God. At immense cost to Himself, He pursues her; and having won her heart, He commits Himself to her. With self-sacrificing love, He cares for her. He ministers to her needs with gentleness and humility. He desires her, cherishes her, and delights in her.
A man reflects his Creator well when he demonstrates this same faithfulness and nurturing with his own bride. But when men fail to reveal these truths about God, then masculinity fumbles its “good news.”
Because masculinity reflects God, a demeaning of masculinity becomes a suppression of the truth about God. If masculinity does not represent success or trustworthiness to us, then it is difficult for us to see God as Someone we want to imitate or to follow. If masculinity is not great, then God, who encompasses masculinity, is not great, nor can He show us how to be great. When we denounce masculinity, we are left with a God who does not pursue our hearts, does not protect us or provide for us, and does not cherish us.
It is a man’s greatness and significance to tell the gospel through his masculinity. He tells the truth about who God is as he takes action, repels passivity, and carries responsibility for the well-being of another.
This is effective evangelism because we long to know the God of a man who is masculine in these ways. God-reflecting masculinity gives us hope that there is a God who will shelter us with His own life, care for us, and love us well.
We must teach our sons the glory of being men who specialize in revealing God through masculinity. When men do not know the glory of being masculine, they may become violent abusers or passive consumers instead of responsible, self-giving lovers.
The Gospel of Femininity
Femininity is the relational expression of warm welcome and genuine acceptance. A feminine woman shares her strength to build her husband up. As a life-giver, she energizes others. Her honoring, serene spirit is a fragrant invitation to know her God.
Femininity gives us hope that there is a God who will receive us with open arms, who will accept us, and who will support and strengthen us.
We must teach our daughters the glory of being women who specialize in revealing God through femininity. When women do not know the glory of being feminine, they may demean themselves; they stoop to merely flaunting their femaleness. Instead of contributing strength to their relationships, they may compete for control.
The Gospel of Marriage
Through the amazing creation of marriage, God reveals the essence of His nature, which is love. Far more than a feeling, love is the decision to give to another. Love cannot exist within a relational vacuum. Marriage reflects the vibrant fellowship within the Trinity, a union which has eternally accommodated love.
Marriage reflects not only the relational nature of God, but also the diversity and the unity within the Godhead. Only the marriage of one man and one woman can do this. The rich distinctions between the man and the woman are not obliterated in their union; instead, they are celebrated as delights of communion.
Marriage also illustrates the very holiness of God, for marriage is an exclusive relationship. Holiness requires perfect belonging—complete and undefiled. A marriage is holy when 1) the man and woman belong fully to one another as husband and wife, and when 2) nothing is present to defile that woven-together relationship. This reflects the holiness of God, in whom all that belongs is present, and all that does not belong is absent.
Marriage tells the gospel like this:
- To know God, we must renounce spiritual singleness. In order to accept God’s proposal of spiritual union, we must forsake all other spiritual lovers (such as possessions, pleasure, prominence, or power).
- To be in relationship with God, we agree to belong fully to Him as His people, and He promises to belong fully to us as our God.
Christian marriages are designed to be pictures of the gospel. When we keep our vows to love, honor, and cherish, we are telling the truth about who God is.
Marriage reveals that God is a trustworthy, promise-keeping Lover. Our marriages are not merely private affairs, incidental to the great work of evangelism. Instead, our marriages create a platform upon which evangelism advances … or falters.
In the disorienting chaos of our culture, we have forgotten our glory as men and women. Many have exchanged the great honor of revealing the Almighty for a self-destroying drive to replace Him.
When we tell the truth about God through our masculinity or femininity and through our marriages, then the world will see this good news:
God loves us.
He sacrifices Himself in order to benefit us.
He welcomes us.
He accepts us.
He protects and provides for us.
He cherishes us.
He keeps His promises.
That is a glorious gospel to preach!
1 Ryan T. Anderson. http://dailysignal.com/2015/10/30/houston-ballot-measure-on-sexual-orientation-gender-identity-threatens-privacy-religious-freedom-and-businesses
2 “When you de-sacralize sexuality and the body, you will de-sacralize life itself.” http://rzim.org/just-thinking-broadcasts/india-vision-qa-part-2-of-4-3
³Nancy Pearcy explains this integration of body and spirit in her latest book, Love Thy Body.