Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why This Gender Stuff Matters

Gender: Assignment from God

Some who come across this blog may wonder, "What does all this gender stuff have to do with glorifying God?" Biblical masculinity and femininity are critical aspects of glorifying God, because both men and women were created in His image. The Great Artist has captured His own essence in the self-portrait of humanity. Therefore, as Christians, it is essential we demonstrate His likeness to a lost and dying world according to His design, without any of our self-inflicted modifications.

When we reject our God given roles as men and women, we distort the very image of God that we were created to reflect. We begin to portray humanity the way we see fit. The focus shifts from glorifying God to glorifying mankind. We become the designers. He gets pushed in the background.

A focus on one's gender role helps to solidify one's identity in Christ. Some have postponed studying gender roles until marriage because Scripture makes specific reference to the interpersonal dynamics of gender roles within the context of marriage. But biblical gender roles should be studied and pursued by all Christians in all stages of life. McCulley (2006) states: "As I studied, I realized that Scripture's emphasis was on being made a woman in the image of God. My marital status informed how that would be applied, but I was to be more preoccupied with my femininity than my singleness," (p.70). We are created male and female. We are not created to be single or married. Singleness and marriage, and any other call to ministry, do not alter the divine ordinance of our assignments as men or women. We will always be male or female as long as we are in these temporal bodies. Therefore, it is important to understand how God intended us to function in these temporal roles while we are here, regardless of the calling on our lives. Men are to be leaders. They are called to protect and provide. Women are to be nurturers. They are called to help. The slightest deviation from this standard on any level is an affront to the holy design of God. The most miniscule "variation" on God's order is rebellion. And rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23).

We are in rebellion when we make any decree for ourselves that is against God's design. We are saying that we are in control of our situation, not God. We deny Him of His sovereignty and usurp His place as Most High. This is the very sin of Satan. Worse, we commit sin when we make our own rules and attribute them to God Himself.

For example, I used to assert that regardless of what the Bible said about women, I was exempt from submission because God created me with a strong personality. (Incidentally, my concept of leadership was just as ungodly. Had God made me a man I surely would have abused the role of leadership. I would not have seen it as a holy call to be responsible and accountable to God, but rather, I would have seen it as a license to control others.) Whenever someone confronted me with the truth of God's word, particularly that women are called to submit to men, I would react with insolent pride, complaining: "I don't know why God just didn't make me a man." Was God wrong? Had He somehow made a mistake by creating me a woman? No. The problem was I loved my sin more than I loved God. I did not want to do the work required of me in order to be sanctified, namely, I did not want to reconcile the personality that God gave me with the command that God gave me. I wanted life to be easy. Purification is not easy, and Jesus never said it would be.

Here is a similar example: I know a brother in the Lord who is very active within a particular ministry. I saw an obvious need for leadership within this ministry, so encouraged this brother to step into the leadership position. His response? "Oh no. I can't do that! I'm not a leader." When I pressed him for a reason why he felt he was not a leader, this brother responded confidently, "I just wasn't created that way."

This is nonsense, and I dare say it borders on heresy. God has ordained all men to be leaders and they are called to exhibit leadership in some area of their lives. For a man to claim he was not created to be a leader suggests that the Bible is wrong. Is the Bible wrong? Did God somehow make a mistake and forget to call this man to leadership? Or is this man comfortable in his carefree existence and absolving himself of any responsibility? It is easy to wave away the commands of Scripture and live in a manner that suits our desires. It is easy to excuse ourselves from the commands of Scripture by pointing the finger at God, the only One who has the power to give such a divine veto, and say: "See? This doesn't apply to me. That's not how I was created!" However, Scripture states that God does not lie, and God does not change. We know He does not behave contrary to what He has declared. If God's Word states one thing, and you are behaving contrary to what God says, then one of you is wrong. And it isn't God.

From a reformed perspective, all glory goes to God. That means that whatever He has declared is perfect. It cannot be improved upon. Whenever we make statements that disagree with Scripture, we are in rebellion. At best, we are insinuating that God's decree could use some fine-tuning. At worst, we allow ourselves to alter God's design completely to suit our own needs. This manifests itself in a wide spectrum of ways, from a simple matter of shirking responsibility or refusing to submit, to declaring oneself to be homosexual or a transgender individual. All of these attitudes are equally sinful because they all stem from the same argument of "I can't help it . . . that's how I was created".

If we want to give glory to God, we must be sensitive to biblical gender issues. Our gender is a huge part of our identity in Christ. We have been created male and female as He saw fit, for His pleasure. Let us glorify God in our gender roles through submission to His perfect design and order as an expression of worship.

Soli Deo Gloria!

McCulley, C. (2006, Fall). When you don't have a better half: Encouraging biblical roles as a single woman. The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 6(2) 69-75.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Brokenness: The Heart God Revives

A Review

Pride is a very sneaky sin, because it often masks itself as other things. I used to think pride was simply the act of being "conceited." I used to think that if you bragged about yourself or your accomplishments, that was pride -- and it is, but pride is so much more than that. Because I was always very careful not to praise myself to others (Proverbs 27:2) I didn't think I had a problem with pride. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Pride occurs anytime we esteem ourselves higher than we should, especially when it comes to our own sense of dignity and self worth. It may or may not be accompanied by conceit. I personally think when it is not accompanied by conceit, it becomes a very slippery sin that escapes our grasp. This is the kind of pride that I struggle with.

Take for example, the feminist movement. It is a sinful response to sin. It puffs up women not because it boasts in their accomplishments, rather, it it puffs up women because it seductively convinces them that they don't need men. When we seek to be "strong" and we claim we don't need others, this is pride. We are esteeming our abilities higher than we should. We are claiming that our self-worth surpasses the worth of men. This is sin.

My biggest struggle with pride reared its ugly head in the context of my relationships with others. My tendency to run from relationships, whether they be with the same or the opposite sex, was an ugly manifestation of pride in my life. First, I was proudly elevating my abilities to an above-normal level, claiming that I had some super-human power to reject the basic human need for relationships. I wanted others to admire me for my supposed "strength." Secondly, I was elevating my own knowledge above God's. Although He said, "It is not good for man to be alone," I was insinuating through my independence that I was right and He was wrong. Finally, by keeping others at arm's length, I was able to devote all my time and energy to the god of self. But not once did I ever consider myself to be prideful because I did not appear conceited or brag about my accomplishments. Was I in sin? You betcha!

Just after I became interested in reformed theology, I read a truly incredible little book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Brokenness: The Heart God Revives. This book didn't just teach me about brokenness - it actually was an instrument God used like a scalpel to cut out all the cancerous tumors of pride that were growing in my heart. This is a must read for anyone struggling with the sin of pride, because brokenness is the antidote to pride.

As I read this book, I began to realize that the sin of pride was so hard to detect in my heart because it had disguised itself as fear. Over the years, I had lamented that the people who hurt me the most in life were other Christians. I ran from anyone who wanted to be my friend because I was afraid of getting hurt. I used to think, "If they find out I'm not the superwoman they all think I am, they'll reject me and leave me." But DeMoss (2002) says, "Broken men and women don't care who finds out about their sin; they have nothing to protect, and nothing to lose," (p. 67). The truth God showed me was that when we are afraid of others, it is our sinful pride that we are fighting so hard to protect. It is our precious reputation, our squeaky clean image as a good Christian, and most of all, the respect of others that we don't want to lose. That is a hard pill to swallow. It gets worse:

Jesus was always drawn to those whose sin seemed egregious (from a human point of view), but were repentant over their sin. On the other hand, he was repulsed by those who looked like perfect saints but whose hearts were proud and unbroken. Could it be that God is more offended by those of us who appear to be respectable and spiritual but who have proud, unteachable spirits, than He is by adulterers, fornicators, sodomites, abortionists, or pornographers who make no pretense of being godly? The sobering reality is that proud, unbroken Christians have done far more damage to the Church of Jesus Christ than any sinners outside the church could inflict. (DeMoss, 2002, pp. 82-83).

YEEOUCH!!! That was one slap in the face I really needed. In my early walk with God, I was hurt so badly by other Christians, I left the church for six years. I was living in sin for those six years. No, I was not fornicating or shooting up heroin or frequenting seedy nightclubs. But I was marinating in pride. My expectations of others who called themselves Christians were so high I had forgotten that Christians are sinners too. And I did the very thing that I was so afraid they'd do to me: I rejected them. I sinned in response to sin. Worse, I punished everyone I met after that for what others had previously done to me. I was a Pharisee. I didn't want to give anyone a chance. I buried myself in my accomplishments and sneered that I was too busy whenever I was invited to fellowship somewhere. The truth is, I was protecting my pride. I did not want to be around others because I did not want to be hurt again. But if we are truly to become the men and women that God delights in, we can't protect our pride. We must crucify it.

Earlier this year, another trusted Christian friend sinned against me and immediately, pride reared its ugly head. Instead of forgiving right then and there, which is what I should have done, I began to compare my own righteousness to that of this other individual. I said things like, "What kind of person would do such a thing?" I continued to ask questions about this person's character and integrity until I was so deep in sin, I was actually questioning this individual's salvation! Just who did I think I was? What gave me the right to judge this person that way? My sin was probably a thousand times worse than the sin that was originally committed against me, but I rationalized that it was okay because I was hurting. I went so far as to turn my anger on God and say, "You see? I told you this 'getting close to people' was a stupid idea!" I was really walking on thin ice, but I figured God understood because I was in pain. This is the seductive power of pride. We are so blinded by pain and fear that we don't even see we're in sin. It takes a trusted, caring friend to lovingly point it out to us and make a commitment to come alongside us in the fight to mortify sin. When someone sins against us, we need to remember that person is not the enemy -- sin is the enemy.

Thankfully, God gave me the grace to forgive that person in my heart with no guarantee that we'd ever be reconciled here on earth. He gave me compassion to intercede for this person daily through prayer and to turn my focus on my own sin instead. He gave me peace to realize that He's not finished with me and that other person yet. We cannot allow the sin of pride to gain a foothold, because it can and will divide and ultimately destroy.

So where are you in regards to pride? I highly recommend Nancy Leigh DeMoss' book for further study on this topic. But for the time being, click on the book cover below to view the 41 evidences of pride found on Nancy's website and see how you do:

DeMoss, N. (2002). Brokenness: The heart God revives. Chicago: Moody Publishers.