Are gender identity and gender expression really that important?

To God they are. Knowing who we are and expressing it are exactly what God would love us humans focused on.

To begin with, however, gender is not the top priority. By God’s definition in Genesis, ‘who and what we are’ is not primarily about being male and female. Our true identity – socially, culturally, physically, mentally, emotionally and any other word ending in ‘ally’ – boils down first of all to: we are human.

That’s how God introduces us in Genesis 1:27. He starts off with, “God created humans.” So when we look at each other we know that – no matter what shape, colour, social construct or genetic soup we’ve ended up with – we’re all related. It means I’ve got all these humans who easily recognize me as ‘one of them’, and when they see me that way it’s a grand start to us getting along. We can share all sorts of things together that we can’t with dogs, goldfish, or turnips.

So first of all we identify and express ourselves as fellow humans.

But God goes one step further because he also says in that same verse we can identify and express ourselves as little likenesses of him. Oh. So when I look at you and you look at me, what we’re actually seeing in each other is a little image of God. But really that’s just as obvious as the fact we’re human, because what other creatures on this planet have the powers of a god? My cat doesn’t, even if it thinks it does. But in one minute I can come up with ideas and thoughts that chimpanzees and dolphins would never come up with in a lifetime.

Wow, so I can identify as a mini-image of God. I have no trouble, then, expressing God-like thoughts too, some of which, I happily notice, have a powerful effect on people when they’re God-like loving thoughts. It seems, then, that if I realize who and what I am on this level, and I express it wherever I go, I am a positive power to be reckoned with.

It’s only then – after God identifies us as human mini-images of him – that he says he created us male and female. It doesn’t change the fact that we all share exactly the same identity, but it does enable us to reproduce and have families. And that really does make gender identity and gender expression important because without the active and continuing contribution of both male and female we cannot reproduce as humans, and if we can’t reproduce we become extinct, in which case we’d be better off being dogs, goldfish, or turnips.

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“Forgive us, for we know not who we really are”

Jesus said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” in response to his killers and the mob rule that got him killed. He looked beyond their actions to the ignorance that caused them.

I hope desperately, therefore, that the Holy Spirit will do the same for me in my response to the actions of government, the medical profession, schools, psychotherapists and parents allowing young children to decide who they really are and identify as. Children have no idea who or what they are. I know I didn’t. I wasn’t born with an inbuilt understanding of who I was or what my purpose on this planet was before I died. Those things did not come to me naturally. I needed to be taught those things by people in the know.

But therein lies the problem, right? Because who are these people “in the know”? Who actually knows for certain who or what we really are, and what our purpose is? And who knows for certain that those people “in the know” really know? And to what ultimate source do we go for confirmation? Science? But those who believe young children know who they are ignore science. Politicians? But politicians hardly ever agree on anything, and the same goes for philosophers, psychologists, mystics and religious folks. It’s total confusion out there.

And that’s what Jesus saw when he looked out on the crowds following him wherever he went. He saw them as sheep without shepherds, and that’s what really got to him. Here were all these lovely humans, struggling with all sorts of mental illnesses and sicknesses that no one had any idea how to solve. They had no idea what their purpose in life was either, other than following a culture shaped by people who were messed up mentally themselves.

And isn’t that the way it is today? The people we idolize for their great wisdom turn out to be corrupt and selfish, and their ideas and teachings conflict. Not only can’t they agree on who and what we are before we’re born, they now can’t agree on who and what we are after we’re born too.

So we still have no certain idea as to who or what we are. Like a field of corn, meanwhile, we sway to wherever the prevailing wind of culture blows us, and we have no idea if we’re in the right track or not. But rather than condemn and berate people, Jesus saw ignorance as reason to ask God to forgive them. Could God do the same for us today, therefore, and forgive us for still not knowing who we really are?

Is there any ‘resolution’ we make as Christians?

New Year’s resolutions seem like a good idea for pumping new life and energy into our Christian walk, but what exactly can we resolve to do when we’ve already got “everything we need for life and godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3? And what can we do to make gains spiritually next year when we “do not lack any spiritual gift,” 1 Corinthians 1:7? In fact, where does making resolutions come into the picture at all when we’ve already been “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3?

Surely it’s “by the Spirit” too, not our resolve, that we “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” Romans 8:13, and Paul even called the Galatians foolish for “beginning with the Spirit,” but resorting back to “human effort” in their resolve to be good Christians, Galatians 3:3.

So what’s left for us to “resolve” to do if we’ve already got everything we need, and it’s only by the Spirit, not our efforts, that we grow spiritually?

There’s a clue in 2 Corinthians 5:18 where Paul tells us God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Paul assures us our relationship with God is firm, secure and complete forever because of Christ. There is nothing we did to make that perfect reconciliation happen, and nothing we do now either – like “inviting Jesus into our hearts” or praying a certain way – to make that relationship happen.

But if God totally reconciled us to him already, why did Paul then say in verse 20, “BE reconciled to God,” as if there’s something we do too?

Because there is: It’s opening our minds to, and accepting, God’s reconciliation. It’s all well and good hearing about it, that God has totally reconciled himself to us for nothing we did or do, but have we really clued into that yet and accepted it? It’s like a child receiving a Christmas present and his parents crying out, “Well, go on, open it,” because what’s the point of the gift if the child doesn’t see what he’s got and enjoy it?

When Paul says “Be reconciled to God,” therefore, it’s a plea to Christians to please, please, please clue in to what we’ve been given and believe it. Believe that God has made us his friends forever, purely because of what he accomplished for us in Christ, so that next year, instead of fretting about our relationship with God, we can live in, bask in, and enjoy the fact that HE made and makes that relationship happen. It’s “the Spirit (who) works miracles in us” – the miracles of love for and faith in God. And all Paul asks of us is to resolve to believe it (Galatians 3:5).

Bah humbug to New Year’s resolutions

As Christians do we need New Year’s resolutions or the rigorous practice of “spiritual disciplines” to make ourselves more spiritual? It sounds like we do in 1 Corinthians 9:27 when Paul says, “I beat my body and make it my slave,” and in 1 Timothy 4:7 when he tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly.”

But if Paul was truly encouraging human resolve and the practice of spiritual disciplines for spiritual growth in those verses he’d be contradicting himself, because in 2 Corinthians 3:8-9 he says it’s the “ministry of the Spirit that brings righteousness,” and in verse 18 that we “are being transformed into his (Christ’s) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

So, where does our spiritual formation come from? From the Lord.

And who is transforming us into Christ’s likeness? The Holy Spirit.

And whose ministry creates righteousness? The Spirit’s ministry.

There is no talk of us playing any part in our righteousness or transformation into Christ’s likeness. Our spiritual formation and growth are entirely the work of the Spirit. And for Paul to even hint that spiritual growth involves something we do would open him up to being challenged with the same question he challenged the Galatians with in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish?” he asked them. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

The Galatians had been depending totally on the “miracle-working Spirit” (verse 5) for their spiritual growth – but now they were reverting back to depending on their own efforts.

But surely there’s some effort on our part required, isn’t there? Surely the effort of spiritual disciplines is necessary for “stirring” the Spirit, isn’t it? Won’t the Spirit work more effectively in our lives, in other words, if we’re doing our part better, like praying more, studying more and obeying more?

But that’s exactly what the Galatians thought and Paul took them to task for it in verse 2 with a very direct question: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Did the Spirit work miracles in their lives because of their obedience or their belief in the gospel – which? Oh, they knew which: It was their belief, and nothing more.

And that’s why I say “bah humbug” to New Year’s resolutions, or resolve of any human sort, because our spiritual growth is entirely the work of the Spirit, not human effort, and the only thing needed for stirring that miracle-working Spirit in our lives is belief in the gospel. It’s only foolish people (says Paul) who believe they can grow spiritually by their own resolve and willpower.

God’s double dose of first aid for the new year

Now that we’ve been saved from past sins by Christ’s death, is it up to us now to obey God? It seems like it is in Romans 6:12, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” That sounds like it’s up to us now to stop sinning.

Which is odd, because if we couldn’t stop sinning before, what suddenly makes us capable of stopping sin now? What changed? Well, in my experience, nothing changed. I’m still who I am. Sin still exerts a strong influence on me, just as it did before. It creeps up on me unawares, I obey its evil desires and, unfortunately, my body is often an “instrument of wickedness” still.

But something did change. Christ was raised from the dead. And the reason he came back from the dead was to lift us up with him, verse 8, so that we could “live to God” just like he does, verse 10. Jesus didn’t leave us on the sidewalk clutching his death as our only means of dealing with sin, he also gave us his life. As we travel through this life, then, we discover we have two first aid kits with us when sin does us damage, not just one, and both of them are with us wherever we go.

In one kit we carry the saving power of Christ’s death, and while we carry it, sin will never have mastery over us ever again. It doesn’t matter how many times we mess up, sin can never kill us. But sin isn’t dead, it’s still alive. It can’t kill us but it’s all around us every step we take. It’s like a wood full of blood-sucking insects constantly buzzing round your head. You can swat a hundred of them but a hundred more take their place. That’s sin. There’s no getting away from it, and it could drive us mad with frustration and despair – but that’s when we feel the reassuring handle of the other first aid kit, given to us when Jesus came back from the dead, because in that kit we carry the saving power of Christ’s life.

And while we carry that kit, we will always live to God. Even in our worst moments of weakness, when it looks like sin has total mastery of us and we’re the worst Christians on the planet, we’re still thinking of God, aren’t we? We can’t forget him. It might be only the tiniest spark, but we’re still “alive” to him, verse 11, and we hate what we’re doing. Well, that’s Christ’s life in us, our second first aid kit for the new year.