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?

Does sexual identity matter?

Sexual identity matters a great deal in our culture, creating all sorts of problems. It polarizes communities into “straight” and “gay,” it stirs up opposing camps that either condemn or condone alternative sexual lifestyles, it marginalizes those with homosexual, bisexual and transgender orientation, and it brands those in opposition to different sexual orientation as hate mongers. It worries parents who fear the peer pressure of the LGBTQ community on their children, especially in schools where teaching alternative lifestyles is a required part of the curriculum, but it also makes life difficult for those who believe they have no control over their sexual orientation because it was decided for them at birth or by their genes, but are accused by others of choosing it.

It’s not a pretty picture, especially for children growing up in such a culture, where the media, entertainment, education, law, and even religious folk are claiming alternative sexual lifestyles and identities are healthy and normal. How many children will now be worrying about their sexual identity, as something crucial and necessary?

But in the great scheme of things, does sexual identity really matter? Jesus did say that when we’re resurrected there’ll be no more need for marriage (Matthew 22:30), so male and female sexuality will eventually become a non-issue. But what about now, before we’re resurrected? Surely sexual identity is very important, because the human race has always depended on the creation of children by male and female sexual reproduction.

So, yes, sexual identity does matter now, because that’s how children are produced. The marriage of male and female also pictures the relationship of Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:25-32), but what does one make of Galatians 3:28 that says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”?

That really changes things for Christians, because Paul takes the focus right off our racial, social and sexual identity, and places it fairly and squarely on our identity being totally wrapped up in Christ. As humans the only identity that really matters is that, because it’s what Christ accomplished for us that makes us “all sons of God” (verse 26). Our sexual identity doesn’t make us sons of God; Jesus does. And it’s because we’re “baptized into Christ” and “clothed with Christ” (verse 27) that we “belong to Christ” and become “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (verse 29).

And what is that promise? It’s the promise of the Spirit (3:14) who transforms us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). That’s the identity that matters to God, because that’s the identity we’re now born with, are growing into in this life, and will have forever.

Taking on a totally new identity

Paul’s message birthed something totally new in people. It was like giving them a new identity.

He described that new identity too, in Galatians 4:19. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

I think of all those movies where a detective or an informer goes underground to seek out and reveal the cause of some awful corruption going on. To survive without being detected he must be given a new name and a new identity, and then go through the laborious process of practice and testing until that new identity “is formed” – or comes naturally – to him.

To Paul that process was like the pains of childbirth. It was hard work getting those Galatians to understand and grasp the new identity they’d been given as Christians. He tried to explain it from his own experience in Galatians 2:20 that he’d been “crucified with Christ and I no longer live.” Paul came to realize he was no longer the person he was. He couldn’t even think like the person he was either, because that wasn’t him anymore. He had a totally new identity now that “Christ lives in me,” and it was his job to live that new identity, and to help other Christians realize and live their new identity too, until it came to them naturally.

The meaning of the word identity makes that come alive. It means “the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known,” so what is it that Christians are recognized and known by?

It is their clear similarities to Christ in every aspect of their lives. And it has to be that way for us if we’re truly taking on our new identity. Just like informers who go underground, we must act and think our new identity in every situation, or as Paul phrased it in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we cannot let any thought loose that isn’t “obedient to Christ.” And this is what the Father and Jesus send us the Holy Spirit for, to enable us through practice and testing to do just that, so that we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (3:18). We take on our new identity more and more, until it truly becomes who we are.

And the means by which the Spirit does that is to give us gifts that enable us to share in what Christ is doing, which is always for the benefit of others in some way (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). We can, therefore, practice our new identity and be tested in very practical situations, so that more and more our new identity is becoming second nature to us.

Who we are “in Christ”

To grasp who we are in Christ, we take one step back to who Jesus was in the Father, because who Jesus was in the Father is who we are now in Christ.

In John 17:24 it was Jesus’ greatest wish that we could see his glory, “the glory you (the Father) have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” “Glory” to Jesus was being loved for ever and always by the Father. His purpose, therefore, has been, and still is, to make the Father’s love for him known, verse 25, “in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus would love us to know the Father’s love like he knows the Father’s love. But look at the means by which he prays for that to be possible: “that I myself may be in them.” It is by Jesus living in us himself. He can then directly live IN us what he is literally living and experiencing himself.

That’s like me as a parent living in my children what I’ve lived and experienced in my life – by taking them to the same places I’ve been to, and mixing with the same people I grew up with. I can live my life in them, and even live the same love I received too, by my children meeting and being loved by the same people I was loved by. As a parent I considered that one of the most “glorious” things I could do, enabling my children to know love like I knew love growing up, because that’s how they’d come to learn the most important lesson of who they are, that they are much loved members of the family.

It was for that reason too that Paul prayed to the Father in Ephesians 3:17 “that Christ may dwell in your hearts,” because, verse 19, they’d experience being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” With Christ in them they’d experience the fullness of God’s love as Jesus experiences it.

And Jesus knew he could do that for us when he prayed to the Father “that I myself may be in them,” because in him – “in Christ,” Ephesians 3:9 – “all the fullness of the Deity lives.” That would include, therefore, the fullness of God’s love, and “since you (or we) have been given fullness in Christ,” verse 10, WE, therefore, get to experience the fullness of that love too. And then we learn the most glorious lesson of all as to who we in Christ: We are the fully loved children of the Father, just like Jesus is.

Who am I, really?

There’s much talk today of “identity crisis,” defined as “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is.”

And it only affects humans. Cats and dogs don’t look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I, really?” They don’t feel unhappy being the types of cats and dogs they are either, nor do they worry about what other cats and dogs think of them, nor are they confused about their sexual identity, or if they’re being true to who they are.

But humans do worry. We worry about not fitting in, not being accepted, and not being noticed. We are self-conscious and sensitive to how people react to us. We like to be liked, and if people don’t warm to us the seeds of an identity crisis take root. So on the search we go to find or create an identity that enables us to fit in and be liked, that also makes us feel proud of who we are, because it’s crucial when we look in the mirror that we like what we see.

A quick look in the Bible, however, tells us who we are. As humans we are unique in all creation as the creatures that God made most like him. He equipped us with gifts and talents that enable us to explore and discover what he created – and make it all work beautifully, because that’s what he made us for. He also made us male and female, because each gender contributes a different but vital perspective, and together male and female work as a wonderful team. As humans we can also commune directly with God to receive insight, energy and love, enabling us to fulfill his purpose for us.

But right from the start, the Bible shows us we have trouble identifying with God and his purpose for us. We’d rather find our own way, and identify with things of our own creation. And we don’t like being restricted to just male and female either.

But this is where we discover our true identity, because for all our shenanigans, God doesn’t reject us. Instead, he formed himself as one of us, took all the consequences of our selfish pride on himself, lived the life he created us to live, and now provides us every day with the power, love and wisdom to live that life too. He does all that for us, because he loves us. And that’s when our identity crisis dissipates, when we realize at last who we really are TO HIM.