How God has created us male and female with distinct but overlapping responsibility is the essential starting point for discussing identity. In order to best understand the biblical teaching, we need to consider the difference between “identity” and “identifiers.” In this post, we’ll look at identity.
Strictly speaking, identity answers the question: “Who am I?” It is this very question that so polarizes people: am I my sexuality? Am I my ethnicity? Am I my nationality? These aren’t unimportant questions but they aren’t answered by appealing to identity. The answer our culture gives is some form of “I am whoever I want to be—whoever it is that makes me feel happiest about myself.”
That’s a key point in our culture: we answer the identity question in light of my happiness. To tie happiness to my answer to “Who am I?” is treacherous. Instead, the Bible answers this very profound question in a three-part answer. I draw from the Ad Interim Study Committee Report on Human Sexuality.
There, we find three strands that are woven together to answer the identity question.
#1: Ontologically: “in our very essence” we are male and female in the image of God. This is our non-reducible, common-to-all-mankind answer. We are no less than male and female in God’s image—all of us. One writer calls this “indelible, central and direct from God.”
- In other words, when we are answering the identity question, we must search for what all mankind has in common.
The study report says, “We are made male and female and therefore these categories are not merely cultural constructions or fluid components of our self-understanding—they are identities imprinted upon us in our creation by God.” In our very essence, we are male and female in the image of God.
#2: Phenomenologically: “in our experience” of the world we are beset with original sin and actual sin that flows from it as well as the miseries of this life. We cannot think of ourselves simply as male and female image bearing soul carriers—we exist in time and our time is fallen. In fact, it is not possible to extract who we are in our essence from who we are in our experience. I’m not trying to be abstract or philosophical. I’m simply saying it is impossible to think about “me” apart from “me—in my history and in my present.”
#3: Teleologically: “in our purpose” we are to be worshippers of the God who made us. Again, not just male and female image bearers subject to sin and misery but also worshippers—we were made to worship. All of mankind’s purpose is to give worship to whom it is due, namely our Creator. Yet the Fall corrupted our ability to fulfill this purpose.
It doesn’t mean, however, that fallen mankind don’t worship—they do! Paul tells us they do in Romans 1:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Men and women who do not follow the one, true and living God of the Bible now worship the creature and created things and are enslaved to what is false. Now, only those in union with Christ are rightly ordered to our created purpose. For we have been born again and are being renewed in the image of our Redeemer. Our fundamental purpose is worship of God through Christ Our Lord.
Identity—a summary. Identity is what all mankind shares with each other:
- We are male and female created in God’s image—ontologically, “in our essence.”
- We are male and female created in God’s image in a fallen world—phenomenologically, “in our experience.”
- We are male and female created in God’s image in a fallen world and worshippers of God (or of the creation)—teleologically, “in our purpose.”