We hear a lot about “identity” today. People all around the church struggle to figure out who they are. They don’t know how to define themselves, and so they look inward for clues. Who do I feel I am? What do I most intensely identify with? How do I figure this out? All around us, people wear confident looks on their faces, projecting certainty about who they are. But here’s the reality: outside of redemption, we’ll never truly know who we are.
By grace, Christians know that the gospel is our fundamental marker of identity. The work of Christ applied to our hearts is such an unstoppable, unopposable force that it refigures us entirely. It’s as if our old boundary markers have completely fallen away, as Paul says: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28). This text doesn’t mean that the gospel wipes out ethnic background, vocational pursuits, or manhood and womanhood. It does mean that our fundamental reality in life is our identity in Jesus Christ.
This has immense practical value for men and women today in an increasingly gender-confused culture. As men and women who do not wish to embrace a gender-fluid identity, we might be tempted the opposite way, toward certain cultural stereotypes. Some young men might think that manhood means you bench-press 250 pounds, dunk a basketball, or fight off bears with their bare hands in their spare time. (Actually, if you do that, you are pretty manly.) Some young women might think that womanhood means that you are sexually desirable, a lover of literature, and have a certain image. Both groups can know that we are easily tempted to find our manly and womanly identity in stereotypes. The gospel is bad news for our stereotypes. It tells us that men are self-sacrificial leaders and that women are fearless followers of Christ.
We’re going to be pulled as men and women toward certain ungodly behaviors. Men today are told that they are idiots, little boys who never grow up. This is no new struggle. We see such immaturity in Adam’s initial failure to protect the woman God gave him. We also see his selfishness in his move to blame Eve for eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:1–7, 12). Men are tempted by an array of sins, but they must know that the gospel is the dread foe of their laziness, selfishness, irresponsibility, and immaturity. The leaders of Scripture do not look kindly on immaturity. “Show yourself a man,” David says to Solomon (1 Kings 2:2). We men hear this call today. We recognize that Jesus has the same challenge for us—and has all the grace we need to meet it.
Women today are told that their value is in their looks, or their social skills, or their ability to dominate men. We see such a desire in Eve’s being deceived by the serpent and her post-fall desire to “rule over” her husband (Gen. 3:16; see Gen. 4:7). This is an ancient problem with modern consequences. Women are told today that they will find fulfillment and lasting happiness when they are strong over men. They are urged to use their sexuality as a tool of empowerment. They are challenged to disdain femininity. Christian women will feel these and other temptations pull at them, but they must know that the gospel shows us a better way. It opens a door to a happier world, a world of joy. In Christ, the power of sin is overcome and the distinct beauty of womanhood is celebrated.
The world gives us false visions of happy manhood and fulfilled womanhood. It’s like the dinner plate that looked so good on your friend’s Instagram but tastes bad on your plate. Selfish manhood and “fierce” womanhood are not too big for us, though; these visions of our lives are too small. Sin always looks like a monster but ends up like a mouse. It has no power over us. It has no hold on us. We don’t cower in the face of the world’s temptations. We laugh at them.
We scorn the principalities and powers of this age. "You think lust and power are going to entice me?" we say. Your vision of happiness is too small. Show me a picture of my life as a man or a woman that echoes into eternity and you’ll have my attention. In Christ, we have found something better than all the world throws at us. In him, we become the men or women we were designed to be.
We’re glad to see fragments and remnants of biblical manhood and womanhood wherever we can in a fallen world—men who step up to protect women, women who embrace femininity, both sexes who dig into loving their children, and so on. But we also recognize this: the gospel is bad news for our stereotypes. In the gospel of grace, we see not the fragment but the fullness of who men and women are to be.
Editor's note: This article originally published at The Center for Public Theology.