Identities are controlling. Said another way, what we depend on for identity exerts enormous influence on our thinking and living. Modern-era people (especially men, including Christians) depended on education and vocation for their identity, whereas sexuality predominates identity discussions in post-modern society. Christians, however, acknowledge these sub-identities, but realize an “in Christ” identity provides a much different, more stable and ultimately God-glorifying foundation for understanding who we really are.
Coping with Insecurity – A Theological Starting Point
Regarding female identity, I am indebted to my wife Cynthia’s insights, since as a male I obviously have no personal experience! From a theological worth perspective, female identity is actually a gender-neutral topic. What females can and ought to depend on for their fundamental identity is identical to males. Every woman is created in God’s image and thus precious to God, even pre-conversion. Further, every Christian woman is also redeemed by Christ’s blood and indwelt by the Spirit, and is thus deemed precious in view of conversion. This formulation is implicitly Trinitarian: the Triune God is invested in each individual believer, female or male.
Created in God’s Image
Genesis 1:26-27 states God created humanity “in his own image.” This infrequent Scriptural term’s meaning is elusive. Some suggest a structural image: humans share certain attributes of God. For example, human rationality reflects God’s thoughtful mind so we may think about God; human emotionality reflects God’s emotions (love, hate, joy, sorrow, etc.) so we may love God; and human spirituality reflects God’s spirit nature. Others suggest a relational image: the Triune God is relational (e.g. Father and Son) so humans are also relationally designed. Genesis 1, however, favors a functional image: God is a great king caring for his earthly kingdom, and calling humanity to be vice-regents. Thus Genesis 1:26, 28 states “let them have dominion.”
Whatever the precise meaning, the result for every human being is enormously fortifying. A woman who realizes she is created in God’s image (reflecting his attributes, expressing his relationship, and sharing his kingdom administration) can hold her head high with the assurance of incomparable worth.
Redeemed by Christ’s Blood
Christian sisters may also revel in Christ’s precious blood poured out for their redemption (1Peter 1:18; Eph 1:7). Blood is the high price Christ was fully willing to pay. When you hear the accuser’s voice condemn you for real or merely perceived failings, know you are genuinely freed from sin through Christ’s death (Rom 6:6-7, 18). There is availablereal grace for real guilt – there is grace even false guilt over merely perceived failures.
Indwelt by the Holy Spirit
As if having Father and Son for us were not enough, Scripture also asserts each sister is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the signatory you have been adopted as the King’s daughter (Gal 4:5-7; Rom 8:15). Though Scripture is Trinitarian, many Christians are functional Binitarians, thinking little about the Holy Spirit and His important role.
Scriptures reference numerous adoptions. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses, perhaps resenting Pharaoh’s cruel command, and invested herself into Moses, just as God saw our cruel master, Satan, and adopted us. Mordecai saw orphaned Esther’s plight, becoming her provider and defender, just as God saw our plight in sin and adopted us. But David’s attitude toward Mephibosheth represented a unique adult adoption, where Mephibosheth “ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons” (2Sam 9:11, ESV). Each day David was reminded of his friend Jonathan in Mephibosheth, just as God sees Himself in us by the indwelling Spirit. He has invested much – Himself – in your permanent adoption!
At our Lord’s baptism, He heard His Father’s voice saying, “You are My beloved Son” (Mark 1:11, NKJV). I hope as you read these words, each sister (and brother for that matter) will hear the Father’s words: “You are My beloved child.”
Challenging Demeaning Practices – Moving on to Context
To this point we might assume healthy female identity merely involves sisters realizing God’s teaching about their worth. This is only part of the story. Brothers should equally explore this topic, so as to challenge any of our demeaning attitudes towards women.
Even with our culture’s assumed male-female equality, research shows women are still frequently put down, their worth and contributions deemphasized. For example, male athletic success is reported more voluminously than female (Adie Nelson, Gender in Canada, 3rd edition, p. 167); unequal pay for equal work (p. 221); unequal representation in media (book, film, advertising), where women are in fewer roles and usually in less prestigious roles (pp. 181-198); men interrupt women in conversation more than the reverse (p. 173); female office workers may be infantilized as “girls at the office,” where males would not be called “boys at the office” (p. 169); a similar behavior may be deemed “persistent” in a male, but “nagging” in a female (p. 170).
Paul confronts these demeaning attitudes in Galatians 3:28, a passage ancient Romans would have found incredibly counter-cultural, with their gender, racial, and socio-economic prejudice. Paul asserts that in Christ, whether one is slave or free (socio-economically), Jew or Greek (racially), or female or male (gender-wise) is irrelevant and inconsequential. God’s family contains radical and freeing equality. We are all on equal footing before God, sons and daughters of the King! (Gal 3:26; 2Cor 6:18). Of course, other Scriptures address church protocols, a subject beyond this short article’s scope of encouraging sisters around their intrinsic worth before God.
This Galatians passage provides the theological basis to see sexism, racism, elitism and classism as horribly unchristian and ought to motivate us to humbly and openly repent of sinful attitudes and practices whenever such are seen in our behavior, words, or thoughts. As to female identity, we should commit to treating women with the respect, honor and place they deserve. In particular, to Christian brothers: do I appreciate women’s opinions and perspectives? Do I interrupt women in discussions? If I am an employer, am I committed to pay equity? Do I say someone did something “like a girl,” not meaning it as a compliment? Do I think humor dishonoring women is funny? If I answered yes at all, I have areas for repentance and growth.