By the time I graduated from high school, I knew almost nothing about women. In fact, sadly, I learned just as much about them from Hollywood as I did from the church. In truth, all I really knew about women at eighteen years old was that they were different than me. Similar. But different. And that frightened me a bit. After years of hearing about the evils of premarital sex and pornography and adultery, I’d never actually been told what a woman was. And like countless other men in America, I just filled in the gaps on my own.
As I know now, one of the primary reasons I was unfamiliar with women was the fact that I was equally unfamiliar with what it means to be a man. I couldn’t understand one without the other. Women were pretty and men were strong. That was the shallow extent of my gender knowledge, gleaned from popular culture, high school sports, and teenage observation. And I wasn’t alone in my confusion. As I grew older, I discovered that nearly all men and women I met were filling in the gaps. The depths of our sexual confusion in America goes much deeper than homosexuality or divorce. It begins with men and women who don’t know who they are. Who fill in the blanks with cultural stereotypes. Who exchange the truth about God for a lie. (Rom. 1:25) Who believe that manhood and womanhood can be defined without the Gospel.
On the sixth day, after saving His best creation for last, God looked at man and woman and saw that they were “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) God was proud of man and woman. He cherished them. He didn’t just string together some body parts and leave the rest to us. Scripture says that God blessed them. (1:28) Manhood and womanhood were something to behold, to revere. But that’s not the world we know today. Instead, we’ve largely forgotten why manhood and womanhood are so very good. On one hand, the world often makes sex an end unto itself. On the other hand, churches can often turn sexual purity into its own end. In either case, the world nor the church will ever truly know why sexual immorality is so evil until they are shown why biblical sexuality is so good. Chivalry and sexual abstinence, while good in themselves, are not sufficient to teach us about manhood and womanhood. And until we recapture the goodness of manhood and womanhood, we will remain a sexual confused people. Even in the church.
Be polite. Open the door. Pay the bill. These are things I was taught from an early age by believers in the church. While they are appropriate and becoming of a gentleman, they taught me virtually nothing about what it means to be a man. Good etiquette is not biblical manhood. Neither is an X and a Y chromosome. And neither is a list of generic attributes that could just as well describe a godly woman: kind, humble, strong, generous, courageous, virtuous, etc. In today’s climate, one side of American popular culture teaches us that manhood and womanhood are self-defined and ambiguous, meanwhile the other side believes that manhood and womanhood are simply biologically assigned. Neither of these holds true to a biblical definition of manhood and womanhood. For instance, I’ve been a male from before birth. I’ve identified as male since a young age. But it took me years to discover what it means to be a man. Missing was a concrete blueprint. An example. A God-man.
So what is a man? What is a woman? These are two questions that are almost never posed in American culture today, largely because Satan is intent upon destroying godly manhood and womanhood by erasing them both or conflating the two. Machismo and feminism mistake the beauty of manhood and womanhood as much as transgenderism does. And the reason that the Enemy is so hell-bent upon confusing our identities is because true manhood and womanhood lead us to Satan’s very demise: a crucified Bridegroom.
In defining manhood and womanhood, Scripture makes 4 things very clear:
- God has spoken to us fully and finally in Christ Jesus, His Son. (Heb. 1:1-3)
- Christ’s Gospel tells us everything we need to know about marriage. (Eph. 5:25-32)
- Manhood and womanhood are defined at creation, not by culture. (Eph. 5:31, Matt. 19:5)
- Men and women are tempted to abandon their God-ordained roles and must return to God’s Word. (1 Pet. 3:3-7, Col. 3:18-21, 1 Cor. 7)
In a sexually confused culture seeking to redefine manhood and womanhood, the church needs Christ before it needs a command. It needs a blueprint before it needs blue jeans and bikinis. It needs a Savior before it needs social etiquette. A church that does not carefully define manhood and womanhood for its people, and that in Christ, will inevitably believe that the goal of marriage is simply staying married and that the reason for human sexuality is physical pleasure and personal happiness. But if men and women look to the Gospel for their identities, masculinity looks like a little christ serving and dying for his bride and femininity appears like a little church trusting and following its christ. Manhood and womanhood are established in the Garden and fulfilled in the Gospel. Therefore, inasmuch as a small definition will allow, and using the Gospel as our guide, the following definitions give us a sense of what God intends for manhood and womanhood, with or without being married:
True manhood is marked by joyful, self-sacrificial responsibility and service after the example of Adam (in Genesis 1-2) and most ultimately like Christ leads his church in the Gospel.
True womanhood is marked by a humble, submissive spirit of helping, serving, and trusting after the example of Eve (in Genesis 1-2) and most ultimately like the church submits to Christ in the Gospel.
The symmetry between the Gospel and the Garden gives us a beautiful picture of manhood and womanhood:
- Adam gave his rib. Jesus gave his life.
- Adam delighted in Eve. Jesus delights in his church.
- Adam was ultimately responsible for their sin. Jesus dies in our place as our substitute.
- Eve submitted to Adam as his helper. The church submits to Christ in all things.
- Eve unashamedly trusted in Adam. The church trusts in Christ for its salvation, unashamed of the Gospel.
- Eve ruled with Adam in the Garden, but under his authority. The church will rule with Christ in the new heavens and new earth, but under his lordship.
While there are certainly other dynamics of manhood and womanhood, the crux of each is their basis in the good news of Jesus. When the Gospel serves as our blueprint for manhood and womanhood, words like “authority” and “submission” begin to lose their taboo connotation in a sexually confused culture and the world begins to see the beauty of Christ’s dying love for His bride. And before believers can offer a Gospel to the sexually broken outside the church, they must first apply the Gospel to themselves in the church. What is a Man? What is a Woman? God doesn’t just tell us. He shows us.