It is not news that women and men are constantly barraged with messages telling them exactly what to do to change into the kind of man or woman that appeals to the opposite sex. It is impossible to spend time watching TV, walking in the grocery store, driving on the highway or checking your social media sites without a seemingly never-ending stream of how to be sexy or what it means to be truly masculine or feminine. The right make-up, the greatest six-pack, all to attain the attention (and singular commitment) of the opposite sex.
In addition, the days of social media we have become accustomed to putting forward a ‘brand’. It is quite easy to get confused about who we really are. Indeed, not only are we told how to change, we are constantly reading things like: “Real women have…” and “Real men do…” Our identity is being challenged, often for things that are beyond our control.
What should our response to this be as Christians? How much should we let these cultural norms and ideals impact the person we put forward as our true self? If we believe, as many Christians do, that the Bible is meant to transform us, what impact does, or even should, it have? Do we believe that the bible is meant to transform us? our culture? our mind? our relationships? our dating? What do we think as we read:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12: 1-2)
What are we thinking as we read this? How are we meant to apply this to our lives? Where does this passage fit when are finding just the right filter to use when we post just the perfect picture, or when we find the cleverest level of snarky to get many likes on Twitter. I imagine that those who were raised in a purity culture will immediately think of how we were taught to “save ourselves for marriage”. Although this is not at all what this passage is talking about, it has been used for that agenda often in my experience. However, this passage is all about relationships, which is easily noted if you read on in chapter 12 and 13.
I once read a book A Jewel in His Crown by Priscilla Shirer. In it she talks about the kind of transformation that has a more biblical emphasis. In her quest to become a godly woman she was seeking to be transformed from the loud, bold person she naturally was into a quiet, feminine woman. I appreciate what Priscilla brings to the table. She is a talented teacher and writer (and preacher, although I am not sure she would own the label) and I do not want to do her any disservice, but this part of her book is troubling. What do those women who are naturally loud do? Are they supposed to make themselves smaller? How about if they hate make-up and dresses? Does that make them less of a woman?
I have a good friend who struggles with deep insecurities. He is drawn to strong women and would likely do well in a relationship with one but instead, his masculinity is constantly threatened. It is threatened largely because he has bought into a particular idea of what it means to be a man and it is almost completely the opposite of him.
The thing is, I don’t see these kinds of ideas in the Bible. We are told to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, but nowhere does it say that we need to fit into gender stereotypes that are very fluid anyway. (After all, men in the bible wore dresses, something that would be considered female only dress by many in Western culture. Just a very easy example or something much more complex.)
Let’s look at the examples where we see transformations played out.
He is the picture of brashness and passion. If John Eldredge had a particular biblical character in mind when he wrote Wild at Heart it was likely someone like Peter. Yet Peter has an undisciplined brashness and passion. It pushes him to think of himself and the power (and prestige?) he could attain by aligning himself with the Christ. How does God transform him? Take away his passion? No. Make him into a man who is no longer brash? No, not really. Jesus begins by challenging Peter’s quest for power. He does not challenge Peter’s passion; he challenges the focus of that passion.
She was a successful businesswoman. Then she finds Jesus. He transforms her passion and drive and focus. She works alongside her husband, but her husband is never the focus. We never hear of her being chastised for taking a dominant role. We never see Paul saying, “No, you must ask Aquilla’s permission to support my ministry. You must let him make those decisions, you must let him step forward; don’t get in the way of him living out his godly masculinity. You must let him deliver (and interpret) my letters.
The thing is, God has created us, without mistake, exactly as we are and he uses the very qualities that he has given us, our personalities, our gifts, our talents, even the accident of our privileged birth or our singleness or married-ness and He takes these very things that are just a part of who we are, and he forms them into tools useful for bringing glory to God and honor to the name Yahweh. God uses it to transform and impact the world around us.
The truth is, when we deny and squelch how we are created we are working at cross-purposes with God. But when we embrace it and let God shape it, we live full and impactful, glorious lives that are being transformed in the image of God.