Our society has undergone a radical shift in recent years. Christians who believe the Bible have gone from being good guys to being the bad guys. The Bible’s teaching, and our beliefs, about sex, truth and identity place us in the cultural crosshairs.
Our congregations feel this pressure. The teenagers in our churches have society’s ideology of gender interwoven into the stories they read and watch. It’s taught to them in schools, seeking to mould their views and values so that they fit with society’s values. Teachers in our congregations feel the pressure of teaching views on identity they are uncomfortable with. Primary school aged children are being taught these ideas and parents are confused at how to answer them, and how to engage with schools. Many go to work unsure how they should answer if they are asked about these things. And there will be those individuals and families struggling personally with issues of gender identity in our congregations.
And then you add to that the myriad of pastoral questions for families struggling with this issue, for Christians navigating the culture and figuring out how God’s Word applies, and for pastors and elders working out our response to all of this.
In our congregations there are most commonly two instinctive responses—and they fall on either end of the spectrum. ‘Yes’–people on this side of the spectrum would affirm everything taught in this area because God is a God of love, and society’s views seem compassion-driven. These individuals response is more likely to be influenced in response to a heart-breaking problem or individuals they know, but it’s a view lacking in theological depth or thinking. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who give what we might call a ‘Yuk’ a response—one not driven by love or theology but by a visceral gut reaction which is distinctively lacking in gospel compassion.
As pastors, we need to teach our congregations a robust, biblical understanding of identity and also how to explain that lovingly to those around them. That comes with explaining how God’s Word clearly contradicts and conflicts with what society teaches on these issues. God’s wise, loving, compassionate view of our identity is so much better than what the world’s wisdom is offering.
I want to begin to build a biblical framework of identity here that actually applies to all sorts of issues and helps us see how the gospel is good news, both for us and for those in our churches and communities. However, even as I do so, we need to be realistic—as Christians we are counter-cultural. We won’t fit in. Our message won’t be viewed as good. It goes against the grain. We will be the bad guys. And when we pop our heads above the trenches, we will be targets for culture’s snipers.
This very issue may cost people in our churches their jobs; it may cost churches their rented spaces (in certain venues like schools or community centres); it may cause division even within churches. As Daniel and his friends stood out in Babylon, as Peter calls on the scattered churches to stand up and stand out in his letters, we will stand out and face slander for it. But we must count Christ as worth it.
Who Am I?
Identity is complex. How would you answer the question ‘Who am I?’ Go on, pause, and take a minute to think about that.
Our identity matters. Society tells us certain ways to identify ourselves; by our successes, our education, our relationship status, our looks, our abilities, our class. It invites us to find our identity in it’s story—a story of progress, freedom, and individuality. A story that is always shifting; influenced by social trends and ideas. Yet it’s always a story that’s really desperately searching and grasping for identity and love.
We long to know who we are, what we were made for, where we fit. And the stress of trying to find your place and identity in an ever-shifting story is enormous. One of the biggest shifts in the last decade is the way culture is reshaping the story of identity and gender.
The story we believe matters because it affects everything in life. Our society tells one story, seeking to shape our identity through it. It’s a story of rugged individualism, of self-determined right and wrong. But the Bible tells us an unchanging story and invites us to find our true identity and rest in knowing God and who He created us to be, a key part of which involves finding our place within his reconciled community of hope.
This is where I want us to start, to build a four part biblical framework for identity. After establishing the biblical framework for identity briefly, I want to reflect on how that affects the area of gender specifically. And how as pastors we prepare disciples—whether parents, teachers, workers or others—to respond to the trends, pressures and people caught up in this.
There are two key things that will shape our identity – who we identify God as and who we therefore say we are. As we trace the story we’re in, we’ll focus on those two things.