False identities and our true identity in Christ part 2 (godly identity)

False identities

In this second post in a series, I’m going to look at one of four false identities that the Father had to remove as part of my journey to wholeness and discovering who I am in Christ.

***CONTENT WARNING***
This is a vulnerable post about my journey to sexual wholeness and may not be appropriate for minors nor for those of a sensitive nature.

I have been honest about my struggles so that others who were trapped in the same lies of shame can also find freedom and release.  Please handle with care.

False identity #2: My identity is in my sin

Hello my name is John and I’m addicted to porn.

The first time I said those words was like a thunderbolt of revelation.  I knew my life had spiralled out of control but confessing that I was addicted was a bitter truth that had taken years to face up to and finally confront.

The first step of the 12 step program used in alcoholic anonymous and other recovery programs based on it is:

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviours, that our lives had become unmanageable.

A brief history of my addiction (content warning)

It took over 30 years to get to this point.  From an innocent fascination with scantily clad women in the lingerie section of home shopping magazines grading up to softporn magazines when I was 18 and old enough (and sometimes brave enough) to buy them.

They were my escape from my life which was full of abuse and empty of love.  It might have been an illusion to think these images were interested in me – but the illusion was better than the reality.

Encounters with the Holy Spirit and meeting my wife were transformational and I was free for some time.

But then the internet.

Porn became accessible without even having to leave the house.  I spent hours searching for images to escape the stress of my job and the shame built as I couldn’t tell my wife just how much I had let her down.  So I dumped it on my wife and made everything her fault.  As our marriage headed for the rocks, things got worse as online video became a reality and a more powerful pull.  I started looking at porn at work and even got caught by a co-worker.  I reached out for help and had filters installed on my machines but I couldn’t talk about it in any depth with my “personal pastor” as he found the whole thing bizarre that I would do anything like that.  I received healing for many of my childhood wounds and began to learn who I was in Christ but the addiction was so strong it often felt like I had no choice.  It became a habit where I was looking for porn online (despite the filters) every day and masturbating every day.  “It can’t get worse than this” I though.

I was wrong.

I was so used to “normal” porn that to get the fix I needed stronger fix and so I started watching worse and worse.  Each time I would feel physically sick but soon that would subside and it became a new normal.  I kept trying to reach out to the men in my church asking if anyone else struggled.  No-one admitted they had a problem.  In addition, they were upset that I had even mentioned that at a men’s meeting.  Eventually, I found one man who was not shocked and helped me fine tune my filter on my computer.

But my understanding of who I was in Christ was weak and so I still felt powerless against the addiction.  This belief led me to secretly buy new laptops to use or to use keyloggers to steal the filter password from my mentor.

The shame grew – how could I admit to my mentor and my wife each time I did something like this again.

It was then I discovered recovery groups with xxxchurch.com

After so long, I finally had a community of men who were Christians and who were open about their struggles.

It was with this band of brothers that I could finally fully open up about where I was and receive God’s light into some very dark places.

I sin or I am the sin?

However, it was a short step in my journey from saying I was addicted to saying I was an addict.

But this is a very big difference in my identity.

One says I have a problem, the other says I am the problem.

I had defined myself by my sin not by who I was in Christ.

Whilst admitting I had a problem was liberating, saying I was the problem was a cage.

You see confessing that we have sinned sins brings healing (Jas 5:16) whereas saying we are the sin brings shame.

Shame says this is who I am and nothing can change it.

Like Adam and Eve, shame leads us to hide God and cover ourselves up.

I remember being walked through the story of the prodigal son through prayer ministry and I couldn’t embrace the Father.  I felt I was too dirty.

How do we cover our shame?  In my life I have sought to cover my shame through five ways:

  • Religion – I will cover myself in good works to try to counteract the shame I feel inside
  • Transference – I will put my shame on other people and say it’s their fault that I am like this
  • Rebellion – I am the problem, I am rubbish therefore I act rubbish – I live out my identity of sin
  • Self-harm – I am the problem therefore I will punish myself
  • Distraction – I will try to drown out the voice of shame with sensuality (eg drugs, alcohol) or busyness (eg TV, gaming)

Dealing with shame

We don’t need to cover our shame because Jesus has dealt with shame fully at the cross.
You see, the thing they don’t tell you in Sunday School is that the Roman method was to crucify people naked as a final humiliation.  Jesus was shamed to take our shame.

This is symbolised in the Day of Atonement – there was a sacrifice to deal with the punishment that our sin deserves (propitiation) and there was a scapegoat that was sent out into the desert to symbolise our shame being taken away (expiation).

Jesus was the fulfilment of the Day of Atonement – he took the punishment our sins deserve (Isa 53:4-5) but he also bore the shame of our sins (Heb 12:2; Rom 10:11).

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12

This is true even if the shame you feel came from someone doing something to you.  Jesus was innocent but was shamed by others.

Our shame only leads us to withdraw from God, but never does it lead God to withdraw from us.

God came to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they sinned – it was them that hid from Him.

In the story of the prodigal son, it was the Father who shamed himself by running and exposing his legs (which in that culture was a really big deal) to embrace his son.  Furthermore, he bore the shame of what everyone would have said about his son’s behaviour.

In Jesus, God stepped down into our world to meet us in our circumstances and our messes.  In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “there is no pit that Christ is not deeper still”.

Just like in the story of the prodigal son, God doesn’t wait for us to get home and “get it right” before He loves us.  We just have to turn to Him – that is repentance – and he comes running to us even while we are far off.

That’s why Jesus accepted the shame – because of the joy set before him (Heb 12:2) – the joy of seeing sinners repenting (Lk 15:7,10) and expanding the Kingdom (Lk 10:21).

But there’s more.

Cleansed and made righteous

God not only deals with the punishment our sin deserves and takes our shame taken away, He also makes us righteous:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21)

Just as in the story of the prodigal son, when the Father meets us he covers our nakedness in a robe – that robe of righteousness is Christ:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:26-27)

God looks at us and sees Christ.

This was foreshadowed in the sacrifice system.

When a Jew brought a lamb as a sin offering, the priest didn’t look the Jew – he looked at the lamb.
If the lamb was without blemish or defect then it was acceptable (eg Lev 22:21).

Similarly, God doesn’t look at us for perfection, He looks at His Son – the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7) who was without blemish or defect (1 Pet 1:19) and so God is satisfied (Jn 1:29).

It’s not about us – it’s about Jesus.

That’s why in the story, the father stops his son just before he says “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”.

It’s true, we’re not worthy – but Jesus is worthy for “while we were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) – in fact whilst we were his enemies (Rom 5:10).  We didn’t love him or pursue him first.  God initiated “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

There’s no way we can earn our salvation – that’s why it is a free gift (Eph 2:8).

The Father sees who we are in Christ as our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).  And since Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20) we too are seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

This is the reality.

Living from our new identity in Christ

That’s why we’re told to set our hearts on things above (Col 3:1-4) as that is where our life, our true identity is.

This is also why we’re told to put to death all the things that belong to our old nature (Col 3:5) and throw off the sin that easily entangles (Heb 12:1) – as it’s no longer part of us.  It isn’t who we are any more.

Danny Silk in his excellent book Culture of Honour says that he once stepped on a nail which went through his foot but never did he think “I’m a nail!”  Similarly as a child of light if we discover darkness inside us – we don’t then say we are darkness.  That is as silly as saying “I’m a nail!”  We were once in darkness but now we are children of the light and so we live as children of the light (Eph 5:8).  God has dealt with our sin powerfully and has made us righteous.  We live from that reality – yes we might sin but it’s no longer natural (1 Jn 5:18) – we’re going to fall into righteousness not into sin.

Human children will physically become like their parents not through their own efforts but naturally because of their DNA.

This is a shadow of the spiritual reality that because we have God’s seed in us we will naturally become like Jesus and stop sinning .

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God (1 Jn 3:9).

That’s why it is fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – it’s something that grows naturally as we live by the Spirit not the flesh (Rom 8:5-13) and keep in step with what the Spirit is doing in our lives (Gal 5:25).

The battle for our new identity

That’s why Satan will try to get us to fix our eyes on ourselves, on our sin.

Because as soon as we take our eyes off of Christ, things in the natural will look hopeless.  So either we will mistakenly try to fix things ourselves through rules (which are powerless to bring about any change, see Col 2:20-23, and will just result in us becoming proud Pharisees or) or we will give up.  Either way we won’t be living as a loved son seated in heavenly places.

But more than that, Satan wants us to fix our eyes on our sin so that, we will stop running the race as we doubt that we can do anything.  Whereas God has made us co-workers with Him (eg 2 Cor 6:1) planned good works for us to do (Eph 2:10).

This is why we need we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2 NASB).  That’s who were are and we are becoming who we truly are.  The Spirit is working in us (Phil 2:13) will finish the work Christ started in us (Phil 1:6).  We just have to keep in step with the spirit (Gal 5:25), we will be transformed from glory into glory into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) until at last we will be like Him when we finally meet Him face to face (1 Jn 3:2).

Summary

You are not your sin.  You are a beloved son/daughter who has been forgiven and made righteous in Christ and welcomed to your true home.  Receive His love, receive His embrace that is dependent on His love not your ability.  Enter now into the party he has thrown for you (Lk 15:23), hear His songs of joy sung over you (Zeph 3:17) and draw strength from them (Neh 8:10).  Let His love transform you:

Fathers love letter soaking video

An allegorical tale about our identity in Christ

Click here to be taken to the Amazon page.

TLP ana and the prince cover

Other posts in this series:

Other relevant posts on this blog:

Are you cursing God’s gift to you and your children?

Blessing or cursing

Would you curse a gift from God?

“Of course not!” I hear you say, “After all, every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

Would you curse a gift that God has given your children?

Again I’m sure you would say no.

But the truth is, we often do.

Our bodies are gifts from God.

“Ah yes John, but sin has entered the world and brought sickness”

True, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the correct functioning of our bodies as designed by God. Specifically I’m talking about periods and nocturnal emissions.

How often do ladies complain about their periods and say to their daughters: “You’re so lucky you haven’t got them yet!”

That is cursing our daughters. We are giving them a fear of becoming women. We are also telling them that God has made something horrible. That God is not good.

How often do us men say nothing to our sons about nocturnal emissions? How often do we leave them confused and feeling ashamed of this natural function?

We are cursing our sons. We are letting them think bad of something good. We are letting shame infect their sexuality – which causing them to either embrace shame as an identity or to reject their sexuality as horrible. Neither is blessing God’s gift to them.

We need to celebrate our children becoming women and men. We need to help them embrace God’s calling (which includes their bodies) for their lives.

But how can we do this?

As I have mentioned before the first principle* is to affirm the goodness of our bodies.
For my daughters I would have a conversation something like this:

“Would you put a new baby in a cot with dirty old sheets?”

To which my daughters would reply “Of course not!”

“Absolutely. We always give a new baby fresh clean sheets. In the same way, every month your body changes the sheets of your womb to get ready for a new baby. It throws away the old ones which come out of your ‘gina (our abbreviation for vagina) as a period.”

In addition, I want to mark their first period as a special moment in their life. And so we talk about when they have their first period daddy will take them out to a restaurant of their choice to celebrate. We often talk about this and discuss where they might go and what they might choose to eat. It creates such an anticipation in them and last week I had the pleasure of talking the second of my daughters out for her meal. She had such a blast and I have never seen anyone eat quite so much.

For my sons I would have a conversation something like this:

“Suppose you’ve got a brand new phone with GPS tracking to use on a mountain climb. Would you check that it works before you start your journey or would you just turn up and try it on the day?”

To which my son would (hopefully) reply “I’d check it.”

“Absolutely, checking it works is a good strategy to ensure that we don’t have problems on the day. In the same way, God has designed your body to check that your willy works for when you are married. When you’re sleeping it tests it out by making sperm and shooting it out. This means that you’ll wake up with sticky stuff in your pants but it’s a sign that your body is working well.”

In addition, I want to mark what could be a source of shame as a special moment in their life on their journey to becoming a man. However, my eldest son who likes food says he’d much prefer to go to a skate park to celebrate. So be it.

But as Christians we can go further than just celebrating our bodies as good. For we are made in God’s image and so our bodies are also holy.  And this was the second principle.

You see everything was made to glorify God and so that means that our bodies tell us something about the nature of our God. The aspect I want to focus on here is how our bodies reflect the redemption story.

Jesus death has brought cleansing for our sins. Specifically it is His blood that cleanses us for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

This is the first part of our new birth as Christians – we are forgiven and made holy so that we are a fit dwelling for the Holy Spirit.

This is the meaning of a woman’s period. The shedding of blood symbolises Christ’s blood being shed to bring forgiveness of our sins. In fact, the Hebrew word for female (nĕqebah H5347) comes from the root word meaning pierced (naqab H5344) and we know that Christ was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5).

Every month women are given a physical reminder of the cost of our redemption – which is easy to lose sight of in our sanitised world far removed from animal sacrifice or killing animals for food.

After the period is complete a Jewish woman would have their mikveh, a ritual bath as the rite of purification. This is our baptism by water symbolising our repentance and death to sin and our old way of life.

The second part of our new birth as Christians is that we are born again of the Spirit (Jn 3:3). Just like God breathed his breath = Spirit into Adam to give life to his mortal body, so too Christ’s Spirit is given to us to give us new life. We receive Christ’s imperishable seed† (1 Pet 1:23) we become Children of God (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1,9) and ultimately receive new imperishable bodies from that seed (1 Cor 15:38, 42,44).

This is the meaning of the man’s sperm. The Greek word Paul and Peter use for seed is sperma (G4690). The ejaculation is symbolising the new life that Christ gives us. And in the same way that children grow up in the image of their parents (Gen 5:3) by genetics and can’t do anything to change that, we grow up into the likeness of God through the fruit of this same spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – it is a fruit – a natural consequence of being his children. In fact, the Hebrew word for male (zakar H2145) comes from the root word meaning remember (zakar H2142). It can mean “to mark (so as to be recognised)” which would reflect the fact that the Spirit marks us out as Christians, but it can also mean “a call to remembrance” which isn’t just a mental ascent but a call to action – which is why it is used when referring to circumcision as well as man or God taking action when they remember something. This speaks of how faith without deeds is dead – we are called to live out our new life. We are called to like our true Heavenly Father‡.

In the same way that only together do male and female make up the complete image of God (Gen 1:27), only together do they symbolise the full story of our salvation.

Father, forgive us for the ways we have disparaged our bodies because we have lost sight of the true meaning. We renounce and break off any curse that we have put on our bodies or our children’s bodies. We bless our bodies in Jesus’ name and receive them as a good and holy gift from you. Help us to celebrate the gift of our bodies, let us cry out to you in praise for how they speak to us of the forgiveness and new life you offer us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Click here to be taken to the overview of how to teach your children godly sexuality.

†If you want to dive deeper into this aspect, I recommend Steve Bremner’s book “The Imperishable Seed of Christ: Understanding The Believer’s Spiritual DNA”

‡I am aware that there are many other nuances in these Hebrew words but I hope this gives a glimpse into the richness of the meaning of periods and sperm.

How to stop looking at women lustfully part 2 (godly desire)

sisters and daughters

In our previous post on this topic we looked at three steps to dealing with lust:

  • Acknowledge it, but realise that the woman is a shadow of who our hearts are really looking for.
  • Realise we have a higher calling: we men are made to love women sacrificially like Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25), we are called to give (love) not take (lust).
  • Act according to our calling by praying blessing on the woman we see.  For example “Father, I thank you for this beautiful woman.  I thank you that you have made her to be loved and cherished.  I ask that you would pour out your blessing on her, that she would become aware of your presence, that she would find her value in your love and not how she looks….” 

In this second post on this topic we look at how to prevent lust entering into our relationships with women in our Church.

For three years I led an organic church which ministered to those broken by traditional church.  I had the honour of serving a number of young beautiful women.  With one woman in particular she needed much prayer, counselling and support on her journey to wholeness and I soon realised that an attraction was growing within me.

This was not surprising due to the amount of time I was spending with her and the prayer counselling process which forms a bond between spirits.  It was becoming distracting and was starting to interfere with my ability to serve her.  But yet I was praying for her like I mentioned above.  So what was I to do?

There’s this great passage in 1 Timothy that holds the key:

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” 
1 Tim 5:1-2 (emphasis mine)

We were family!  As someone much younger and in my care, she was my spiritual daughter and I was her father.  Once I saw this truth it started to change how I related to her.  I started relating as a father loving his daughter rather than a man relating to an attractive woman.  I started calling her my “daughter-in-Christ” to help outwork this view into our relationship and my mind.

The desire that I had felt inside me began to be transformed now I knew where it was to be focussed.  The sexual energy that God had given me as a man was now channelled to the correct godly destination.  No longer was it being hijacked by the worldly view that it must always result in physical gratification.

It was such a delight to love her as a father and seek her mature into a woman of God and the delight and pride I felt at her wedding to a godly man was overwhelming.

The phrase “brothers and sisters” occurs more than 100 times in the New Testament which speaks of the reality of our new relationships in Christ.  In addition, Paul called Timothy his son (1 Cor 4:17, 1 Tim 1:2a; 1:18, 2 Tim 1:2a; 2:1, Tit 1:4, Phile 1:10) as did Peter call Mark (1 Pet 5:13).  Paul also treated the Thessalonians as his children (1 Thess 2:11).

So may you start calling the women in your church your sisters (or if you’re much older like I was, your daughters) and see your relationships transformed as your sexual desires find their true purpose in Christ.  In Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

Dad, are willys rude (teach your children godly sexuality)

Are willys rude

I was walking with my youngest son to the garage to pick up our car from its service when he asked:

“Dad, are willy’s rude?”

“Not at all – God made them so they can’t be rude.”

“But when I say willy at school I get told off. So they must be rude.”

I could see the logic.  I also had to do some on the spot thinking….

“OK. What’s the coolest present you can imagine?”

He thought for a while and then replied “A minion’s pizza!”

I have no idea what that is – and frankly neither did he – but it combined two things that he loves together so it must be cool.

“So imagine one of your friends gives you a minion’s pizza and you throw it on the floor. And your friend says ‘That’s so rude!’”

“So is a minion’s pizza rude?”

“NO!!!!”

“But they said it was. So it must be rude.”

“It’s not rude”

“Well why did they say it was then?”

“Because I of what I did with it.”

“Exactly. God made willys and so they’re not rude – but you can do rude things with them like talk about them in a bad way. So just like we treat a special cool gift like a minion’s pizza in a special way – we need to treat our special cool gift of willys in a special way too.”

This kind of conversation captures the two principles of teaching godly sexuality – we affirm it’s goodness and we affirm its holiness (and also here and here).

Just affirming one of these two would lead to disaster whether that be worldly hedonism or religious repression.  So it’s important to express both.

I hope this conversation proves helpful – if you want to add your thoughts below then please do so – or if you want a godly answer to a question your child has asked then do also comment below.

Am I a bad parent? (godly parenting)

bad parent

 

Do you feel like you’re a rubbish parent?

Do you feel like you are damaging your children?

Let me tell you about a couple I know of.

The wife was only about 13 or 14 and was naïve and inexperienced.

She married a husband who was much older than her and was a manual labourer who only just managed to keep them off the bread line.

They were so poor they couldn’t even afford a goat that is the traditional celebration meal for their first child.

For most of their life they lived in a “dodgy” town which the rest of their country looked down upon.  In addition, due to an incident they became social outcasts in their community.

This incident also nearly caused the whole marriage to be called off – in fact the husband had to be persuaded before he’d even consider going ahead.

So clearly the couple had weaknesses and lived in an area and environment that wasn’t brilliant for bringing up kids.  Their parenting wasn’t much better.

They lost their eldest child and only noticed after a whole day!  It took a further three days of searching before they found him!

In addition, they didn’t get their eldest child – in fact, they thought he had lost his mind and said as much in public and tried to take charge of him.

These two incidents show some serious weaknesses as parents and I question anyone who thought they were suitable for adoption.

Yet this was the couple God entrusted with His beloved Son.

These were the imperfect parents who were raising His perfect Son.

And just like they messed up we are going to mess it up.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t going to be one of those motivational posts that say “don’t worry about it – God has trusted you with your children so you must have what it takes and everything will be fine.”  That would do you and your children a disservice.

We are going to mess up yet God still calls us to be parents.  How do we move forward in such a contradiction?

Recall that as parents, we are only meant to be an image of the perfect parent – we don’t have to be perfect (and indeed can’t be) our job is to apologise when we get it wrong and point to the perfect one.

For example, I regularly say “I’m sorry I messed up and lost my temper.  Daddy God is so much more patient than your earthly daddy.  Will you pray for me that God will make me more like Him.”

Similarly, when my children mess up, I forgive them and pray with them that the Father would transform them too – we are all on a journey together of being transformed from glory to glory.

Whilst saying sorry is helpful there are still consequences of our mistakes that a sorry can’t fix.  But, we have a God who can redeem our mistakes.  There are so many times I have prayed for my children as they slept that he would undo the damage of my mistakes and He has been so gracious.  He delights in restoring all things and transforming them into the likeness of His perfect Son.  Despite the illnesses, brokenness and dysfunctions my wife and I have walked through our children are becoming whole.

Furthermore God knows that we can’t do it on our own and He doesn’t expect us to do so.  The resources of Heaven (including wisdom) are available so that we can carry out this most important of tasks if we ask for them.

“The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career. ” CS Lewis

So when you mess up and the Accuser starts giving you grief don’t seek solace in platitudes – seek the forgiveness that is freely available through Jesus’ blood and the transforming power that is freely available for you and your children through our union with Him.

Father, thank you that there is grace. Thank you that everything we need is available in You. Give me my daily bread for parenting my children and forgive my sins as I forgive my children’s sins. For Yours is the power to transform situations and the glory that comes out of your redemption, for ever and ever. Amen.

If you want a light-hearted look at Mary and Joseph as parents I did a short skit on this:

Other related posts are “God will never give you more than you can handle (and other myths)”, “Nothing is impossible” and “Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate” where I share more of our journey into parenting and God’s grace.

Male and Female: Transcendence and immanence (godly sexuality)

transcendence-and-immanenceWe know that creation glorifies God by making His divine nature known (Rom 1:20) and in this series we are examining how gender reveals to us the nature of our God.

In a previous post we have seen that only together do male and female represent the full image of God and one of those ways was to reveal the fullness of God’s character.

In this post we look at ten ways how God’s opposing characteristics of masculine transcendence and feminine immanence are embodied in the man and the woman.

Transcendence

Transcendence is that is “God is far ‘above’ the creation in the sense that He is greater than the creation and He is independent of it.”   God creates the world from without – it is separate/external to Him.  He is the creator we are His creation (Gen 1:1, 14:19b, 22).  That is why the Hebrew word for God creating, bara, is reserved solely for Him (Strong’s H1254).  God in this sense is holy – that is He is separate/distinct from His creation.  He is Yahweh – “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14) – not defined or linked to this world.  ’adam only became a living being after he received the gift of God’s breath from without (Gen 2:7).  Similarly, God’s grace is also from without – it’s a gift independent of us or our ability to earn it (Eph 2:8-9).  He is the one who initiates a relationship with us, who pursues us and we only love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).

Immanence

The complementary feminine characteristic of God is His immanence.  God is intimately involved in creation, “for it is continually dependent on him for its existence and its functioning”.   In Christ all things hold together (Col 1:17) and he is continually “upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3) and “in his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10) and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28).  He is our nurturer, our sustainer.  The spirit that God breathed into ’adam continues to give life to His body until it departs.  God is Immanuel (Isa 7:14) – God with us, the God who dwells among His people seen by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Ex 13:21-22).  His presence filling the temple (Ex 25:8; 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-11); and ultimately His presence with us in Jesus (Mt 1:23-25) and His Spirit (Mt 28:20b; Jn 14:16-17).  He is the one who responds to us in our distress (Ps 18:6), who reveals His plans to His prophets (Jn 15:15; Amos 3:7) and responds to their desires (Ps 37:4).

Note that it is the Spirit that broods over the waters (Gen 1:2).  It is the Spirit that represents God’s shekinah glory filling the temple, His presence with them in the pillar of cloud and fire.  It is also the Spirit that gives new birth (Jn 3:5) and sustains all life.  Hence, it is no surprise that the Hebrew word, ruach, for spirit/wind/breath is feminine.  Interestingly it has masculine pronouns/adjectives applied to it when it refers to God’s Spirit.

Male embodies the masculine characteristic of transcendence and female embodies the feminine characteristic of immanence

Since transcendence and immanence are opposing/polar characteristics it is hard to keep them in balance – which is why God embodied these masculine and feminine attributes of Himself in male and female creatures and in particular humans who are made in His image (Gen 1:27).  Together their oneness reveals the glory of the unified nature of God’s attributes.

“One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God.” CS Lewis

Now Greek thought separates the spirit/mind from the body/physical world (the so called Platonic divide) and this thought permeates our Western culture.  However, the Hebraic/Biblical worldview is holistic.  There is no separation between the spirit/mind and the body – we are integrated beings – spiritualised bodies or embodied spirits.  Therefore the body is an expression of the soul/spirit of the individual – it makes visible the invisible.  Hence we would, under this worldview, expect the masculine and feminine spiritual qualities to be reflected in the psychology and physiology of the man and the woman.

Below I outline ten ways that we observe this reality.  There may be others but this is all that have been revealed to me so far.  By all means feel free to add more in the comments below.

Firstly, the most obvious feature is the difference between the male and female bodies so that the male causes procreation from without, whereas the female incubates this life in her womb and then nurtures it at her breast.  This reflects how God creates the universe separate to Him and yet sustains it by His Spirit.

This is why ‘adam who, although he contained male and female, had a male body which reflected the glory of godly masculine understood that there was no suitable companion .  He saw that his body was designed to give life to another who would nurture it but there was no other like him.

“The essence of masculinity is initiation and the essence of femininity is response” Elisabeth Elliot

Secondly, this means that the male body initiates whereas the female responds.  This is also seen in the courtship display of all species – the male initiates and the female responds (whether that be by reciprocating or flying/walking/crawling off).  Likewise, despite it not being politically correct, this has been the case in all cultures around the world.  On a physiological level we might ascribe this behaviour to testosterone but on a spiritual level this reflects the fact that God initiates the creation of the universe and also initiates relationship with us and we respond to Him.

Is this the reason why the man is always attracted to “the chase” (the initiation) whereas the woman is attracted to the “happy ever after” (the incubation)?

Thirdly, we see this in how the baby is made.  The Hebraic understanding was that the man planted a seed in the fertile soil of the woman’s womb .  Now we have a greater understanding of biology we can see this on a deeper level.  The male sperm is designed to go out to find the egg, whereas the egg awaits and receives the sperm to form a new life.

Fourthly we see this in the hormones.  Men have much more testosterone than women  and this makes them assertive and gives them energy and motivation to act and take risks.  Whereas women have much more oestrogen which makes them more sensitive to emotion and feelings of others. I saw this with my children: even though they played with the same toys, the boys were propelling them and moving them whereas my girls arranged them to talk to each other.  I also saw it in a male friend that needed to take oestrogen for medical reasons who then experienced so much more emotion than before.

Fifthly, we see this in the differences in muscle and fat.  The male body has more muscle and bone growth which enables it to take action in the physical world whereas the female body is soft, with more fat to protect the womb and feed an infant during pregnancy and afterwards through milk.

Sixthly, we see this in the physiological differences in the brain.  The male mind tends to excel in visuospatial tasks whereas the female mind tends to excel in verbal fluency and perceptual speed tasks.  Again the male brain is geared to outward tasks whereas the female brain is geared to inward tasks.  Hence, boys tend to learn kinaesthetically whereas women tend to learn verbally.

Seventhly, as a consequence there are two ways of gaining knowledge.  The masculine discursive reason and the feminine intuitive mind.  The male requires external empirical facts before he will accept something whereas the female internally directly ‘knows’ something is true.  It is also the difference between learning about something as external to oneself verses experiencing or being in it.

Eighthly, we see this in how men and women respond to stimuli (sexual and otherwise).  Men react more to external/physical stimuli whereas women react more to internal/mental stimuli.  This is evident in the vast disparity in the sales of pornographic images/videos to men and the sales of romantic novels to women.

Ninthly, we see this in the way men and women relate to others.  Men naturally relate to others whilst doing something – their focus is external – whereas women naturally relate without doing something but simply by being together.  This is reflected in the statement that “men relate to each other side by side facing the same direction whereas women relate face to face”.  This is why the original way of raising sons was them learning the family trade alongside the father.

Lastly, we see this in the roles the mother and father play in the development of children.  The mother nurtures the young children and keeps them safe and secure, whereas the father helps them separate themselves psychologically from the mother and be called out into their separate identity .

“It is the father (or father substitute) who affirms son and daughters in their sexual identity and therefore as persons….at puberty and adolescence we are listening for the masculine voice…that convinces us that we are truly and finally separate from our mothers.” Leanne Payne

Children raised without a father lack this calling out and tend to be more aimless or seek their value in things – such as careers.  Whereas children raised without a mother tend to be unable to develop close relationships.

By now it should be no surprise that this is reflected in the physiology as well.  It is the man’s Y chromosome that causes the testosterone flood in week 7 to call out the male development from the ‘female’ baby.

Creation of male and female

We can see these themes reflected in the different ways male and female bodies were created.

Then the LORD God formed (yatsar) a man (‘adam) from the dust of the ground (‘adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man (‘adam) became a living being. (Gen 2:7)

‘adam was formed physically from the ground.  The Hebrew word used for formed, yatsar, means to form or fashion like a potter squeezes and moulds clay into shape (indeed the word is translated as “potter” in 17 places such as Jer 18:2- or Isa 29:16b).

So the LORD God caused the man (‘adam) to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs (tsela’) and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the LORD God made (banah) a woman (‘ishshah) from the rib (tsela’) he had taken out of the man (‘adam), and he brought her to the man (‘adam). (Gen 2:21-22)

Whereas the woman, ‘ishshah, is made from the side of ‘adam.  The Hebrew word used for made, banah, means to construct or build – it is used of a house.  The Hebrew understanding is that the man builds the physical home but the woman was understood to fill it – so ‘adam provided the frame from which the woman expanded .  Banah can also mean to establish or cause to continue.  The Hebrew connection is that to build a house implies that one establishes a family .

The man (‘adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ (‘ishshah) for she was taken out of man (‘iysh)” (Gen 2:23)

But then when Adam meets the woman, ‘ishshah (woman or wife), he then give himself another name  ‘iysh (man or husband) which recognises his additional nature which is in relationship to the woman.  So man’s primary nature is the physical world (hence the name Adam which is related to the ground, adamah is also used hereafter)  but now he is also now relational (so the name ‘iysh is used whenever it is in relation to the woman).

Whereas the woman’s, ‘ishshah, primary nature is relational.  But since ‘iysh was created from the ground she also has a secondary nature that is in relation to the world.

The curse

Finally we can see this principle reflected in the curse.  Now since we know that it is God’s desire to bless and he sends the rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), then the curse must simply be a consequence of no longer being in harmony with one’s nature as well as no longer receiving the life and love of the Father.

The man, Adam, is still related to the ground, ‘adamah, but he is no longer in harmony with it – so he is no longer a gardener but a farmer having to work the ground (Gen 3:17b-19a).  There is brokenness in his outward focus.  We can see this in how men can pursue careers and ministries outside of the home and neglect the home.  Men have a bent for building empires at the expense of others – roles are more important than relationship hence they always ask “what do you do?”

Whereas the woman, ‘ishshah, is still related to the man, ‘iysh, but is now no longer in harmony with him  and there is sorrow in the nurturing and giving birth.  There is now brokenness in her inward focus.  We can see this in the nurturing of low self-esteem.  Women have a bent for intimacy at the expense of their own worth.

Summary

So we have seen that everything about the male is outward focussed – doing, taking action, risk taking, creating, initiating, giving, concerned with form (roles) – and reflects the transcendent nature of God.  Whereas everything about the female is inner directed/immanent – being, sustaining, safety, nurturing, responding, receiving, concerned with relationship – and reflects the immanent nature of God.

“The masculine faces the world: It is oriented to things; it explores; it climbs. Its energy is directed toward the physical: measuring, moving, building, conquering. The feminine looks inward toward feeling, sensing, knowing in the deepest sense. Its energy is directed toward relationships, coming together, nurturing, helping.  Both the masculine and feminine are relational, but the masculine relational drive is toward the physical, toward working and playing together the feminine drive is toward being together.  In fact, another way to describe the same contrast is masculine doing and feminine being”.  Alan Medinger

Marriage: a journey into oneness (godly marriage)

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Recently, I heard of another celebrity couple breaking up. Whereas once I would have not cared that much or blamed their lifestyle, now I find it breaks my heart and I start praying.

Marriage is a prophetic image of Christ’s covenant with us, a breakup is declaring to the world that He will give up on us – that His love is finite and His devotion limited.

How terrible a statement – how can we as Christians shrug our shoulders and move on? Our weeping joins with heaven that cries “what God has joined together let no man separate” – that something on Earth would reflect this reality and shout it out for all to see.

Now this couple cited the distance apart as the reason for their breakup. As I was mourning this, the phrase “it’s not the distance apart but the distance in your heart” popped in my head.

Marriage is a journey into oneness symbolic of our journey of oneness with Christ. Each day we choose whether we go deeper or whether we hold back.

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Daily we choose how much to reveal about our innermost hopes, dreams, worries and anxieties. Daily we choose to become more vulnerable or to hide our true selves from our spouse.

By revealing more we can become closer, by holding back we build a wall.

My wife believed me to be a very confident man when we married. I was outgoing and bubbly and would take her on days out to new places. The truth was anything but. I was confident in situations that were familiar but terrified of the new – the only reason she thought otherwise is that I took her to places that I had been before but she hadn’t.

It’s very hard to hide in marriage from someone who wants to become closer – but I tried. My wife booked holidays to new places and I was frightened – but rather than opening up I hid it behind “not wanting to go out” from our hotel or saying how it was all rubbish or, even worse, blaming her for choosing terrible places. By pushing her away and holding her back from my true self, I was steadily building a wall. This was one of the contributing factors to her packing up the car 7 years later driving to my office and telling me she was leaving me. As I regularly tell my children – that day I made one of the best decisions of my life. I said “I will do what it takes to fix this – I’ll even attend a marriage course”. It was that course that began the process of putting us back together. So many weeks involved me apologising for hurting her which she gracefully forgave and her heart was softened again.

But the issue of hiding was still there. I didn’t even realise I had it. Keeping people out was my survival mechanism – built to cope with a volatile earthly father and the bullying I experienced during the majority of my schooling.

Whenever someone would get too close I would instinctively want to lash out to keep them back. In retrospect, this explains why we always argued on the way home from church and healing courses. The Spirit had become exposed my woundedness and so I felt unsafe and needed to protect myself.

The breakthrough moment was 3 years later on our 10 year wedding anniversary trip. With the help of my friend I had organised a romantic visit to Rome. But I didn’t speak Italian and I had never been there before. To say I was terrified was an understatement.  I wanted to stay in our hotel room rather than go out and just buy food from a supermarket rather than go to restaurants.  But she wanted to explore it all. It was a recipe for disaster or redemption.

One day we were sitting outside the Coliseum – I just wanted to stay there all day hoping my paralysis would pass rather than go somewhere else new.

My wife turned to me and asked, “What are you thinking?”

Normally I would have brushed her off with “nothing” but everything was so exposed that I responded, “Do you really want to know?”

She replied, “Yes” little realising what was about to be revealed.

For the first time in our marriage I truly opened up all my innermost workings to her – I reeled off the fear after fear that were plaguing me.

The funny thing is I don’t remember what she replied I just remember the feeling of release that her acceptance brought and how our holiday became beautiful as her acceptance and love meant I didn’t need to hide anymore.  We became allies against this enemy of fear.

Ultimately our marriage is a shadow of our relationship with Christ and each day we can choose to become closer or to build a wall.  There is no standing still.

Yes, He knows everything about us already, even the number of hairs on our heads, but it is only by us voluntarily opening up ourselves to Him that intimacy is deepened and His light floods in.

Unlike a human spouse who might reject us, He will in no wise cast us out, He is gentle and humble in heart and the perfect love that we let in will drive out our fears that we had previously kept hidden.

He is gentle but He will put us through testing, through desert times to expose what is in our hearts so that a deeper intimacy is developed than could ever be achieved from comfortable living.

Just like my trip to Rome, as uncomfortable as it was, was an opportunity for a depth in our marriage more than I could have ever have achieved if I just did all the same things every day and stayed in my comfort zone.

May you continue to open up each door to your heart that He is knocking on and not harden your heart.  May you see every difficulty as an opportunity for becoming more intimate, more full of His light and  more “filled with the full measure of His love”.  Inn Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.