by John Ellis
As debates continue to roil long-held gender distinctions, Christians need to ensure that our responses are rooted in God’s story. Most likely, those debates are going to become more contentious, and the Church will continue to be at the center of the social maelstrom. If we’re not careful to ground ourselves in the Bible, gender debates will strain the very gospel fabric that allows the Church to be an effective witness for Jesus.
Grounding our responses in the Bible helps us realize that disagreements over gender issues are first and foremost disagreements about who God is and what His story tells us about humans, the problem, and God’s solution for that problem. Make no mistake, gender debates reveal whether or not an individual is willing to submit to God or is rebelling against their Creator. To that end, Christians cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of our primary objective – sharing the gospel.
That raises the question, what is the gospel? Or, worded differently, what is God’s story?
During my church’s membership interview, the Elders ask the prospective member to explain the gospel in about one minute. Besides helping the Elders guard the communion table, it’s a useful exercise that helps people learn how to articulate the gospel succinctly and effectively. Beyond my church’s membership interview, I’ve seen that exercise done in a variety of venues and circumstances. It often reveals that, when asked, many of us will forget aspects of the gospel. It’s not that Christians don’t know what the gospel is; it’s simply that many of us, when pressed, fail to recover in our own mind the essentials of the gospel message.
In a nutshell, the gospel declares that God created everything, which includes humans; and He created everything for His glory and to serve Him. Allying with the Serpent-Satan, and introducing sin into God’s good world, humans rebelled against God in an attempt to declare their autonomy from their Creator. In His love and mercy, God promised to send a Redeemer to crush the head of the Serpent and provide a way for God’s people to reestablish a relationship with God. Millenniums later, Christ Jesus took on human flesh. During his time on earth, Jesus obeyed God perfectly and then died in order to satisfy God’s just wrath and punishment of sin. Three days after his death on the cross, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating Jesus and conquering sin and death. All those who, through Holy Spirit given faith, repent of their sins and bow the knee in total submission to the authority of King Jesus are reconciled with God and will live eternally with Him. Those who die in their sins still rebelling against God will suffer God’s wrath for all eternity.
Beautifully, the gospel is woven throughout the Bible. In fact, the entire story of the Bible is the gospel. And make no mistake, the Bible is one story. And what a magnificent story it is!
A good friend of mine frequently talks about how the secularists’ story is dry, boring, and full of clunky, un-interpreted (meaningless) facts and a constantly shifting and confusing ethical template. Christians, on the other hand, have a story with beautiful things being formed out of nothing, literal talking serpent-dragons, giants, wars, love, and the greatest plot twist in the history of stories. Even better, the Christian story is a true story that happened in time and space within history; it’s nonfiction, and it’s a story that has application (ethical meaning) for all of life and practice in all times and places.
Like all stories, the Bible has a protagonist. And like all good stories, the Bible reveals important character traits of its protagonist. For the sake of this discussion, one of the more pertinent character traits of the Bible’s protagonist is God’s holiness.
While it’s true that God’s holiness is all encompassing and that the Bible does speak of it “as His central and supreme perfection … the holiness of God also has a specifically ethical aspect in Scripture.” God’s holiness means, by definition, that He has to be separated from sin. Or, to put it another way, sin has to be cut off from Him. God cannot tolerate sin.
God doesn’t leave us guessing about His ethical demands that are defined by His holiness. The Bible is replete with flat-out statements, commands, and rhetorical tone that delineate how God defines sin. For example, the Bible has consistent and clear commands about human sexuality. Ignoring God’s ethical expectations in reference to sexuality or redefining them to match the current milieu’s rebellion is sin. God tells His creation what He expects.
Of course, the problem is that the pinnacle of God’s creation rebelled against their Creator; humans sinned. By allying themselves with the serpent-dragon named Satan in a coup against God, humans created an ethical divide that separates all humans from God.
The sin of humans is the obstacle standing in the way of God’s objective to save a people unto Himself. According to the Bible, the problem is universal because “all have sinned.” Rejecting the teaching of the Bible that personal rebellion/sin is what separates man from God is, in fact, evidence of that rebellion.
Thankfully, the Bible’s protagonist desires to have a relationship with His people. But because of their sin, He can’t. Only three chapters into the Bible, and God’s good world has been broken. From a human standpoint, it makes sense that those who broke the world should be the ones who fix it. Except, God’s holiness states that the sin of humans irrevocably erases any chance of a right relationship with a holy God. Humans and Satan are now bound together in an alliance forged in rebellion against God and cemented together by sin. But God in His grace intervenes.
In Genesis 3:15, possibly my favorite verse in the Bible, God promises to send a Redeemer to completely destroy the alliance between humans and Satan. His plan to do that is slowly yet clearly revealed in the story of the Bible. Even though every anecdote, every episode, and every character point the reader to Jesus, the incarnation of the Son of God still comes as a shock.
Jesus emptied Himself and took on the frailty of human flesh “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man.” The world’s conventional wisdom states that the all-important power is achieved either through strength, manipulation, or out-maneuvering opponents, not by divesting yourself of all of your advantages. Jesus surrendered His divine right, and submitted Himself to the weakness of being human. This is what makes the Bible’s climax the greatest plot twist in the history of stories.
Except, if the reader has been paying attention, he realizes that there is no other way. The seeming plot twist isn’t actually a plot twist. God’s holiness demands that His law be perfectly obeyed and that sin is punished. Only God as man was able to fulfill God’s demand for righteousness and justice. Jesus lived the perfect life that no human can, and then took on Himself the just wrath of God the Father as the punishment for the sins of those who are His. In doing so, Jesus bridged the ethical divide between God and sinful humans who place their faith in the finished work of Jesus.
The glorious truth of the coming Savior who crushes the head of the serpent is writ large throughout the Bible’s story. One popular example is the anecdote of David defeating the giant Goliath.
Related in I Samuel 17, the story is well-known but, unfortunately, often misunderstood. The popular “moral” lifted out of the story places the reader in David’s shoes as he faces Goliath. People who see themselves in David believe that the application of the episode is that with God’s help they can slay their own giants. Usually, the application defines “giants” as sin, but, often things like achieving seemingly impossible dreams and/or overcoming large obstacles that stand in the way of personal objectives are plugged into the place of Goliath when discussing personal application.
Setting aside the discussion about the problematic view many have of things like “God’s will” and the “things” of Matthew 19:26, it’s true that “with God all things are possible.” True as it may be, that’s not the point of the story of David and Goliath; assuming so ignores the glorious reality of God’s story (the gospel) that is the point of the story and, instead, runs the high risk of cheapening the anecdote by making it man-centered.
The correct reading of I Samuel 17 places the reader in the shoes of the scared, faithless Israelites who are in need of a Savior-king. Saul, their current king, is no help against the giant Goliath whose taunting speech “echoes the serpent’s voice.” Unexpectedly, an individual shows up who no one would pick out of lineup as the needed Savior-king. David points us to Jesus, the ultimate Savior-king, who shows up unexpectedly in history to crush the head of the serpent.
Like every other episode in the Bible, reading the story of David and Goliath points us to the coming Savior whom God promised in Genesis 3:15 to send to crush the head of the serpent. Reading God’s story in the Bible confronts us with God’s holiness and His righteous, the just expectations He places on His creation, and our sinful and faithless inability to solve the problem of our broken relationship with God, a problem that our sin created. That same story also reveals to us the coming Savior that, in His love, God sent to obey God’s law because we can’t and then to take the just punishment for sins that he did not commit so that those who repent in Holy Spirit given faith can have their relationship with their sinless Creator restored.
That’s the story of the Bible. A wonderful, historically-accurate and true story that gives hope to all those how believe in Jesus Christ.
And that story creates the parameters for all discussions, including discussions about gender and sexuality. God who is the holy Creator of all things expects submission to His definitions, expectations, and demands. Thankfully, Creator God has graciously revealed Himself and His ethical expectations/demands in the Bible. We can know what God says about gender. Unfortunately, in full rebellion against God, many people have sinfully played around with definitions. Lord willing, the next post in this series will interact with how sinful, rebellious humans pervert language in order to rebuild the Tower of Babel in an attempt to complete their coup against God.
 A clear, complete, and helpful summation of the gospel can be found in the short tract “Two Ways to Live: the Choice We all Face.”
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 73.
 Romans 3:23, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2008), 2163.
 Philippians 2:7, ESV Study Bible, 2283.
 Matthew 19:26, ESV Study Bible, 1862.
 Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 140.