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This talk was prepared to share with students in their early twenties participating in a discipleship training course. They are not the final word on gender or a complete overview of the subject, but rather an attempt to direct Christians to focus on God and his attributes more than on themselves and their own attributes, whether positive or negative. Focusing on Christ allows us to grow into His likeness, which is the goal of the Christian life.

In Genesis, it is clear that gender is part of the image of God in us. “In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them.” 

I think the primary two things that come to mind when thinking of masculinity and femininity are strength and beauty. Something inside us resonates and responds to men who are strong and women who are beautiful. There’s something that feels deeply right about that. Why? 

And yet, there are conditions. A man who uses his strength to abuse others is even worse than a man who isn’t strong at all. A woman who uses her beauty to manipulate others is even worse than a woman who isn’t that good-looking. What we long to see is strong beauty and beautiful strength. 

What is strong beauty? A truly beautiful person is one whose beauty comes from within – a humble, gentle, service-oriented attitude that makes each encounter and relationship beautiful with her presence. 

What is beautiful strength? A truly strong person is one whose strength serves something greater than himself – a courageous, sacrificing strength that others can depend on. 

Both of these attributes reflect God and neither one is entirely physical. God is the strong deliverer, mighty to save, and the beautiful One, awesome to behold. The way we accept and express our gender can point to that. 

Both sexes can and do reflect both things. I think there’s a physical and emotional aspect to these qualities as well, and I think it tends to be reversed for emotions. 

Whereas women typically express more physical beauty, I think they are also designed to exhibit emotional strength. Most women have an easier time than many men communicating and expressing emotions and building and maintaining relationships – that’s a strength that is an expression of God’s desire for intimacy, connections, and relationship, and developing in this area will come naturally to many women and is something we should aspire to be strong at. 

Most men express more physical strength, and I think God desires them to express emotional beauty. What do I mean by that? Well, although it is more typical for men to ignore their emotions, not communicate about them, or mismanage them explosively, it is particularly beautiful when they develop the ability to be self-controlled and offer emotional stability and sweetness to their wives, children, and friends.

As Christians, with the help of Christ, we can accept our physical bodies as part of God’s image in us. Both sexes can offer our beauty and strength to God in all areas of life, and ask Him to refine and perfect His image in us. Whatever qualities we have or whichever ones we lack, we offer all in humility, asking Him to use us for His glory in the body He gave us with the personality strengths and weaknesses we have.

Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we should treat them with respect and care. Our main physical goal should be to be healthy, for this will enhance both strength and beauty and is the best way to prepare ourselves for service to God and to others. Knowing that we will never reach the pinnacle of beauty or a perfect physique, we shouldn’t waste inordinate time or money on surgeries, treatments, or drugs that seek to overturn, remake, or perfect the body God has given us. Rather, we can be grateful for the body we have, diligent to keep it healthy, and secure in offering the beauty or strength we do have for the benefit and enjoyment of the world, knowing it is a reflection of God’s qualities. 

Our cultures are enmeshed in body worship or body hatred, and both extremes are inconsistent with the Christian life. If you struggle in either area, ask God to be speaking true identity over you, removing shame, and reorienting your perspective to how your embodied soul can reflect His glory and goodness. 

Another important aspect of gender is its design for complementarity. When God created woman, He expressly said one reason that He did so was that man should not be alone. Just as both a man and a woman are required to create new physical life, and only together they can do so, so we are meant to bring forth new spiritual life in and through relationships that require different qualities from different people. We must lay down pride and the idea that “just me and God” are enough to express the fullness of what He has for us. He very clearly orders us to be in relationships of love and commitment with one another, working together as a body, respecting each other’s functions, covering each other’s weaknesses, and offering each other our strengths. Our gender reflects the necessary mutuality of life and is a constant reminder that we can’t do everything or be everything alone. 

It’s important to note that the Bible never instructs us to “be masculine” or “be feminine,” but rather to “be godly.” Also, Jesus when he walked this earth was not some amazing expression of masculinity – he was neither very beautiful nor very strong outwardly. But inwardly, He was stronger and more beautiful than anyone who has ever lived. And that’s the model we are called to imitate. 

As our spirits come alive in relationship with God’s Holy Spirit, He will be transforming us from the inside out. As shame is broken, bitterness is released, confidence is gained, and love is received and given, our outward bodies will also be transformed. Our eyes will become bright, our faces will soften, we will walk with more confidence, and the beauty of the Lord will rest on us, whether or not our features are perfect. Just as your face, hair, eyes, and body type reflect your biological parents – which is a beautiful thing that God intended and honors your family – your embodied character, actions, and attitude reflect your spiritual Father and can bring honor to Him. 

Let’s present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, as our worship to our great Creator and Redeemer, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness. Cease striving after a physical ideal and set your eyes on the unseen, knowing this world is only a shadow of the strength and beauty to come. 

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