Let’s probe a bit further into what it means that God created us male and female. But before we do that, we should take a small step back and consider something even more basic. Each of us is created either male or female. This may seem so obvious that it’s not worth stating, but given the challenges we face, it does need to be pointed out. It’s the clearest thing we can say about being created in the image of God. All of us are either one or the other. The tragic developmental anomaly of intersex notwithstanding, there really is no third option; there is just this basic dual reality.
SEXUALITY AS VOCATION
When God created you in his image as male or female, he called you to a certain way of life—as either a male or a female. By virtue of being created in the image of God as male or female, you have a call on your life; you have a vocation. It is your most basic vocation, your most fundamental job in life: to joyfully embrace and faithfully embody your sexuality—whether male or female—for the good of others. God’s first call on our lives is to acknowledge rather than deny our sexuality. We are to rejoice in it rather than seek to downplay it. We are to lean into it fully rather than avoid it entirely. We are to use our sexuality to bless others rather than neglect it to the loss of others. And we are to embrace its limits rather than try to transcend it.
There is always the temptation to depart from God’s call on our lives as either male or female, to downplay or even deviate from who God has made us to be. Tragic things happen when we begin to despise our own sexuality and the bodies God has given us. When we fail to thank God for who he has made us to be and allow ingratitude to define our attitude toward God, the results can be very serious and sad. This is what Paul describes in Romans 1:21, where both men and women find their lives going off the rails in sexual ways, precisely because they failed to honor God or give him thanks.
Melinda Selmys, in her book Sexual Authenticity, describes how for years she wrestled with her own sexuality. She was a professed, practicing lesbian who underwent a profound transformation and eventually got married to a man. She explains how significant change came when she began to come to terms with her own sexuality and with who God had made her to be as a woman:
"I realized that my own sex was not inferior, that its strengths throughout the ages had always been strengths, that its contributions to the world were not second-class or insignificant. It was here, in this, that the cracks opened enough that I could risk falling in love with a man. Suddenly, I was not an interloper on his territory, trying to seize his castles and make them my own.
I had my own kingdom, my own square of land, my own integrity. I did not need to demand power: I had it. I did not need to take something of value away from him and hold it to ransom: I had valuable things of my own. At last, I understood something of who I was. Not lesbian. Not bisexual. Not gay. Not straight, either. But a woman, made in the image and likeness of God. In possession of myself, with the right and the ability to give the gift of myself to another, sincerely, in love."
To be created in the image of God as male and female means that each of us is either male or female. We are called to embrace who God has made us to be, whether male or female. We must be faithful to our calling as male or female and must own who we are sexually as one of God’s greatest gifts to us—for the good of others.
MALE AND FEMALE: COMPLEMENTARITY IN OUR SEXUALITY
The truth that God has made us male and female is very good news. God not only created two genders, male and female, with unique and glorious and mysterious differences; he made these two genders complementary. They don’t simply fit side by side, like peanut butter and jelly; they fit together in an interlocking pattern like puzzle pieces. They have been created for each other, to complete each other in the most profound sorts of ways. This means that to be faithful to your own sexuality, whether male or female, you can’t idolize your own sex—as though your sex is the be-all and end-all of the human race. Sure, there’s a place for donning the “Girls Rule” T-shirt or descending into the “man cave.” Yes, there’s a place for same-sex friendships and even a little “bromance.” But the relationships we have with those of our own sex should not replace or exclude the beautiful dynamic at work when we relate to those of the opposite sex.
We need opposite-sex relationships not only to complement and strengthen the other sex but to learn more about our own sex. Women learn who they are as women by interacting with other women but also with men. So, too, men learn who they are by interacting not only with other men but with women as well. Interaction with the opposite sex is essential to our growth and self-understanding as creatures made in God’s image as male and female. Karl Barth put it brilliantly: “It is always in relation to their opposite that man and woman are what they are in themselves."
Think about what this means practically. You won’t grow into the kind of person God wants you to become if you don’t have meaningful relationships with those of the opposite sex. You can’t, because the opposite sex isn’t just some strange creature from another planet, but it is God’s gift to you, as your complement, whether you are male or female.
Of course, one of the most obvious ways this interaction between the two sexes takes place is in marriage. But that’s not the only place we interact meaningfully (even if not sexually) with the opposite gender. If you are a man, you interact with the opposite sex all the time—mothers, sisters, friends, employers or employees, teachers, coaches, classmates, neighbors, aunts, cousins. So too, if you are a woman, you encounter men all the time—fathers, brothers, friends, employers or employees, teachers, coaches, classmates, neighbors, uncles, cousins.
Don’t overlook these opportunities to learn about what it means to be who God has called you to be, whether male or female. We should grow to appreciate the distinctive yet complementary strengths males and females bring to every task, whether planning a party, running a business, cheering from the sidelines of a soccer game, or raising a family. We should not only appreciate but be dazzled by these complementary differences.
Excerpt from Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality by Todd Wilson (©2017). Published by Zondervan. Used by permission. Purchase a copy.
Todd Wilson (PhD, Cambridge University) has spent over a decade in pastoral ministry and is currently the Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois. He is the cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians, a ministry dedicated to resourcing pastor theologians. Todd has authored or edited a number of books including Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith and The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. Todd is married to Katie, and they have seven children.