Skip to main content

Five Identity Areas

As the modern Church navigates complex situations, it still grapples with problems of inequality, distrust, blame, control and shame. Yet we know that when Jesus came to earth, died on the cross and rose again, he reconciled us to the Father and left us empowered to live in a restored relationship with Him. So what does that look like?

1. Value & Status

According to Scripture, a man or woman’s value is in the fact that he or she is made in the image of God. We are his image bearers, created to be in intimate relationship with him, and that gives us equal value in God’s eyes. We can also see in Genesis 1 and 2 that there is no difference in status for Adam and Eve. They are both created in his image, and they both enjoy equal status as such (Genesis 1:27).

But our cultures and societies define value and status very differently. In many cultures, men derive their value from what kind of position they hold at their jobs, how much money they earn, what kind of leadership roles they hold in the community, etc. Likewise, women derive their value from their marital status, how many children they have, and how well they can keep a home and raise a family. Often status is based on a person’s income or physical beauty, level of education or family name.

Though we know it’s wrong, even Christians sometimes ascribe to these cultural attitudes and treat each other according to our perceived value and status. Why do we do this?

Questions for reflection:

  • What does my culture and context say about what gives me value? What is my perceived status based on?
  • What does Scripture say about my value?
  • What is the relational fallout from attributing value and status to people based on what culture says rather than what God says?

2. Purpose & Unity

According to Scripture, a man’s or woman’s purpose comes from the fact that God commissioned us as allies. He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and have dominion over the earth, and that it’s not good to be alone (Genesis 1:28; 2:18). There is nothing in these verses to indicate that Adam was to have a particular role and Eve was to have a different role based on their genders. They were both given the same instructions and mandate.

But our cultures and societies view our purpose as men and women very differently. In many cultures, a man’s purpose is to earn money and provide for his family. He is also expected to fill more visible functions in public life and church life. Character traits like assertiveness, boldness, and leadership skills are often considered to be ‘male’ traits. Whereas women are understood to find their main purpose in the home, in raising a family, and in filling more invisible functions in public and church life. Character traits like gentleness, service, and nurturing are often considered to be ‘female’ traits.

There are certainly unique functions that men and women have that their biology makes possible or impossible, but personality, talent, ability and skill are not biological factors. If we believe that God made us all unique and gifted us with a particular set of talents and abilities, why do many of us ascribe to cultural expectations and treat each other according to our perceived gender roles when these were never articulated by God in Scripture?

Questions for reflection:

  • What have I understood my purpose to be? Is any of that based on my gender?
  • Have I ever had expectations placed on me based on my gender rather than my skills or area of gifting?
  • What causes conflict and competition between men and women in my place of work/church/family?
  • What does Scripture say about my purpose? What does it say about unity?
  • What is the relational fallout from competition and disunity?

3. Freedom & Limits

According to Scripture, a man’s or woman’s limits are found in God’s limits. He told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden except for one (Genesis 2:16-17). They both had enormous freedom within the boundary of that one limit, and Adam’s limits were not different to Eve’s – they were the same. Centuries later, Christians aspire to live according to Biblical teaching, and there are a number of limits that God put in place in order for us to live in healthy relationships with each other. However, Godly limits become distorted and harmful when we add to them or reject them completely.

Our cultures and societies often put different limits on men and women according to their gender. In the majority world, women experience much less freedom than their male counterparts. And even in countries where human rights and equality are held in high esteem, women still experience censure for behavior that men have traditionally gotten away with. In public life as well as church life, men’s positions and reputations are often upheld and protected despite poor behavior, while women’s reputations are dragged through the mud.

When God so clearly gave Adam and Eve the same freedom and limitations in the garden, why do we insist on adding limitations, or in some cases, reject them altogether?

Questions for reflection:

  • What kind of limitations does God put on us?
  • Can I think of any examples of how I/we have perhaps added limitations where God didn’t?
  • Any examples of how I/we have rejected limitations altogether?
  • What is the relational fallout from adding to or rejecting God’s limits?

4. Authority & Submission

According to Scripture, men and women are joint-image bearers of God. As such, God gave them joint authority to rule over the earth in submission to Him (Genesis 1:26). There is no indication that God gave Adam the authority to rule over Eve or vice versa, even though there are theologians who have historically interpreted certain passages to mean that because Eve was created after Adam, that is evidence that a man is a woman’s authority.

We certainly see many examples in our own cultures and contexts of this line of thinking. Authority is thought of as a ‘male’ word, and submission is thought of as a ‘female’ word. Men are often more trusted to be leaders and hold positions of authority, and women are often relegated to supporting roles. But is this gender delineation really what God intended from the beginning?

Questions for reflection:

  • According to Genesis 1 and 2, over which aspects of creation did God give Adam and Eve authority? What did they not have authority over?
  • What is the relational fallout from attributing authority to men and submission to women?

5. Innocence & Acceptance

According to Scripture, before they were expelled from the garden, Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). Their innocence came from God who made them pure. Where, then, did shame come from? Genesis 3 shows us how Adam and Eve responded to God confronting them with their sin: Their immediate instinct was to blame the other. And this is how humans have responded to correction ever since: We do everything we can to hide our shame, and we reject anyone who would expose us to shame.

The result is that holy words and ideas are redefined and twisted to mean something God never intended. Words like innocence and acceptance take on a different definition when the Enemy uses them to make us think that we don’t need to experience consequences for our actions, or that we can be the god of our own lives.

Questions for reflection:

  • How did Jesus respond to the woman caught in adultery in Mark 5?
  • What’s the relational fallout from blaming others instead of taking responsibility for our own sin?
  • What would it look like to live without shame?