Play the Man You Are
Will Effeminacy Keep Anyone from Heaven?
Much of our modern sexuality pontificates with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2).
Some teachers can no longer say “boys and girls” in classrooms. In some school districts, young men can go into girls’ locker rooms simply with a note from a parent. Recently, actress Kate Hudson shared her plans to raise her daughter, Rani Rose, with a “genderless approach.” What a sad time to be alive. But not only sad: also dangerous and rebellious.
Into the gender confusion of our day, even razor companies are stepping forward to help groom the next generation into healthy expressions of masculinity. Therefore, Christians, of all people, need to be clear that brutality, passivity, complacency, and effeminacy miss the mark of manhood. Jesus Christ did not domineer, live disinterestedly, or act like a woman — and he is the model of God-honoring masculinity. But the inclusion of effeminacy in that list may prick some sensibilities today.
What’s at Stake?
Some will retort that effeminacy isn’t a problem. Nothing to fight against, nothing to repent of, and nothing that can keep anyone from heaven. The Bible condemns acts of homosexuality, they may acknowledge, but not effeminacy. We need not concern ourselves with separating one’s “gender expression” from his biological sex. We need not tell men they must dress a certain way and not another (Deuteronomy 22:5) or call them to “act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13) — no such thing exists. I believe this all to be gravely mistaken.
As unclear as the distinctions may feel in any given culture, the word of God is surprisingly plain: those who gladly, consistently indulge in effeminacy as a lifestyle are in eternal danger (1 Corinthians 6:9, as we’ll see below). Love will dive headlong into all the sinful aspects of manhood to kill whatever sin Satan has tucked under the veils of cultural acceptance. And not mainly others’ sin but first and foremost one’s own. Much is at stake. Souls are at stake. We must gird up our loins, ask God for wisdom, take his words seriously, and seek discernment and courage together.
I too have had friends who practice homosexuality. I too have a transgender family member. I too know men who struggle with effeminate behavior. I desire for us all to find forgiveness and wholeness in Jesus. But our anti-masculine culture proudly does not. It robes them in rainbow flags and incentivizes men who suppress their God-given sex. And such teaching should find no quarters in the church. The likes of Clement of Alexandria, Philo, Josephus, Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, and Calvin all spoke against it. And in the name of love, we must too.
How Satan Covers Sins
Satan tries to obscure sins by rendering them nearly impossible to define. He smuggles effeminacy into the church by forbidding any specific definition. In the ancient world, effeminacy entailed a moral frailty (acting cowardly or “womanish” in battle), inordinate love for luxury (rendering men delicate and tender), and the sexual deviancy of acting like a woman in one’s demeanor, speech, and gesture. The Bible addresses each, describing men who “become women” on the battlefield (Jeremiah 50:37; Nahum 3:13), go “soft” due to luxury (Matthew 11:7–8), and become sexually deviant (1 Corinthians 6:9). The term effeminacy is not an attack on femininity itself — which is a woman’s glory — but rather on femininity when attached to a male.
But as it pertains to today, Satan whispers confusions into modern ears. If one should give such traits to effeminacy as “lispy sentences, light gestures, soft mannerisms, and flamboyant jokes,” Satan immediately suggests a handful of men who, not having these qualities in the aggregate, have one individually. He lisps, but he isn’t effeminate; he just has a gap in his teeth. He has a softer demeanor, but he isn’t effeminate; he just is introverted and weak in tone. Instead of simply concluding (rightly) that such people aren’t effeminate, we conclude that these traits don’t really characterize effeminacy. We deny the existence of forests by examining each tree individually.
But effeminacy stands as an obvious forest to all honest men and women. The deception became clear to a friend recently when, after he nitpicked each individual trait, I asked plainly, “So you are saying that you cannot tell when a man lives an effeminate lifestyle?” Of course he could.
But how could he know? Was it merely personal preference? Prejudice? Cultural bias? An effeminate sixth sense?
No. He knew, because God has given us three guides: his word, human culture, and a sexual “nature.” God’s word gives us explicit instruction as to what makes a man, husband, father, and son. His word also gives us the clearest picture of mature masculinity: Jesus Christ.
God also gives us a culture to live in, which assigns masculine and feminine to certain amoral things like speech, objects, and behavior. American culture associates pink with women, as it does dresses (contra Scottish culture and William Wallace’s kilt), and expects heterosexual men not to walk down the street holding hands with another man (as heterosexual men often do in other cultures).
Finally, God gives us the compass of nature, or an intrinsic maleness that, weighing Scripture’s edicts and culture’s aesthetics, bids us to maneuver society in such a way as to express masculinity, not femininity. Paul mentions it to the Corinthian church this way: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14). Nature, as John Piper clarifies, “inclines a man to feel repulsed and shameful about wearing culturally defined symbols of womanhood.”
In Corinth, it disgraced a man to wear long hair. Men in the West know not to speak flamboyantly, gesture lightly, or wear lipstick because these exude femininity, not masculinity. But too many of us, out of normalization and compromise, have forgotten how to blush (Jeremiah 6:15). To us, those challenging iniquity are the ones to be ashamed.
The Gay Vibe
Another confusion defining effeminacy consists in its relation to homosexuality. Many have no definition for the one without the other.
On a recent family vacation to Orlando, I witnessed men blatantly, boldly, proudly play the woman in public. What did I observe? They did not commit any sexual acts before me. What I observed was not homosexuality but effeminacy. They were effeminate, sending out what Doug Wilson calls “the gay vibe.” They were living out of step with their nature, and out of step with our cultural expressions of maleness, and denying in their behavior their God-assigned manhood.
So, am I questioning every man with a high voice? Of course not. Such men do not deny their manhood by speaking with the voice God gave them. Am I questioning gentleness? Not in the least; it is a fruit of the Spirit found in all mature godly men. Am I questioning wearing floral shirts and tight jeans? Perhaps. Especially if one has come to faith out of a homosexual lifestyle (praise God!) and struggles with old effeminate habits.
As far as we carry ourselves, we should leave little doubt concerning our sex or sexual orientation. We bow to the wisdom of God, who made us either male or female. For some, this takes more effort and sanctification than for others. We all have our specific battles to fight on the road to glory. For all who remain steadfast, a crown of life awaits.
The Sin of Softness
But for those who give in, this sin will threaten their soul.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 NASB)
Here, Paul uses the word malakoi, literally meaning “soft ones.” In his day, malakoi figuratively meant effeminate. What texts such as the ESV translate as “nor men who practice homosexuality,” others (like the Wycliffe Bible, Tyndale’s, Luther’s, Calvin’s, KJV, and NASB) render more closely as effeminate (or a synonym). The ESV translators render the two Greek terms (arsenokoitai and malakoi) as the active and passive (“soft”) partner in a homosexual act. But even if such “soft ones” did refer to the “passive partner,” they would have been catamites, “effeminate call-boys” who served as temple prostitutes and used their softness to allure men into homosexuality (The New Testament and Homosexuality, 106).
But does Paul here list only homosexual activity? Expositing 1 Corinthians 6:9, Calvin writes, “By effeminate persons I understand those who, although they do not openly abandon themselves to impurity, discover, nevertheless, their unchastity by blandishments of speech, by lightness of gesture and apparel, and other allurements.”
In The Grace of Shame, Tim and Joseph Bayly and Jurgen Von Hagen comment,
The effeminate or soft men sin not only when they play the women in bed, but also when they play the women in the way they live outside the bedroom. Playing the woman is not something the malakoi take on and off before and after intercourse. It is their lifestyle. It is their character, and this sinful character is condemned by both the ancient world and God in his word. . . . Living contrary to the sex God made him bars the effeminate man from the kingdom of God. (39)
In the early church, converts coming out of a homosexual lifestyle did not merely stop sleeping with other men — as if that were the only thing unnatural about their lifestyle — they increasingly left behind their “soft” ways. God washed them, sanctified them, and justified them in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11), and by his Spirit they progressively walked in newness of life that matched their God-given sex. But such cleansing rarely happens when people think themselves clean in their uncleanness.
Sex Governs ‘Gender Expression’
At the heart of the matter, a heart that so many other sexual “isms” of our day share, stands the erroneous belief — spewed today (not insignificantly) by the American Psychological Association — that an individual can divorce one’s sex from his “gender identity” and “gender expression.”
Sex, in this modern chaos, means little more than body parts. Males happen to have male genitalia — but that need not lock them into expressing their sexuality in any particular way. They can “marry” either a man or a woman, and even decide to keep their male members or not. Fluidity is one of Satan’s new favorite words. In this view, man, enthroned as his own maker, chooses who he (or she or they or “ze”) will become.
Our Creator and designer opposes this. He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He assigns our sex and therefore expects us to live in line with his decision (Genesis 5:1–2). Male and female include more than just body parts, but also personhood reflecting the divine image (Genesis 1:27). And Satan, hating this divine image, offers many ways to smear it — from culturally acceptable sins like indomitable adolescence, passivity, apathy, and effeminacy, to increasingly accepted sins like transgenderism, transvestitism, and homosexuality. Many today seek to burst the bonds of God’s sexual fixedness.
From the beginning, God clearly wed sex and sex-expression. Under Moses, Deuteronomy 22:5 expresses a timeless prohibition that stood true long before the old covenant and long after the coming of the new covenant: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” God means, in the strongest terms, for men to dress as men, and represent themselves as men, because he desires no observable confusion between the sex he gave and our expression of it.
In his excellent work on this text (which Vimeo removed from its platform as hate speech), Old Testament scholar Jason DeRouchie comments,
In Deuteronomy 22:5, loving others and God means that people will maintain a gender identity that aligns with their biological sex and will express this gender in a way that never leads to gender confusion in the eyes of others. We should always be able to distinguish boys from girls, and girls from boys. When our biological sex aligns with our gender identity and our gender expression, we express love for both God and our neighbor.
Our neighbor should see us reverently bearing our God-given maleness while recognizing that wearing women’s clothing is a mismatch. Similarly, Calvin comments on this text,
This decree also commends modesty in general, and in it God anticipates the danger, lest women should harden themselves into forgetfulness of modesty, or men should degenerate into effeminacy unworthy of their nature. Garments are not in themselves of so much importance; but as it is disgraceful for men to become effeminate, and also for women to affect manliness in their dress and gestures, propriety and modesty are prescribed, not only for decency’s sake, but lest one kind of liberty should at length lead to something worse.
The principle behind this prohibition in Deuteronomy 22:5 is this: what God has joined together — sex and sex-expression — let no man, association, Fortune 500 company, or liberal denomination tear asunder. We love God and neighbor through distinction, not androgyny.
Honoring God’s Design
God cares about lines drawn between the sexes and that each complements the other in beautiful harmony. Men and women share many Christian virtues. Mature masculinity that bears no resemblance to mature womanhood is not biblical manhood. But distinctions always remain. Why?
Beyond the sobering fact that effeminacy falls under the category of abomination and, if not repented of, threatens entrance into eternal life, DeRouchie gets at the heart when he says,
Gender identity and gender expression is about God’s glory and about maintaining the God-created distinctions on earth that in turn point to the ultimate distinction between God and his bride. Just as husbands and wives in the human household and men and women in the collective household of God bear distinct roles and, by this, uniquely display God’s image, so too the Creator and Lord of all things is rightly magnified in the lives of males and females when our gender identity and gender expression align perfectly with our God-ordained biological sex.
All around us, mountains of God’s glory carved into the landscape of his world are eroding. Homosexuality and egalitarianism flatten distinctions between husbands and wives. Androgyny and effeminacy flatten vital sex expressions between men and women. But God made us distinctly male and female, and gave Eve to Adam (not vice versa), because he already conspired in his eternal plan to give the church to his Son. Our distinct manhood and womanhood, our marriages, and our human nature itself guide us to properly reflect the most precious reality in the universe: God’s glory shining forth in the good news of his Son.