Renewing Women

CBMW National Conference

Louisville, KY

I have a bias toward thinking that men are more evil, on average, than women. My bias is informed by the fact that 90% of the murders in America are committed buy men; 98% of the sexual assaults are committed by men; 93% of the armed burglaries are committed by men; and 88% of the simple assaults are committed by men. It seems reasonable, then, to look at those facts, and think: Men, in general, are worse sinners than women. They certainly commit more violent sins.

My Bias About Women

So, when I come to the Bible I have this bias that threatens to control my interpretation of what the Bible really teaches about the spiritual condition of women apart from the work of Christ. Part of this bias is that I have a built-in aversion to speaking of women as evil. Partly, this is statistical, I suppose—women don’t do most of the ghastly evil things in the world. Partly, it’s because my mother was a woman and my wife is a woman and my daughter is a woman, and the association of the “evil” with them sticks in my throat. And partly it’s because of I think of masculinity as more tough, and hard-hitting, and physically aggressive, and women as more tender, and gentle, and nurturing; and those traits tend to heal from evil, not do evil—so it would seem.

So I come to the Bible with this bias, and what I find is that before the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and gives us spiritual life and spiritual sight and faith, so that in Christ we are forgiven and justified and reconciled to God—before the Holy Spirit does that supernatural work for us—we are all in a dreadful condition. We, meaning every human being on this planet, every ethnicity, every age group, from conception to death, whether religious or irreligious, moral or immoral, male or female, no exceptions. We are all in a dreadful condition apart from Christ.

What’s Wrong With Women

For example, the Bible says we are all—men and women, and let me just force myself here to say women, lest my bias create a kind of lesser female depravity because it may be softer, gentler, kinder—before faith in Christ and union with Christ,

  • women were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1);
  • women “loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19);
  • women “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3);
  • women “were not able to understand spiritual things” (1 Corinthians 2:14);
  • women “were not able to submit to God’s law” (Romans 8:7);
  • women “were slaves of sin” (Romans 6:17);
  • women “were not righteous and did no true good” (Romans 3:10),
  • “but always suppressed the truth of God” (Romans 1:18)
  • “and only did evil continually” (Genesis 6:5),
  • “because whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23);
  • “and without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6);
  • women “were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

And so my bias is blown to smithereens by the Bible. Women and men are thoroughly depraved and alienated from God, apart from the saving work of Christ, the hearing of the gospel, and the work of Holy Spirit who applies it.

What does this mean?

Dead Does Not Have Degrees

First, it means that the proposal of greater depravity in men, and lesser depravity in women does not account for the statistical differences in crime between men and women. There is no greater depravity in men and lesser depravity in women, when it comes to the root corruption of the human heart. There is no spiritual deader than dead. If you’re dead, you’re dead. And dead does not have degrees. Dying has degrees, but not dead. “None is righteous,” (Romans 3:10) does not mean: “But a few women are.”

Paul explains how this can be when he says, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Where there is no faith in Christ, even our so-called virtues are displeasing to God.

St Augustine expressed Paul’s radical view of human depravity when he said,

Is he who keeps back a piece of ground from the purchaser, and gives it to a man who has no right to it, unjust, while he who keeps back himself from God who made him, and serves wicked spirits, is just? (City of God, 19.21). [Where God is not properly acknowledged, seeming virtues are marred by the pride that declares its independence from God (cf. 14.3); they] are therefore to be reckoned vices rather than virtues (19:25).

“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore, before Christ comes into our lives with saving power, all women and men only sin. We displease God in everything we do. And our moral corruption—our deep rebellion against God—that keeps us from seeing the glory of Christ, and keeps us craving the darkness of self-centeredness, is intractable. We cannot heal ourselves. Therefore, my bias that I bring to the Bible is wrong. The statistics of man’s greater violence, and woman’s greater nurturing, is not to be explained by women’s lesser depravity.

What then?

What Depravity Does With Our Differences

Our second inference, then, is that the explanation lies elsewhere, namely, that depravity is given form by nature and, in the process, nature is deformed by depravity. Let me try to explain this double inference.

By “nature” I mean, in this case, female nature and male nature. Paul speaks of nature this way in Romans 1:26 where he says, “Women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.” “Nature” is what we are by virtue of creation, not what we are by virtue of depravity. Depravity does not create female nature or male nature. God created female nature and male nature. The fall does not make men and women different by nature, God made them different.

But our depravity is given form by nature, and, in the process, nature is deformed by depravity. When I say depravity is given form by nature, I mean, for example, that in men depravity may take some of its form from male nature. There are aspects of male nature, created by God for good, which, when hijacked by depravity become the form of depravity—violent and cruel. Similarly there are aspects in female nature which, when hijacked by depravity, become the form of depravity—manipulative, scheming, doting. Or, even more dramatically, depravity may so distort male or female nature as if to exchange one for the other. And as Paul shows in Romans 1, God can restrain this deformation of maleness and femaleness, or he can hand people over to it.

So the point is that the criminal statistics I mentioned earlier are not owing to women’s lesser depravity and men’s greater depravity. They are owing to the fact that male and female natures are different, and that depravity takes on some of the peculiar forms of those differences and in so doing deforms male and female nature.

Real Rescue and Renewal

The third inference we draw, therefore, is that conversion to Christ, redemption through the gospel, renewal by the Holy Spirit is not the creation or nullification of female nature. Rather, the new creation in Christ is the rescue of female nature from all its deformations caused by depravity. But it’s more than the rescue of the original.

Union with Christ is far more than the recovery of pristine, pre-fall femaleness. In breaking the power of depravity by crucifying it in Christ, God did more than rescue the original female nature, he also made woman a participant in the very thing that she and the man had been foreshadowing for thousands of years, namely the union of Christ with his bride.

Now in Christ the redeemed woman says: “I was not made to be merely a natural woman. I was made to be part of a supernatural woman. I am a woman brought into being not only by creation, but by crucifixion and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I am a woman who draws her everlasting identity not from union with any mortal man, but by union with the God-Man. I am caught up into the bride in whom I find the fullness of what it meant from the beginning to be, by nature, a woman, and then, wonder of wonders, I find that this nature, without being destroyed, is being transposed every day from shadow to reality by union with Christ.” That’s what the redeemed woman says.

And now in Christ the natural tenderness, and gentleness, and nurturing of the created female nature is not only set free from all its deformations of manipulation and scheming and doting and reversal, and from all its associations with spiritual and intellectual and emotional weakness, but even more—far more—this created female nature is now infused by the Spirit and the power of the omnipotent Christ, so that this tenderness and this gentleness and this nurturing become the invincible, fearless, supportive hands of Christ himself.