The Core of Femininity

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says all women, whether married or single, are called to display femininity.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Now that doesn’t mean that we have to wear ruffles and pink, okay? It does mean we have to have a feminine heart, to exhibit a distinctively feminine spirit.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, June 28. No one likes being stereotyped. God created you as an individual and has called you to live out biblical femininity in a unique way. Here’s Nancy to help you get to the heart of femininity.

Nancy: Now we come today to a statement, an affirmation in the True Woman Manifesto that addresses women in every season of life. The Manifesto says,

God’s plan for gender is wider than marriage; all women, whether married or single, are to model femininity in your various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.

Every Christian woman, regardless of our season of life is called to glorify God and to reflect Christ to our world and to edify both men and women around us by living out our distinctive femininity. Now that’s a bit of a hard word to say. It’s not an easy word to spell for some.

The word carries with it a lot of baggage today. There are a lot of misperceptions about femininity, a lot of confusion in people’s minds about what that means. In fact, I would venture to say that if we took a poll today and people in this room would be really honest, that even many of you who have come here for a Revive Our Hearts radio recording session might say that that word, femininity, conjures up negative thoughts in your mind. Now, not every woman would say that, but I bet some would. Negative connotations of what femininity is.

I sometimes in preparation for teaching sessions will get on a conference call or together with a group of women from different seasons of life just to pick their brains and to get input and insights about different things we’re going to be talking about. So I had a conference call a couple of weeks ago for this section of the Manifesto that we’re teaching right now. When this thing came up about femininity, it’s interesting how the opinions started to fly.

But it was interesting to hear the things they were honest about in terms of their past or present perception of femininity. One younger woman, still in her late 20s, said, “That word just has a negative connotation.” She said, “In my flesh when I hear that word I think weak; walk all over me; it’s okay, I’m nothing.”

And then she said, “When I knew we were going to be talking about this, I started asking myself what is femininity? I don’t have a clue what it is,” she said. And here’s a woman who is serving the Lord in a ministry. Now, she does have a clue what it is, but she’s realized that it’s a tough thing to really understand and there is some negative baggage that she has associated with this term.

There’s some today who define femininity in terms of a specific look, certain clothing or hairstyles, or specific activities. It’s interesting, when we touch on the issue of femininity on our teenage girls' blog, Lies Young Women Believe, oh, do the comments start to fly. These girls have opinions! If you want an education about what teenage girls are thinking, from Christian homes most of them, go on to that blog.

One girl commented on that blog, and she said,

When I was little, I think I beat up every guy at my school. LOL [laugh out loud]. So basically I’m just not that feminine. I don’t collect hundreds of lipstick colors. I think I have two. I don’t look through Southern Living décor books. I look through Sports Illustrated instead. I, like, only go to the mall maybe three times a year. I’m not trying to be manly or a guy (and I haven’t beat up any guys for a few years now, LOL). But I’m just not that feminine.

Now she has reduced femininity, as have a lot of us subconsciously perhaps, to things you do, certain activities, certain ways of looking or dressing, or certain demographics—married, mother. Are these things that define our femininity? It would be a mistake to say that femininity has nothing to do with marriage or motherhood or with the way that women dress or appear or the activities they enjoy, but these things are not the essence of what it means to be a woman.

They are simply expressions of what is in our hearts. And some of those expressions may look different for different women in different seasons of life, in different eras, and in different cultures that may look different. If you make these things—your marital status, how many children you do or don’t have, your wardrobe, your activities—if you make those things the essence of femininity, you can totally miss the real heart of the matter.

As someone said on our conference call a couple weeks ago, "You can dress like a church lady but have the heart of a prostitute." Now, I will confess that this session on femininity is the most difficult one for me that I have tackled thus far in the True Woman Manifesto, not because I don’t like the subject, not because I don’t care about it, but because trying to really define what is the essence of femininity I found was much harder than I would have anticipated.

I found myself grappling with questions. What is cultural? What is biblical? I am just going to teach this session based on the insights the Lord has given me to this point. If I were to teach this a year from now or ten years from now, I’m sure there are additional insights that the Lord would give to me because I’m growing in my understanding of the essence of my womanhood.

Elisabeth Elliot said, “In order to learn what it means to be a woman, we must start with the One who made her.” And she’s absolutely right. The Designer and Architect of life is the One we need to look to to help us understand who we are and how we’re wired, and what that means, and how we are the same as men and how we are different from men.

Scripture, thankfully, reveals God’s original pattern for male and female. Now it doesn’t fill in all the details, and some of us are list makers. That’s what we want. But it does give us a sketch, a picture that God’s Holy Spirit will help make application to our lives as to what this looks like for us.

But let me again just go back to the book of Genesis—Genesis 1 and 2. That’s where so much of this started—male and female—and it helps us to get a grasp of what it means to be a woman. Genesis 1, verse 27, we’ve talked about this verse in this series.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

So we see that from the outset male and female are distinct. They are not interchangeable parts. Together they were created to reflect what God is like. Man and woman together in their complementary relationships represent the image of God in a way that neither male nor female can fully do alone.

Now, we need to be careful in saying that because it doesn’t mean that as a woman you cannot reflect the image of God or that you are not fully human or you are not complete because God may not give you a husband. But God created male and female together to reflect His image in a way that cannot be done as magnificently if there were just male or just female.

In Genesis 2 we have a little bit more detailed account of the creation of male and female. Let me just read it to you. It’s so familiar and the problem is some of us have been around this stuff too long and we start to get glazed eyes when we look at these familiar passages. We need the wonder of what these Scriptures say to us and how they speak to us in our season of life.

Genesis 2, verse 18:

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

Now that helper fit for him is made by God for a man who is not complete by himself. That says a whole lot about what it means to be a woman. Our femininity—so much of it is found in that concept of why God made the woman in the first place. Verse 19:

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was it’s name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

So the LORD God [I think it’s after Adam realized there is not anyone on this planet who corresponds to me. After he realized that, that not one of these animals would do, God] caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. [So different from the way God created other living creatures.]And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man (verses 19-22).

What an incredible picture this is. The first woman fashioned by God. Now for starters, that’s breathtaking, that we were made by God. And the way God designed us is best. It’s good. It’s holy. It’s beautiful. It’s sacred. God designed us. He made us.

The first woman was fashioned by God for the man. She was designed to be a helper fit for him, suitable for him, corresponding to him, complementing him. Again, we’ve done whole series on Revive Our Hearts on different aspects of this True Woman Manifesto, so I’m just picking on highlights of each of these points in this series. You can go back to our archives and get a lot more teaching on each of these points.

She was fashioned by God for the man. She was made from the man, not out of the ground or the dust as the man and the animals were, but out of Adam’s very bone. Bone of his bone. Flesh of his flesh. She was made for the man. She was made from the man, and she was given by God to the man. Given by God to the man.

And when the man received that gift, he had a celebration. He was thrilled. He was effusive. You can’t tell that in the English translation here, but you get just a sense.

Then the man said, “This at last [at last what I have needed] is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man (verse 23).

Now by naming the woman, Adam was taking responsibility to be her husband, to protect her, to care for her, to provide for her. And in verse 23 we have a marvelous play on words that you can tell best in the Hebrew language. “She shall be called Woman,” the Hebrew word Ishsha, “because she was taken out of Man,” the Hebrew word Ish.

These two Hebrew words sound almost identical, but their meanings are different and they reflect the complementary relationship between the woman and the man. Ish, the word for man, comes from a root that means "strength." You add a feminine ending to the word Ish and you get Ishsha, almost identical sounding word. That word comes from a root that means "soft." Ish for man comes from a word that means strength. Ishsha, the word for woman, comes from a word that means soft.

Mary Kassian is one of the bloggers on the True Woman blog, a dear friend, an incredible intellect. She’s a theologian. She’s a scholar, and she has provided such a service to the body of Christ with many of the things that she has written, including her newer book, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild. If you don’t have that book, you want to get a hold of that.

She has written this about that difference between Ish and Ishsha, strength and soft. She says, “The implication becomes clearer when we observe the biblical meaning of a man’s 'strength.'" She gives several Scripture references where it speaks of a man’s strength. Then she draws this conclusion from those Scriptures.

Strength refers to a man’s manhood, his potency, virility, and procreative power. By contrast, a woman’s "softness" has to do with her pregnability, penetrability, and vulnerability (in a very positive sense).

Another writer, Stu Weber, has said it this way.

The ancient Hebrew word for man is Ish, [which he says, relates to the word] "piercer." The term for a woman is Ishsha, "pierced one." While the anatomical or sexual elements are clear, the force of the words is much larger in scope.

Biology, physiology bears this out. One is the initiator. One is the receiver. But he says the meaning here is far more significant than the obvious physical. He says,

The physical is a parable of the spiritual. At his core, a man is an initiator—a piercer, one who penetrates, moves forward, advances toward the horizon, leads. At the core of masculinity is initiation—the provision of direction, security, stability, and connection.1

Now if that’s true and I believe that it is; there are many other parts of Scripture that would bear this out. If at the core of masculinity is initiation, then at the core of femininity is responsiveness, receptivity.

Now when I talk about all this, we need to remember that we are dealing with a mystery. That’s what Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 5, that our human sexuality, manhood, womanhood, marriage, that’s all a mystery that represents the even deeper, more profound mystery of the relationship of Christ with His Church. There’s no way to fully fathom or grasp the significance or the meaning of manhood or womanhood any more than we can fully grasp the mystery, the significance of Christ’s relationship with His Church.

There is a danger of trying to reduce our manhood, our womanhood to a set of lists, to a set of bullet points. This is feminine, this is masculine. But in spite of the fact that we don’t want to reduce it to a set of lists, we still need to recognize it’s importance and to remember that all women, whether married or single, are to model femininity—distinctive womanhood—in their various relationships by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.

I think when I say those things you can picture some of the opposite of those characteristics. A woman who is using her body, her feminine wiles, to lure in men. That’s not distinctively feminine. Now that may be the world’s view of femininity but that is not a biblical type of femininity.

Aggressive women have this attitude. They’re in your face. There’s a harshness, a brazenness, a hardness in so many women today, and I look at this and I sense it, and you know what I’m talking about, and you feel she’s missing so much of what God created her to do and to be. Women who are controlling, who are manipulative, who are stubborn. This is the opposite of this modest, responsive femininity, this gentleness of spirit.

Now that doesn’t mean that we have to wear ruffles and pink, okay? It does mean we have to have a feminine heart, to exhibit a distinctively feminine spirit. It does not mean that we have to have a timid personality, to be sedate, to be a wallflower type of person. In fact, to the contrary, we are called to be bold, courageous, women of faith.

But there’s a courageous femininity that is distinct from courageous masculinity. It looks different. It feels different. You may not be able to explain it fully, and I’ve struggled to explain it myself. But you know it when you see it. You know it when you experience it or its opposite.

This femininity doesn’t mean that we never speak. It does mean that we say the right thing at the right time in the right way. It’s distinctively fulfilling what God has made us to be as women that is different from men.

Now I realize that it is a fallen world and there are a lot of women today who have never married, are widowed, divorced, single moms, and they’re forced to step into some of those roles of provider, protector for themselves and their children. Women in this room who are carrying those responsibilities. But let me say you can do those things and still have a feminine spirit.

Unfortunately for most of us, there are very few positive role models today when it comes to the matter of femininity. In fact, as you look around in our culture, you’re hard pressed to point to really great models of womanhood. We have quite the opposite in so many women who are well known. Some of you are raising daughters, you’ve got teenage daughters, daughters in their 20s and they’re looking to these icons of the world and that’s what they’re basing their understanding of womanhood on, and it’s taking them in all kinds of wrong directions, unhealthy directions.

I want to encourage you to look to the Scripture rather than to culture for your role models. That’s something that I have done over the years that has been a huge help. My flesh as much as anybody else’s needs to be sanctified when it comes to living out my biblical womanhood. There is a lot in me, in my flesh, that does not represent Christ-like, biblical femininity.

So I go to women of the Scripture, and I’m helped to see their lives. Sometimes by their negative role models. Who comes to mind? Jezebel. Not someone you want to follow. But you look at the traits in her life and you realize there’s a Jezebel in all of us. But thank God, there’s some wonderful, positive role models in the Scripture and some women who were some of both.

I think of Sarah. There are a lot of positive things to emulate about her, some not so positive things. Miriam. We’ve done whole series on some of these women on Revive Our Hearts. A lot of positive things to emulate about Miriam, some not so positive things. Other women: Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, Elizabeth, Dorcas, and Lydia. As you study the lives of these women, you see how did God use them, how did they glorify God, how were they distinctively womanly? It gives us some positive role models and some help from their examples.

Now why does this all matter? Does it all really matter? Is the loss of femininity in our culture such a serious thing? There are a lot of other truths we could focus on. We do talk about a lot of other things on Revive Our Hearts. But is it really important to keep coming back to this one point? Biblical womanhood. Femininity.

Let me just give you two quick reasons why it does matter a lot. Number one, it matters because what God made is good. It’s beautiful. It’s best and it brings blessing to those who align their lives with it. When we reject God’s pattern, God’s plan for our lives, as women or as men, we experience pain and consequences. So it’s the way to fullness. It’s the way to blessing. It’s the way to life, to live out our womanhood as women of God.

Number two, it matters supremely because it is part of a bigger picture. Our womanhood, manhood, masculinity, femininity and how we interact with each other and how we complement each other tells an incredible story. Our manhood and womanhood, male, female. It’s the vehicle that God has chosen to reflect His image and to display His glory and to show the world His great redemptive plan.

Male and female. It’s so much bigger than gender. It’s a picture that God has designed to portray the gospel. As men reflect, we read this again in Ephesians 5, the sacrificial, covenant-keeping love of Christ who laid down His life for His Bride. As women reflect the responsiveness of Christ to her Lord to His salvation, as we reflect with men and women together the roles within the Trinity.

Again, we’ve done whole series that talk about these things, but just to stay here. This is a lot at stake. There’s a bigger picture here. The picture that God has designed of manhood and womanhood to display the gospel for the fame of His Name so that the world may praise Him, may rejoice in Him, may turn to Christ, may love Him, may pursue Him and may understand His incredible covenant-keeping love and redemptive plan. That’s the biggest reason that I want to be and I want you to be a true woman of God. It really does matter.

Leslie: When you embrace biblical womanhood, the purpose isn’t to be fulfilled or to forward a social program or fit a stereotype. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been taking us to the heart of this issue. Will you embrace God’s calling on your life to show a picture of the gospel?

Thousands of women are coming together to learn how to do that more effectively. At a True Woman conference you’ll study God’s Word alongside others hungry to know God’s call on their lives. The speakers have a passion not just for telling funny stories or amusing a crowd. They want you to know God’s Word and God’s truth. Those speakers, like Nancy, Joni Eareckson Tada, Kay Arthur, Janet Parshall, Karen Loritts and many others will help you explore the Scriptures and learn to be God’s true woman in our day.

Would you get more information on the True Woman conferences coming to Indianapolis in September or Fort Worth in October? Just get the details on the speaker lineup at each location and make your plans to take part in an event that will send you home a different woman. The details are at You can also call our special True Woman number at 877-966-2608.

Here’s some sobering news. Everyone is going to go through suffering in this life. The good news is that your suffering can serve an important purpose. Learn to find the meaning in suffering when Nancy’s back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

1 Stu Weber. Tender Warrior: God's Intention for a Man. p. 45.

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