Hana, a listener, writes in with a really good question: “Hello Pastor John! I have a Muslim friend and I aim for their salvation in this friendship, but I never share my weaknesses (moral weaknesses, bad habits, even my own sin struggles). I refrain out of fear that, if I did share those things, this friend would see me and Christ in a bad light. My thought is, why should I talk about my weaknesses to an unbeliever, since they can’t help anyway? Or if I should, what is the goal and hope for telling this person my weaknesses? Can you help me think through this?”
Hannah says that she avoids sharing her weaknesses with her Muslim friend or other unbelievers out of fear that they will see her in Christ in a bad light. That is a real, appropriate, biblical concern, because the Bible repeatedly calls us to let our light shine that people might see our good deeds and give glory to our Father (see Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). So it is not wrong to want unbelievers to see us as doers of good rather than moral failures.
But — there is always a but — but alongside that concern there needs to be put another concern; namely, communicating a false perfectionism and a view of the gospel that fails to revel in the promise of ongoing forgiveness of sins and the justification of the un godly. So Hannah needs to steer a course between being indifferent to the demonstration of God’s power, like that doesn’t matter on the one hand, and the communication of a gospel-minimizing perfectionism on the other hand.
So I would mention maybe four reasons why Hannah should wisely and humbly share with unbelievers, including her Muslim friend, her own struggles: struggles to trust, struggles to follow, struggles to obey Jesus and live a life consistent with her mercies and his promises and his word.
So first, she should do this because the apostle Paul did it. He very openly said in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that a thorn was given to him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from becoming conceited. He writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it would leave me. But he said” — God said, Jesus said — “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9). That is why I thought of this passage: “Weakness,” because she is worried about sharing weakness. And here is Paul making much of his weakness for the sake of the glory of Christ. So she needs to stir that into her thinking.
And in Romans 7 at the end — and yes, I do believe Romans 7 is Christian experience in that debate — “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And then he exults, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And then he goes back down. “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh,” — in other words, when my flesh gets the upper hand — “I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24–25). And he just so boldly lets it hang out.
So Paul’s example should set us free to speak of our brokenness and weakness and, I think, even our struggle with sins, always being sensitive to what is appropriate in every given situation. So that is the first reason.
Second, I think we should be willing to share our weaknesses with unbelievers lest we give the impression of a false view of what it means to be converted to Christ and what it means to be sanctified. John says in 1 John 1:8–10, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves” — present tense — “and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Now many unbelievers — this has been my experience over the years — many unbelievers are kept back from serious consideration of Christianity because they believe that the standard of behavior that would be expected of them is inconceivable. On the one hand, they don’t know anything about the power of the Holy Spirit and on the other hand, they may have serious misconceptions about perfection and about the people that are Christians and what they are like. And Hannah could help them have a clear view of conversion and of the Christian life if she spoke about it in a realistic way in relationship to the Holy Spirit.
Third, we should be willing to speak about our weaknesses and struggles because this will give hope to unbelievers that Christians are real people with real struggles rather than a kind of superior moral race which, of course, they know we are not anyway.
And lastly, fourth, we should be willing to share our weaknesses even with unbelievers in order to magnify the extraordinary grace and patience of God in Christ. So Paul did this in 1 Timothy 1:16. He said, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ, might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” So the point here is that the true nature of the gospel, the true nature of grace and mercy in Christ, are highlighted when we describe to unbelievers how precious forgiveness is to us and how precious God’s patience is to us when we are struggling to obey, even after we become Christians.
So I would conclude that Hannah should think through not just which weaknesses should be mentioned, but should also think through why Christ is precious to her in view of her weaknesses. In other words, talking about her weaknesses is not the point. Talking about Christ and his patience and his grace and his value and preciousness in relationship to her weaknesses: That is the point. It is a way of talking about Christ. So maybe she should just adjust the category question. Not just, Should I talk about my weaknesses, but Should I talk about the glories of Christ in relationship to my weaknesses?
So for those four reasons, at least, I would encourage Hannah and all of us to make the truth about our lives a means of celebrating the greatness of Christ.