It’s human nature to want to be strong.
To be able to do it on your own. To fix it yourself. To not make mistakes, or at least not admit to them.
No one wants to be wrong. No one wants to be weak. No one wants to look foolish. No one wants to admit their mistakes, much less rejoice in them.
So it’s understandable, in a way, that we humans strive to overcome the weakness. To set themselves apart from the world and its weaknesses. To rise above. To never be the butt of a joke.
Even Christians get caught up in the pursuit of strength and prowess. We often put a godly spin on this pursuit, saying we don’t want to shame God by admitting our besetting mistakes, our weaknesses in the flesh, or settling for an average life of underwhelming health or wealth.
And while there is nothing wrong with “doing our best”, nothing at all wrong with striving to provide for our families financially or maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s curious that we think intelligence, strength, and ability are what make God proud.
What I say next won’t be popular, but I’m going to say it.
You might not see anything wrong with this. But I wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t witnessed this misconception in several (most often reformed) churches, more than a few believing (or those claiming to believe) individuals, and, too often, myself. And I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t think that we all need to take a step back and re-evaluate our claim to conversion if we catch ourselves living consistently with this attitude.
Now, let me explain why this attitude is horribly wrong and why we, as biblical Christians, need to take on the opposite view.
1. Striving to maintain an outward image of strength, intelligence, and general appeal according to the standards of the world is not setting ourselves apart, or, in other words, being holy as God is holy. If all we do is work to be successful and “looked up to”, then we have completely missed the point, because…
2. The Bible clearly tells us that we are not strong enough or intelligent enough or capable enough (Eph 2:8-9). We aren’t. We, in our natural flesh, have no desire to be Christians. We have no intention of living for God. And…
3. That even as Christians, after God has done the work in us and we are His workmanship, we still fall daily to sin (Romans 7:21-25). Sometimes it’s the obvious sin that we blush about during our quiet times with God. Often it’s the stealthy sin that only God sees. If our hearts are so fickle, how can we possibly boast in our talent for not being weak or stupid or slow? And if we are truly Christians, why would we want to be anything but weak and stupid and slow? Because…
4. Thankfully, God works through the weak, the foolish, the butts of all the jokes. The people that the world scorns, the world derides, the world pities — these are the people through whom the God of heaven and earth moves and wills. I know that, if I seem to be failing miserably at life, God is more present than ever and is demonstrating His glory and grace through my weaknesses and my mistakes (1 Cor. 1:18-31). Once we understand this, we’ll realize that…
5. We actually aren’t superior to others, to whomever we view ourselves as superior. Because, let’s admit it, with the idea that strength comes from ourselves comes the idea that we are stronger than those who are not like us. Whether it be non-reformed Christians, whether it be pagans, whether it be prostitutes or recovering addicts. Whether it be the elderly who can’t quite remember as much as you can, whether it be the person who sacrifices their own agenda for yours, whether it be a child with Down Syndrome, or the parents of the child with Down Syndrome. Whether it be the person who lives in the trailer park or the person who lives in a mini-mansion. Whether it be the people who don’t understand theology as much as you and can’t join the discussions as easily as you, or the people who might not have read the Bible from front to back in a year like you. Whoever you see yourself superior to, if you are a true Christian, you will soon realize that you aren’t. Honestly, I think that once we realize this, we’ll then realize that…
6. God calls all kinds, that the body of Christ needs all its members, and who are we to say who can be a part of that body and who can’t? (Galatians 5:13-15, 25-26). God didn’t have to call me or you or John Piper or R.C. Sproul. If you remember, we had nothing to offer. We had no bribe to bring to the table of salvation. Instead of pointing out the pinkie toe and claiming its inferiority and insignificance, we should prostrate ourselves before the throne and thank Him that we’re even members of His body. This sense of humility will open the doors for a deeper, truer, and more loving Christian community.
The view of the weak, failing Christian is not the view often painted from the pulpit. No human likes to see themselves in that light, to see themselves in their true state. But it is our true state.
I am not a Christian because I am strong-willed, witty, good-humored, physically active, financially secure, or talented in specific things.
Nope. I am weak in the war against the flesh, tempted to give into anger or discontent, and all too spiritually inactive. I have nothing to recommend me, nothing in myself to offer.
I am a Christian because Christ saves me, Christ makes me strong, Christ directs my talents, Christ activates my desire for God and holiness.
Let us boast in our weaknesses, because it is in our weakness that God’s strength and grace are magnified.
Verses quoted above:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
“I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”
Galatians 5:13-15, 25-26