Remember the commercials Brett Favre did for Sears? I loved them. I especially liked the one that came out just after the new NFL season began. Brett Favre was trying to decide which television to purchase. Just as he (finally) picks one and says, with certainty, “I’ll take this one!” he changes his mind, saying, “I don’t know…” Why do I like it? Because he is putting on display his indecisive personality which, in popular NFL culture, was very frustrating. He always waffled. He could never decide whether he was staying in the NFL or retiring. What he does in these commercials is make fun of himself. He knows the culture is frustrated with his waffling. But instead of getting defensive, giving reasons for his waffling, and trying to saving face, he becomes transparent. He lets people know that he is just like them. He can’t make up his mind. What courage it takes to become so three dimensional!

I teach a Principles of Biblical Teaching course. One of the things I tell my students is to be careful not to always set themselves up as the hero. When giving an illustration on how a certain principle should be carried out, use personal stories sparingly if you are the one who triumphs. Not only does it start to sound arrogant, but the bridge between you and your students/congregation becomes weakened. To overcome this, I tell my students that more often than not, when they are illustrating failure, they should use themselves as examples. This not only adds dimension to their character, it also lets people know they are real. Don’t be like the old preacher who told his congregation, “I am going to preach today on humility, and may I say that it is the best sermon I have ever read.”

One of the most beloved passages in all the Bible is Romans 7:14-25. These verses show Paul letting his own failures shine through. Listen to this along with my parenthetical insertions:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. [Me too. Now you have my attention, Paul.] 15 For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. [Wow! I can’t believe you admitted that. In truth though, I thought I was the only one.] . . . 19 For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. [Now you have my respect. I feel more comfortable admitting my own shortcomings. Thank you, Paul.] 24 Wretched man that I am! [Amen.]  (Rom 7:14-24)

What a wonderfully transparent passage this is! Why do we love it so? We love it precisely because we can so easily identify with it.

The entire Bible is filled with the failures of so many. The Bible is the most transparent book I have ever read. If this is true, why do we feel such a burden to dress ourselves up so nicely and hide our sin? Adam ate the apple. Noah got drunk. Abraham gave his wife to a national leader for self-preservation. Lot found fellowship with debauchery and loved it. David took another man’s wife, and subsequently killed him to hide his initial sin. Peter denied that he even knew Christ. John, at the very end o f the story, when he should have known better, fell down and worshiped an angel. Transparency at its best!

Reasons we are scared of transparency:

Fear of rejection: “Its all about me. If I let others know about my struggles and failures, what will they think about me?  They will reject me and all that I say.”

But it is not about you. It is about God. We already know you have issues. You are a sinner just like us. We are not going to reject you for exposing what we already know. In fact, you will gain our respect and have our ear more so than if you were not transparent. We don’t really trust people who don’t show some cracks here and there.

It might sterilize my message. “I will be seen as a hypocrite. If I let people know about this problem, then I won’t be able to preach, teach, or encourage its opposite with conviction.”

This evidences a very misguided philosophy of preaching. When you preach, you are first preaching God’s word, not yours. Of course you are struggling with these issues. Of course this passage is speaking to you. If you are not willing to apply the message to your own life and let it convict you, then you are a hypocrite. But you are not one just because you struggle with sin. As far as I can tell, this was one of David’s most chronic failings. He fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba.  Later, he failed to confront Absalom when he fell into a similar sin.

I don’t struggle with sin that much. “I don’t really think that I am that bad. In fact, I am a pretty good chap. I have never committed adultery. I have never murdered. I don’t curse. I even eat right, for goodness sake. Therefore, I have every right to preach and teach others to avoid sin. And I don’t have any illustrations of my own failure.”

You are in denial. You have yet to realize how sinful you really are. You have not grasped how deep sin really is. Normally, denial of this sort  comes from more legalistic types who have a veneer of righteousness, since they portray themselves as following the letter of the law. This type of person needs to experience brokeness. Until you can sincerely say, “Have mercy on me, the sinner,” I don’t think you are qualified to preach the word of God. Period.

Transparency makes light of sin. “Wearing your failure on your sleeve only encourages people to follow in the same failure. ‘Well, so-and-so struggles with this sin; therefore, it must not be that bad.’ That is the reaction you will get. Sin is too serious to be flippant about it. If we give people this excuse, how will we be able to curb their appetite for sin?”

You know what? Sometimes, the root problem is that people with this attitude are the ones who don’t like Paul’s transparency. In fact, for this very reason, many want to say that Paul, in Romans 7, is speaking of his former state of sin, before he was a follower of Christ. In my opinion, that view torches the passage and Paul’s argument. Paul is being transparent. He is telling us that he often does the very thing he hates. The solution is revealed in chapter 8, but that is not what this post is about. Your job is not to manipulate the truth, or put on a veneer of righteousness in order to keep people from sinning. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to preach the truth, and this requires our own transparency.

Transparency need not make light of sin, either. So long as you are revealing your struggle with the sin, not your complacency toward it, you will encourage people to enter into the same struggle.

Where transparency goes sour:

Be warned. There are many ways that transparency can go wrong.

Fake transparency. I have seen fake transparency. It is not pretty. It’s not pretty at all. In these situations, all people want to do is identify with others. Therefore, they not only use themselves as the bad illustration all the time, but they overdress it. They act like they are mad at God so their audience feels better. They pretend to struggle with something rather than really struggle with it. They feign ignorance about a subject with which they are actually very familiar. They attempt to identify with issues with which they don’t actually have any experience.  As a result, they come across as sloppy and weak. Because I value transparency so much, I often have to step back and see if this is what I am doing. This is not what transparency is all about.

Too much transparency. Sometimes, people get a taste of the reward of transparency, and then go overboard. There is a balance here. Wisdom, discernment, and tact are all very important. There are certain things you reveal in private and certain things you can reveal in public. I try to be transparent on this blog and in my teaching. However, there are things that I don’t talk about with regard to my family life. I am sure that talking about these things more would help a lot of people. However, there is trust with those closest to us that we should not breach. I remember one occasion when I went too far and threw my dad under the bus. He let me know that I crossed a line; I have been more careful since then.

Here is the key: Don’t throw up all over people just for the sake of identity. Pray about what to reveal. Despite the spirit of this post, some things are better left unsaid in many contexts.

Crass transparency. Refine what you say. Be delicate. Be somewhat timid in the way you reveal yourself. Be sensitive to the audience. There is a preacher near me that does not follow this principle at all. He talks about sex, covering details that are better left unsaid. This is not transparency, but a tactless attempt to be current with the insensitivity of the world concerning certain things.

Don’t forget that we do need heroes. We need those people who have triumphed. We need illustrations of success just as much as failure. I don’t advocate that you should always hide your strengths. I have seen people who try so hard to identify with others that they shroud their own strengths. Being transparent does not mean you have to look like a dope in everything. People will look up to you for both your strengths and your weaknesses. People will see your strengths eventually. You don’t have to put them on display, but you don’t need to shroud them in shame either.

If there is anything that politics (especially as of late) should tell us, it is that people don’t like a coverup. People are more forgiving than you think. Being real is risky business. But we need to show people our cracks. That is all I am saying. Transparency is something that God has already displayed in the Scriptures. He did not hide human failure. There is no reason for us to do that either. Be transparent, but do so with great wisdom. Let all of us take the cue from Brett Favre and not take ourselves too seriously.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    31 replies to "Showing People Your Cracks"

    • Jim Korth

      But then the potter had an idea. He placed a candle inside the pot, lit its light, and returned it to the store window. The light from the candle came streaming out through the cracks and gaps making beautiful patterns. Now passersby stopped and admire an even more wonderful sight. The cracked pot filled with light was more beautiful than the original when it was filed with darkness.

    • Irene

      Nice story, Jim. As it’s said, “Oh, happy fault!”

      Michael, in addition to personal transparency, I think it’s also good to have theological transparency –about, say, the strengths and vulnerabilities of a particular theological stance. Some Calvinists I know in real life, while not belligerent, in any religious discussions, tend to be hard-headed, reverting to the same old stand-by lines. It’s hard to discuss things. I like how you bring an open, conversational (I don’t mean compromising) atmosphere to the blog.

    • Just a point, but reading Bruce Gordon (Gordon is Titus Sreet Professor of Ecclesiastical History, at Yale Divinity), and his fine historical bio of Calvin, (2009), is simply a must for any serious student of Calvin, and or Calvinism! He shows the great strength and even weakness of the great Genevan but French Reformer.

      Myself as an Anglican Reformed, I feel I have the best seat in history for this great theology! But again, not and never infallible, but certainly central in this our long and hopefully honored theological place! And if one looks hard enough, they will find some of the greatest theological and biblical minds in the Reformed history of theology! There are thankfully many human and transparent people here, the list is really great! I have been blessed to sit before a few myself in my time!

    • Btw, in certain biblical & theological places, we “Reformed” simply must be “hard-headed”! There was no more “hard-head” than St. Paul, if we could ask Barnabas! 😉

    • It is one of the most hard and transparent places to be, and that is the ability to change our theological places and positions! I have changed myself in places over the many years, but I think not ever…in the great doctrine of God! (Though my thinking here has often been feeble!) I was close several years ago to going toward or with Eastern Orthodoxy. But in the end, it was St. Paul and Romans that kept me “Reformed”! And as I have said before, I count it “providence” to have been raised Roman Catholic (as both Luther and Calvin I might add!) Note, St. Paul calls the Christian life a “good fight of faith”, and a “race”! But, it is a long haul most of the time! And only GOD is faithful in the end, not US!

    • Marv

      I like the way you avoid provocative titles… ;-]

    • Michael Bell

      So our message to drug users and plumbers is…
      “Say no to crack!”

      And our message to evangelicals is:

      “Say Yes to cracks!”

    • Aaron Walton

      Greetings CMP,
      I am all for transparency and I have appreciated your transparency, but I wanted to comment a few things because I think you took two particular things too far.
      First, you said: “Lot found fellowship with debauchery and loved it.” That is not the idea I got from 2Pe 2:7-8 “[God] rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard).” Can you correct me, or if not, can you change your thoughts on Lot?

      Second, I really disagree with your view of Romans 7: at the least, you are over simplifying the problem in this post. My main issue is that in Romans 6 and 8 he says “you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God”, and that those who have the Spirit of God live by the Spirit but in Romans 7 says he says he is “captive” and “serves the law of sin”; both can’t be true.

    • Aaron Walton

      Perhaps you have addressed my issue with your interpretation of Romans 7 elsewhere, if so, could you direct me there?

      If anything, my request is that you do not over-simplify the issue.

      Finally, I wanted to say again, that I have appreciated your transparency through the blog and the conversations we have had through comments. 🙂 And in that, I have appreciated you communicating through the comments with your readers.

      Aaron

    • Romans 7: 13-25 is a huge exegetical issue! There are people/theolog’s on both and even many sides of this exegetical question. We can note that the great Augustine changed his position here, from his early position (Classic Catholic and the EO, with the later Wesleyan), to Augustine’s later position. Which is now the more classic Reformation and Reformed position. The issue of course is whether the man in Rom. 7 is regenerate and thus a Christian? I say, as the later Augustine, and Luther & Calvin, this is the mature St. Paul, himself!

    • Just to note quickly, the key here is seen right in the very beginning in verses 13-14, “Therefore (the Law of God) did that which was good become a cause of death in me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh (in myself), sold into bondage to sin.” The rest of the verses simply follow to express this reality in the/my sinful flesh and nature! But finally the victory/thanks is “through Jesus Christ our Lord”!

    • And in reality, both Romans 7:24-25, are connected with Romans 8: 1-3-4, etc.

    • And once again, we can see both ‘Law & Gospel’ in perfect work and harmony! This is the great essence of the Pauline Gospel!

    • Aaron Walton

      Fr. Robert,
      But that is exactly the verse as to why I see the interpretation as problematic. How can he say we are free from sin and then claim that he himself is a slave to sin? ”
      He then goes on in Ch. 8 to say that God did what the law could not do, he condemned sin in the flesh, and that we now don’t walk according to the flesh but by the Spirit.
      He says that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through the Spirit.
      Yet the claim that Paul is talking about sin in his own life makes me ask “Where is the freedom from Sin? How does setting the mind on the Spirit look different than setting it on the flesh? How does his life show that God gives life to our mortal bodies (that is our flesh, effected by sin)?” If Paul is exampling Romans 8, I would conclude “There is no freedom; there is no difference; there is no power.” But rather, he tells us differently. He wrote Romans 8:12-14 (please look up, it is too long for 1000 characters…

    • @Aaron: The issue is NOT about “holiness” here, though the Christian has been set free from the great depth of bondage. The issue here for Paul I believe is ‘the Law’ of God, itself, i.e. its honor, glory and perfection, but as ‘In Christ’! These chapters are again about Law & Gospel, and not “me” (myself or “I”). “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:20) Here again is the forensic, or formal argumentation of our Christian freedom and liberty, as again ‘In Christ’! Of course some reality of this freedom follows, but sadly never perfection in this life! We still live in that tension of the ‘already but not yet’, this is our eschatological position.

    • Steve Martin

      “We are to consider ourselves dead to sin.” (St. Paul in Romans 6)

      Sure we still sin. But Christ, in our baptisms has drowned us with Him, and then raised us anew (in baptism – Romans 6).

      That’s how.

    • Indeed “consider” is first a forensic place, and only then power, as ‘In Christ’. And “Baptism” is again toward and “in” Christ! Baptism is both a ‘sign & seal’, but the reality is Christ! This is at least the place of historic Anglicanism, and the Thirty-Nine Articles… “We say with Augustine that the sacramental symbols are visible words.” (Peter Martyr Vermigli)

    • See btw, David Steinmetz’s book (Calvin in Context), now the Second Edition (2010 Oxford), and chapter 8, Calvin and the Divided Self of Romans 7. Just a great chapter!

    • “In the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theater, the incomparable goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God shines in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly than in the cross, in which there was a wonderful change of things – the condemnation of all men was manifested, sin blotted out, salvation restored to men; in short, the whole world was renewed and all things restored to order.” (John Calvin)

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Showing People Your Cracks

      Mmm, I don’t really like to see someone’s crack; there are some women who have low-waisted pants, and when they bend over they show the top of their crack.

      It’s not pretty. You ever seen that? Happens at the big shopping mall.

      Plumbers too. That’s why they call it plumber’s crack.

      Please keep your backside crack covered up.

    • Aaron Walton

      Fr. Robert,
      I think I have to disagree: the issue is about holiness; because there must be the outworking of the reality, “For whoever lacks these qualities [that is, an increasing in faith, virtue, knowledge, godliness, love] is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…for in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord.” (2Pe 1:8-11)
      God gives us victory over sin, so that we can “arm ourselves with the same way of thinking as Christ, ‘whoever has suffered in the flesh has cease from sin” (1Pe 4:1-3).
      We really can “put to death the deeds of the body” because the Holy Spirit is in us. And “all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Ro 8:13-14).
      Putting to death the deeds of the body is not a forensic thing. And by implication, Paul says those who aren’t led to do so, aren’t…

    • Aaron Walton

      The last sentence: “And by implication, Paul says those who aren’t led to do so aren’t sons.”
      (Since those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons, logically, those who are not led by the Spirit, are not sons; otherwise the statement would seem superfluous.)

    • @Aaron: We were originally looking at the exegesis or interpretation of Rom. 7:13-25! I have yet to see your “interpretation” here? Here to my mind is a sort of biblical anthropology especially, but certainly of a “regenerate” man, i.e. St. Paul himself! The “I” under Law. But the imperfection Paul describes from his own spiritual experience is not an imperfection in justification itself, but of the divided believing self, under law. The Law of God demands perfection, and only in Christ (‘In Christ’) does the believer and Christian stand before God! And here first, is the believers theological “Forensic Justification”, and from here does sanctification follow. This is Romans 8!

    • Here’s a great quote from F.F. Bruce!

      “The God whose grace Paul proclaimed is the God who alone does great wonders. He creates the universe from nothing; he calls the dead to life; he justifies the ungodly. This third is the greatest wonder of all: creation and resurrection are consistent with the power of the living and life-giving God, but the justifying of the ungodly is prima facie a contradiction of his character as the righteous God, the Judge of all the earth, who by his own declaration “will not justify the ungodly” (Exodus 23:7). Yet such is the quality of divine grace that in the very act of extending it to the undeserving God demonstrates “that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).”

      (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans Publishing Company; 1977) p. 18-19)

    • JFDU

      I admit I have mixed reactions about this. Some times I try to put myself in your shoes and think “surely this much transparency can’t be good for business if you’re a professional theologian. It’s like hiring a fat personal trainer to teach you fitness and weight control”

      On the other hand I know that for a few folks this is part of the attraction, the fact that you dare show others that part of yourself. As I commented once before, I can’t imagine Mohler, MacArthur or Carson spilling their guts publically like this.

      (John)

    • Karen

      This topic reminded me of a short story I read, but not to be a spoiler f/story, I won’t say title. A boy was considered the town fool because the town soon realized that they could trick him; this boy all the way through to an old age believed everything that anyone ever said and fell for it every time. The story reveals a lot on that topic, and he continued to be gullible while the town played jokes and even adult tricks on him when he got older. However, at one point, finally it seemed, he almost took revenge at one point, but chose not to go thru w/it. But the ending is suddenly a surprise twist; it turns out that he was not a fool at all, but he was very spiritual & was just giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
      Transparency can be viewed as a way to be honest for I know that pride is always associated with deceit.
      Transparency has so many facets, but that is what makes life so special…who are those that really belong to God?
      Perhaps we might be judging incorrectly.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “It’s like hiring a fat personal trainer to teach you fitness and weight control”

      Hey! I resemble that remark! At least with my kids anyways.

      😉

    • Steve Meikle

      transparency should reveal our “struggle” with sin?

      and why should we struggle with sin? such a struggle is only self righteous pride.

      we either repent, led by the spirit, whereby we are cleansed and that sin is gone, or we do not.

      I will not hide my sin from God, but my struggle is an attempt to do just that.

      I have been through the depression leading to despair and madness that struggle with my own sin produces. it renders the whole thing worthless. As for being rejected, the church is so loveless that you can expect it. cast your pearls before swine (your openness) and be kicked in the face.

      REPEATEDLY.

      are you tough enough to take the cruelty that exposing your weakness evinces in the church?

      you wont be for long as they smash you down an down

      REPEATEDLY

    • Steve Meikle

      Ad why do we need heroes.

      When i was a hero worshipping boy (idolatry, of course) i had my share.

      But the idols have feet of clay.

      I don’t have any heroes any more.

      And good riddance

    • Evangelina

      I like this post. I think this relates to a relationship I have. I think it is important to be open honest and also important to draw lines.

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