What a Testimony Is
Okay, today let’s close this series by taking a look at what a testimony actually is.
As most if not all of us know, the ultimate testimony was given by Paul in Acts chapter 22:
“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'” (Acts 22:1-16)
And again we see in Acts chapter 26:
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
An examination of these two great testimonies reveal to us an age-old formula for constructing a testimony:
1) One’s life before Christ;
2) One’s acceptance of Christ; and
3) One’s life since accepting Christ.
It is very obvious on the first point that Paul’s testimony consists of a simple acknowledgement that his condition without Christ was one of lostness and rebellion. He seems to state rather explicitly that he’d rested heavily on his upbringing, associations and deeds. Then dramatically, Paul meets Christ and all of these things are counted as loss compared to his newfound faith in Christ (Philippians 3:4-11). He then evidences the fruit of his newfound faith by surrendering in obedience to Christ and proclaiming Him to the Gentiles.
“But wait,” some of you might interject, “even here in these two testimonies Paul never says that Jesus died for him and that he accepted Christ by faith!” To that I say, that’s a crock of rancid yak butter.
Paul’s letters are most certainly his greatest testimony of all to us, and these testify to Paul’s fervent belief that Christ died for him. These testify that Paul placed his faith firmly in Christ and Him crucified. As such, we can be especially confident that when the resurrected Lord appeared to Paul, he placed his hope in Christ. Damascus road then becomes the event in which he placed that faith in Christ.
What we as believers must do is simple. We must have a testimony that very clearly articulates our lostness without Christ, the placement of our faith in Christ, and the fruit of that faith in Christ.
A testimony is not about how you grew up, who your family is, or who you know. It is not about how good or moral a person you are, or all the good deeds you do because you follow WWJD or listen to your pastor. It is not about what Christians have done “for” you or “to” you. It is most certainly not about “following Christ into what many people would call ‘lordship’ or formation.” And that last one is malarkey.
A testimony is about Christ, pure and simple. It is about how, in your lost and damned condition, Christ died for you. It is about how you placed your faith and trust in the One who died for you. It is about how, since that moment, Christ has completely changed your life and continues to change your life, to His praise and glory. And if your testimony looks nothing like that, it’s not a real testimony. Furthermore, if you -cannot- give a testimony like this, it is all but certain that you are not a Christian.
What does this mean for you and me? It means, quite simply, that we must conform our stories to that of Christ. We must seek to most accurately reflect what He has done for us when we give our testimony to others. It means that we must be honest with ourselves and with others, sometimes painfully honest, if our testimonies do not reflect Christ. We must be willing to submit ourselves to the corrective of Scripture to find the proper source of, and change, our testimonies.
In conclusion, there are some among you that have been dreadfully offended that I dared put a big question mark beside such testimonies. To that, I unapologetically restate my premise: I utterly and totally reject the authenticity of any testimony that does not proclaim Christ and Him crucified. Until you tell me that you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that you accepted His work by faith, and that you have evidenced the fruit of regeneration since, I’m simply not going to back down in this assessment. The gospel and the testifying of the gospel is not inoffensive; it’s the most offensive thing in the world. And if you claim to be bound by that gospel, you better come prepared to proclaim it. To God be the glory.