ACST 53. The Testimony

 

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God’s work of regeneration opens the mind to the reality the Bible reveals about God, Christ, sin, Satan, the world, and the Church. The believer’s self-awareness is forever altered. This new way of thinking is called repentance. One major result of this new way of thinking is how it is reflected in the believer’s testimony.

The first disciples said that Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection because they were “chosen in advance to be his witnesses” – which included preaching and testifying about Jesus.[1] He told them “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[2] They shared their testimony and turned the world upside down with it. Most of them gave up their lives sharing that testimony. In fact, the word “witness” soon took on the predominant meaning of someone who died for their faith.[3]

What made these believers witnesses was not merely the fact that they were willing to die for what they believed. They were passing on the reality of Jesus Christ. They were God’s means of testifying to the existence, work, and significance of his Son. He could have chosen to prove his existence some other way. He could have endowed places or symbols with his power. He did not. He could have written the life of Jesus on tablets of stone for people to idolize. He did not. He entrusted the good news to those who received it.

The process of passing on the most significant news in the history of the universe was not delegated to angels. Human beings were both the recipients and the messengers of this good news. Long before the New Testament was completed, ordinary people were sharing the story of Jesus and its importance to humanity. It was God’s choice to spread this good news through this method. It still is.

What They Testified To

The Bible mentions some specific details that were part of the testimony of early believers. Jesus called this testimony “the facts about me.”[4] They included…

1. the fact that Jesus was God’s choice to judge the world.[5]

2. that God’s righteousness is available to all.[6]

3. the good news that God saves people by grace.[7]

4. that Christ had been with the Father, and appeared to humanity.[8]

5. that the Father had sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.[9]

6. that Jesus was the Messiah whom the Jews had waited for.[10]

7. that Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom, of whom the Old Testament speaks.[11]

8. that Christ gave himself on the cross as a ransom for all.[12]

9. that God raised Christ from the dead, which guarantees our resurrection.[13]

10. that Jesus is the Lord in whom we must put our faith.[14]

11. that God has promised eternal life for those who are in Christ.[15]

The gospel is not about us. It is not the fact that if we do something, then God is obligated to save us. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. It is the story of what he did for us. It is the glorious truth that God has a solution for humanity’s failure, and invites us to accept it, and experience it. It is the revelation of a divine plan, which began in eternity past, and will result in a glorious future eternity.

God’s primary means of turning the world to himself is the testimony that believers communicate. His plan includes an eternal destination, and he has chosen us to get the news out, so that others can join him there. That eternal destination has often wrongly been called “heaven.” It is an unfortunate choice of words because the destination to which we aspire is not a particular location (heaven as opposed to earth) as much as it is an inheritance. God’s plan is to redeem all creation. That is why the Bible speaks of a new heaven and a new earth.[16]

The testimony of faith looks at all the ugliness of this present reality and chooses to trust Christ and his promises. The believer does not wish to escape earth and go to heaven, but longs for the redemption and restoration of the whole universe so that it once again can be called “very good.” The goal of faith is not to escape the evil but to outlast it. The key to doing that is the resurrection of the righteous. By faith, the believer looks beyond her own death, and embraces the promise of a resurrection unto eternal life at Christ’s return.

In the mean-time, the believer chooses to live in the kingdom of Christ, and occupy herself with proclaiming the good news of that kingdom’s existence. It is a kingdom which is both now and later. It is a dominion of a king who is willing and able to rule in the lives of those who submit to him. But it is also a promise of a future rule of that same king over the domain of the entire universe. The testimony is a declaration of salvation both here and now and there and then. It is the good news that Jesus can cleanse and restore our broken lives and relationships today. It is also the good news that another, future life awaits those who put their faith in him, with a glorious transformation unlike anything that we can experience in the present. Gospel witnessing includes these three messages:

1. what Christ did for us on Calvary’s cross,

2. what Christ can do for us today,

3. what Christ promises for eternity.

How to witness

Jesus testified of himself by means of the spoken word, and has commanded his church to do the same. He testified by public preaching and teaching and by small group and private conversation. At no point did he restrict his intentions by allowing only the professional to witness.

“Then he opened their minds to understand

the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is

written, that the Christ should suffer and on

the third day rise from the dead, and that

repentance and forgiveness of sins should be

proclaimed in his name to all nations,

beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses

of these things.”[17]

The first obligation to witness was upon those who observed his death and resurrection. That observation of those events, however, did not especially qualify them as witnesses. To be a witness in the New Testament sense is not to have observed something, but to testify of it. It is something you say, not something you see. A person was a witness in court not because he had seen something, but because he had been chosen to testify of what he had seen (or heard). The emphasis was always on the saying, not the seeing. Also, the reason they got into trouble with the authorities was not that they had observed Christ and his resurrection and ascension, but that they talked about those facts and used them as proof that he is alive and is Lord of all. It was not what they saw, but what they said.

We who follow after those first witnesses are just as obligated to speak about who Christ is, what he has done, and what he is going to do. Jesus prayed for us when he prayed for “those who will believe in me through their word”[18] – that is, those who carry on the faith that the apostles propagated. He wants us to share that faith utilizing the same means: public speech and private conversations.

The testimonies were not limited to speeches and conversations. The gospel truth soon became incorporated in the Gospels and epistles. All media available at the time was utilized to get the good news out to those who needed it. The words of the gospel found their way into the songs and stories and art of the witnesses. As time progressed new media were developed. Each of these has also become a means of testifying to the truth that Jesus exists, what he has done, and what he is going to do.

Witnessing was more than an individual responsibility. Witnesses naturally gathered together to encourage one another. Associations with others who named the name of Christ became a means of testifying as well. Communities of believers witnessed to each other as a means of building one another up and promoting the act of witnessing to the lost. By being associated with other believers, witnesses showed that Christ was more than a mere ideology. Those who congregated (when possible) showed that they shared a relationship with Jesus and with each other. The Church became the social network of all social networks. It became one of the visible witnesses to the work of the invisible Holy Spirit.

Before long, traditions developed in the churches that reflected the reality of what was preached in the pulpits. It became clear that some of the things that Christ had commanded his disciples were meant to be carried on by each successive generation of the church. The act of baptizing new converts as a means of confessing the reality of the new life and the hope of a resurrection was one of those traditions. The meal celebrating the new covenant initiated by Jesus with his disciples in the upper room was another.

The apostles insisted that Christ-like character was to be expected of all believers. This was to be the means of witnessing to the reality of our words. The words were to be validated and verified by our actions, attitudes, and relationships. Thus, when the apostles encountered problems in their churches, they responded with strong rebuke and discipline. The words of the epistles continue to minister to us by drawing attention to our transgressions. The reason for this is that our task of witnessing to the reality of the gospel is just as pertinent today. The first mission is still the foremost mission. Anything that we do that subverts that mission must be corrected.

Distorted Testimony

Not only should we watch our lives to make sure that they are reflecting what we testify, we should also constantly watch what we are saying. Our witnessing needs to be a careful balance between two extremes. We can distort the gospel by making too much of it. That is, we can pack so much content into our presentation of the good news that we overwhelm those we are trying to reach. We need to develop the skill of saying the words that people need to hear about Christ, and just those words.

On the other hand, if we say too little, we run the risk of presenting a message other than that “once for all delivered to the saints.”[19] A message that is too simple runs the risk of leading people to a faith that is too simple. A truncated gospel leaves too much out. It makes a person religious without being devoted to Jesus. Also, it becomes a self-perpetuating mistake. Whole communities have been encouraged to come to Jesus without repenting from their sins. A gospel without true repentance is not the gospel at all. While that may be a way of gaining popularity with the world, it is also a way of making the church irrelevant.

The true good news is good news because it takes into account the bad news of sin, failure, and depravity. For the church to be a reliable and faithful witness to Christ, she must share the reality of Christ’s rescue along with the backdrop of humanity’s failure and sin. But we must remember that we are witnesses, not judges. We have to be honest about our own failures and problems, and share the reality of our own struggles. Then, those who struggle with the same things will know how Christ helps. If we are not honest, the world will get a wrong idea about what Christianity. A witness to hypocrisy only breeds more hypocrisy.

Those who truly seek to share the good news are going to have to adjust their methods to meet the current culture. Tried and true methods of the past will have to be surrendered when it becomes obvious that they are no longer practical or effective. New methods will have to be developed which scratch where today’s society itches. Care must be taken to ensure that vital content is not lost in the process. This is all part of the process of witnessing wisely.

The most effective means of verifying and validating one’s testimony is the subject of the next chapter. The life lived in faith makes the gospel real to the believer, and confirms his testimony.


[1] Acts 10:41-42.

[2] Acts 1:8 ESV.

[3] The Greek word martus is one of several which took on this connotation.

[4] Acts 23:11.

[5] Acts 10:42.

[6] Romans 1:16-17.

[7] Acts 20:24.

[8] 1 John 1:2.

[9] 1 John 4:14.

[10] Acts 18:5.

[11] Acts 28:23.

[12] 1 Timothy 2:6.

[13] 1 Corinthians 15.

[14] Acts 20:21.

[15] 1 John 5:11-13.

[16] Revelation 21:1.

[17] Luke 24:45-48 ESV.

[18] John 17:20 .

[19] Jude 3.

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