Over the last two weeks, we’ve examined “What it Really Means” to give a testimony and taken a look at some simple ways to share the truth about God’s place in our lives through the use of “One Liners”. This week, we’ll be going a bit deeper as we take a look at one of the most prominent New Testament testimonies and discuss how it can serve as a model for telling our own “God Stories”. But don’t worry, just because this model is lengthier doesn’t mean that our palms should start sweating!
Remember that we defined a “testimony” as “a statement concerning the character of a person or value of a thing”. Under this new definition, the simple statement “God is Good” (a declaration concerning God’s character) becomes a testimony and suddenly, bearing witness begins to feel so simple that even the most fearful can do it with ease.
More importantly, encompassed within this definition is the realization that you don’t necessarily have to share the entire salvation message in order to give an effective testimony. (As a matter of fact, in most cases, you probably won’t.) The purpose of a testimony is not to push your faith on anyone, but to provide them with a reason to ask questions about your beliefs. It might not happen right away, but I can assure you that eventually someone will say to you something along the lines of, “You sure seem to give God a lot of credit. What do you believe?”
At this point, we can look to the Apostle Paul (who never seems to have been without an opportunity to share his testimony) for some guidance. In Acts 26:1-19 we read:
“Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense: “In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying 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, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘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 get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish 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 dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
This is it. The Sunday night meetinghouse testimony complete with invitation. It’s the one that makes us quake in our boots and search frantically for the nearest exit. Yet the Apostle Paul made it clear that giving such a presentation was an honor. And we should too.
So what can we learn from the Apostle’s message? To begin with, Paul recognized that his audience had a limited attention span, so he kept it brief. In a mere nine verses, he shared the story of his life before his encounter with Christ and, from a Jewish point of view, it’s clear that he was a pretty decent fellow! He is straight forward and honest about his actions, but he doesn’t wander off into the gory details. His purpose is to explain that he was opposed to Christ and those who followed Him, not to share a litany of sins. Likewise, we should limit our own testimonies about life before Christ to the “highlights” (the facts without which our “God Story” wouldn’t make much sense) and cut everything else from the agenda. Our focus should be on God’s character and His value in our lives, not upon our own foibles and failures.
Secondly, the Apostle is clear in his presentation. He has chosen his words wisely and presents only the essentials of the Gospel, i.e., those things which must be believed if one is to inherit eternal life. He doesn’t delve into the nature of the Trinity or discuss the relative merits of predestination or free will. And neither should we. These are great topics for theologians and make for some excellent debate among ourselves, but our ability to comprehend them doesn’t have an effect on our eternal destination… so leave them for another time!
Thirdly, notice that Paul concludes by discussing his reaction to these saving truths: he has remained faithful to the call. While he doesn’t dive into all of the details of his life as a Believer, we know that he has changed: he is no longer the man that he was. And neither are we. Christ has changed us and He offers the same change to others. Now that’s a testimony!
The New Testament, of course, contains many others. From the lengthy Salvation testimonies of Paul (Acts 9:1-13; 13:15-16, 26-31; 26:1-19) to the shorter declarations of those whom Jesus touched (John 5:10-13; 9:13-15); From apologetically oriented discourses (Acts 17:22-24; Philippians 3:4-10) to simple statements of faith (John 1:35-41; 3:1,2; 4:28,39; Acts 21:18,19), there is no lack of a model for us to build upon. Read a few examples, then take a shot at writing your own. If you’re feeling really bold, try sharing it in the comment box below. There isn’t any word limit, so you can say as much or as little as you like!