The Trouble with Testimonies
by Tony Miano
Before you continue reading, it is important you watch the testimonies of each of these men. They, along with many other professed Christians, are the impetus for this article.
Allow me to make something clear. I do not know whether or not the three men above are truly born again. However, the first man seems to be yet another "health, wealth, and prosperity" circuit rider, which gives me cause to doubt. This article is not about the validity of their stories or their conversions. This article is about the way they tell their stories. More specifically, it's about what they and so many Christians, especially in America, do not share in their testimonies...the gospel.
That's right. If you took the time to watch the videos of the three men above, what you did not hear in their testimonies was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each video has the word "testimony" in the title. Each man talks about his "conversion" story. Not only did they fail to share the gospel, but they never even made mention of the gospel.
The same is true with many American Christians today.
Sadly, the word "testimony," in some Christian circles, has become synonymous with the R-rated movie, a segment of the immorally voyeuristic television show TMZ, or a report on a police blotter.
The equation that describes testimonies of too many Christians is:
Who I was before I became a Christian + What Jesus did for me = My life since that time
Allow me to explain.
If you watch videos about Christians' testimonies on YouTube, or think back to the many baptism testimonies you've heard, or if you've even reflected on your own testimony (something I've had to do in order to prepare to write this article), you will notice three common denominators which are represented in the above equation. An inordinate amount of time is spent by the Christian talking about himself--laying out the story of his life, and rarely sparing listeners any inappropriate details. Then, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, the Christian mentions what Jesus did for him. If you are distracted for so much as a moment, you might miss it. The testimony then concludes with all the neat things Jesus has done for him since he came to faith in Christ.
What are Christian Testimonies Like?
Another way of expressing the above equation is this:
Stories of depravity - 60%, Stories of blessing - 30%, Jesus - 10%
While I believe most Christians probably do not intend to make their testimonies more about themselves than about Christ, it is unfortunately all-too-often what happens. I know, because I have done this myself.
If, as a Christian, the result of sharing your testimony is that those who hear remember you more than they remember Jesus, then you have failed in accomplishing the primary objective of sharing your testimony. You have failed to glorify Jesus Christ.
"I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever" (Psalm 86:12).
"'But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he said to the man who was paralyzed—'I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.' And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, 'We have seen extraordinary things today'" (Luke 5:24-26).
What is the Purpose of Christian Testimonies?
The purpose of your testimony, or any Christian's testimony, is to glorify God in Christ.
"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Christians often relegate their testimonies to little more than a platform for bragging about their former sins. The Christian is to boast in nothing, and/or no one, other than Jesus Christ.
"For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:19-20). "For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Galatians 6:13-15).
For the Christian, the opportunity to share his testimony is the opportunity to make much of Jesus Christ, not much of himself.
The Ugly Side of Testimonies
While it is tragic that so many Christians see the sharing of their testimony as an opportunity to brag about themselves (even the ugliness in themselves), there is yet a more tragic reason why the testimonies of so many professed Christians do not make much of Christ and do not include His glorious gospel. Many of those sharing testimonies of conversion have never truly been converted. They do not share the gospel in their testimonies because they do not know the gospel. They do not know the gospel because they've never heard the gospel (Romans 10:14-17) and thus have never responded to God's effectual call (John 6:44) to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).
Tragically, their conversion was merely an emotional acquiescence to the appeal and oratory skills of a speaker.
Their conversion was nothing more than the succumbing of their sinful will to the peer pressure of friends to make their way to the stadium floor or down the center aisle of a church.
Their conversion was merely an intellectual assent to the realization of what they always knew (Romans 1:18)--that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and someday they will stand before Him to give an account (Hebrews 4:13).
Their conversion was merely a response to the appeal of Christian worship and fellowship--the worship and fellowship of which they have merely tasted, but do not truly possess as their own (Hebrews 6:1-6).
They are false converts. They are lost people trying to articulate a conversion that never truly took place. They feel better about God. They feel better about Christ Jesus, God in the flesh. They feel better about the Church. And they feel better about themselves. But they remain dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), blind to the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), having never truly tasted or seen the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8)--having never experienced the goodness of God that leads one to repentance (Romans 2:4).
This is the trouble with testimonies.
Most people who are in this heartbreaking category of faux-regeneration are very sincere. They truly believe they are saved. They have no idea Jesus continues to see them as workers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23). My heart breaks for false converts more than any other people group, which is why I find myself angrier with false teachers more than any other people group (2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1).
What about your testimony, Christian? Does it make much of you and little of Jesus Christ? Does your testimony say more about your depravity than it does about Christ's sovereignty, deity, mercy, grace, and love? Does your testimony have interwoven throughout the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21)?
If not, why not?
Take time right now to examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5) and your testimony (Acts 4:33; 1 John 5:10-11; Revelation 1:1-2); and give glory to God. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
Having done that, I then invite you to listen to a God-glorifying, gospel-centered testimony--the testimony of my friend, Dena Galang.
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