The Testimony of a Believer
© C.O. Bishop 9/27/14 THCF 9/28/14
Galatians 1:10-17; 1st John 1:3
Frequently we talk about “giving a testimony”; sometimes we only mean telling about something we have seen. In a courtroom environment, that is pretty much all they want—they do not want your opinion, or what you have heard, unless there is some special reason that your opinion is relevant. A professional expert in a given field, for example, may be called to give an expert opinion on a critical point of forensic evidence. But an eyewitness is still one of the most vital testimonies available in a courtroom, whether for prosecution or defense.
John said (1st John 1:3) “That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…” He and the other apostles had borne witness to the experiences they had personally had with Jesus both during his earthly ministry, and through his death, burial and resurrection, and afterward, when they saw him face to face, and touched him, in the physical flesh. The purpose of their testimony was to pave the way for our faith.
We give testimony for the same purpose sometimes—to lead someone else to similar faith. Or, other times, just to encourage other believers. Other times just because we are compelled to tell someone what God has done, and we glorify God in the telling.
Paul’s Testimony—the Source
Paul’s testimony is different than that of the other apostles, in that he did not walk with Jesus during His earthly ministry. He never met him during that time. In fact, he refers to himself as “one born out of due time”, because he had not shared in the experiences of the other eleven apostles. What he did share is the fact that he was hand-picked by Jesus, just as were the eleven.
The problem he faces as he addresses the Galatian believers is that the Judaizers have questioned whether he was a “genuine” apostle. They have called his credentials into question. So Paul feels compelled to offer his testimony as corroboration of Luke’s account in Acts 9, and the oral report circulated immediately after his conversion. He urges them to consider what his motives are, and what the source of his inspiration is. He says:
10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
Paul knows, and admits up front, that the message he has brought (and is bringing) is not popular. It is not from humans, thus not humanist (we have that problem today even more prominently); not in agreement with the World, so not popular with worldly people (again, a prevalent problem today.) It is not from man…it is from God. He does not have to persuade God of the truth of his message—he is sent to persuade men, but is not sent to please them. If he were seeking to please humans, he would not be working for God.
So it makes perfect sense that the message we also preach has to be the one God gave, whether anyone approves of it or not. Jesus made this point during his earthly ministry: He said “if I were of the World the World would love its own. But I am not of the World, therefore the World hates me.” We need to be aware that we are in enemy territory: the enemy knows we are here, and will try to either render us ineffective or destroy us. Our only real safety is in doing what God sent us to do. Then we have his approval and backing, and even if we die in the service of God, we already have eternal life, so there is no real loss. And there is great reward.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but (rather) by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul states clearly that he did not get the Gospel “second-hand”. He had not heard it from the other apostles, but from Jesus himself. Even the other believers who encouraged him were not his source of the Gospel he preached. He got it from the ultimate source: God himself. This is in sharp contrast to my own experience:
I had been an atheist, but I was told the gospel by other students (among other sources) at the high school I attended; how Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, had died as full payment for my sins, and was buried, and was resurrected; and that all God was asking me to do was to believe it.
As a result, I eventually believed the Gospel, and was saved my last year in high school. I went off to college, in Astoria, and found a very good church, later that year, in a little community near there, on the Oregon coast.
After one year of strong teaching, there, from Paul Hatt, the pastor of Lewis and Clark Bible Church, I developed enough of a spiritual hunger that I really wanted to go to Bible School …so I did: I quit college and attended a small Bible school in Michigan.
Ever since I graduated from that school in 1976, I have taught adult Bible classes in every church I have been attached to. I have seen God’s hand at work in my life all of that time, through good times and bad.
But the point is that all my initial training came through other believers. I have been actively studying the Bible for over 40 years, but have never seen Jesus face-to-face. But Jesus met with Paul face-to-face, and prepared him for the work to which he also called him: apostleship. That was Paul’s particular calling.
Paul’s Testimony (continued)—the “Before Christ” Years
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
In the Old English, the word “conversation” did not have anything to do with a dialogue, but with a lifestyle: it could more accurately be translated, in today’s English, as “way of life”. Paul is reminding the readers of his “way of life” prior to conversion: He reminds them that he had been thoroughly committed to Judaism, more than the people who are now leading them astray. He had persecuted the church, physically, not just tried to subvert it. He had sought to arrest the believers and drag them back to face trial in Jerusalem, not just twist the truth and confuse the new believers, as these false teachers were doing.
Also, he had advanced further in the ranks of Judaism than these adversaries, and above many others as well. His training had been at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous teacher of that time, and he himself had been a zealot for God, from his own perspective: he was wrong, but exceedingly zealous. In truth, he had really been zealous for the traditions of the Fathers—the Talmud; rather than the Torah.
This is an important point: today, too, one can be zealous for the traditions of Man over the Word of God. I have occasionally been criticized for failing to follow some particular tradition of man, but when I questioned the accusers as to what scriptural concept I was failing to apply, they had no answer. It turned out I was (in their opinion, at least) “not doing things the Baptist way”. Well…sorry. I don’t even know where the “Baptist Way” book can be found. I do know where the Jesus’ Way” book is…and that is the message to which I am committed.
Are you more committed to Christ than you are to Western Traditions of Christendom? Or is it the traditions you really love? In the church you attend, are you more committed to what God actually says than you are to the “Church Constitution and Bylaws”, for instance? I have seen an example where the leaders of an assembly became sharply aware that their constitution was in clear contradiction to the Word of God. When so confronted, they made a conscious choice to adhere to their constitution instead of repenting and following God’s Word. Their senior pastor, a committed believer, promptly gave notice, and left them to their own devices. He was committed to God’s Word. They were not. Quite honestly, I am not sure whether I have ever seen a copy of this church’s Constitution and Bylaws. I am pretty sure we have them, but this church has always been committed to the Word of God to the extent that the “constitution and bylaws” are somewhat redundant. We already have God’s instruction, and we believe it.
What traditions do we follow? Having communion on the third Sunday? Nothing wrong with that…or, as far as I know, any of the other traditions we embrace. There is nothing wrong with Tradition, such as it is, but when traditions clearly violate Scripture, we need to change course. It would seem a good idea to examine one’s values and principles, now and then, to see whether they are rooted in Scripture, or just in tradition.
Paul was thoroughly trained in the traditions of Judaism, as well as the written Word of God (Old Testament), but after he met Jesus, it was revealed to him that (a) his understanding of God’s written Word was lacking, and that (b) the traditions for which he was so zealous were even more lacking. So he clung to God’s Word, and let go of the traditions.
Paul’s Testimony (continued)—Salvation
15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
Notice that Paul clearly states that God had chosen him for the job he was doing from before his birth. This is in keeping with the call of Jeremiah, to whom God said “…before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations (plural).” (Jeremiah 1:5) Now, does that say that God pre-ordains all believers to the work He desires them to do? I don’t know. I do know that He calls every believer to committed service. You might be a boilermaker or a homemaker, or a shoe salesman…but if you belong to Jesus, then you are working for Him, and you need to begin every day with the conscious realization that you work for Him, Paul never lost sight of that fact. I wish I could say the same about myself, but I too frequently get distracted and forget who the Boss really is.
What if, the first thing when I woke up every morning, I greeted my Master, and then went about the routine of preparing for work, school, church, chores, etc.? What if, instead of finally getting around to remembering who it is I belong to, (or, worse yet, waiting ‘til Sunday to be reminded by another believer) I instead became conscious every moment that I am an ambassador for Christ, hand-picked by Him, to do a job that only I can do: represent Him, the King, in the circles of people I know and with whom I work, travel, eat, play and worship? Do you think it might make a difference in how I respond to the trials and joys of life?
Paul was conscious of all of this, and knew the job he was called to do. Do you know what you are called to do? Do you at least know the underlying assignment that belongs to every believer? We all have the same “job”, but not necessarily the same “task” within the overall job. You need to know the overall job, first: then God can reveal your task to you.
Paul’s Testimony (continued)—The Result
16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 17 … but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Notice that it does not say, to “reveal His Son to me”, but “in me.” God wants to build the reality of the risen Christ into each of our lives so that the world can see Jesus in us. Paul had a specific assignment. Perhaps you and I do, as well. But it always begins with this: as a believer, (as we have already noted) you are an ambassador for Christ. The way God wants to use his ambassadors is that they are to be a living object-lesson of Christ, for the lost world to see. Give that some thought: Jesus was not just a one-dimensional teacher who just taught good news. He also presented the “bad news” of judgment, and the reality of Hell. He also suffered, and sweated, and was rejected, and abused…and died. God wants the whole reality of Christ in you. Not everyone is martyred for their faith…and I am deeply grateful for that. But we are all called to abandon self and allow God to reveal Christ in us.
Once Paul had his assignment, notice he didn’t mess around trying to “pray about it” or any other procrastinating trick that we tend to do. He had already been praying—and blinded—when Ananias came and God restored his sight. When the Lord Jesus also revealed his assignment, he “immediately conferred not with flesh and blood”. It was not up to other humans to tell him what God had already told him. It was up to Paul to obey. He says, “…Immediately, I conferred not with flesh and blood…but I went up to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus…”
What About Our Testimony?
Now, I am not going to suggest that every believer’s testimony will be as dynamic and dramatic as that of any of the apostles. But I do think we can see some examples from which we can learn:
- Paul told who he was, and what his condition was before he knew Jesus…there was no wallowing in “what a rotten sinner I was”…just the simple facts: well-trained, but wrong-headed, and completely lost.
- Paul told how God chose him and revealed himself to Paul. (in another passage we see that it was on the road to Damascus, and quite a spectacular event…but here Paul simply says that Jesus chose him to do a particular work, and that
- Paul responded in faith and obedience.
- Paul included what God had been doing in his life since then, to some extent, but still within his original goal; that of assuring the Galatian believers of his apostleship, so that he could teach them how to walk with Christ.
We obviously have a slightly different experience, as a rule. But we can include some of the same points:
- We can tell, briefly, and un-dramatically where we were before we were saved.
- We can tell how we were saved, including if possible, the central truths of the Gospel.
- We can tell what the results have been…what is God doing in my life today? How does he reveal himself in daily life?
I remember, years ago, seeing a poster that posed the question: “If Christianity suddenly was made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” I think our personal testimony needs to be subjected to a similar question: “If my testimony is the only evidence my hearers had, do they have enough information to receive Christ themselves? Do they even have enough to conclude that I am a born-again child of God?”
My testimony, then, has to include the facts of the Gospel, at some level. It also has to include the fact that all God asks us to do to be saved is to place our trust in His finished work at the Cross. It has to include the facts that:
- I was lost, but
- I received the good news (and spell it out), and
- I believed it, and
- I am saved.
It should also include at least a little glimpse of how that truth changed my perspective, and my behavior: nothing dramatic—just factual. For example, “I now have the security of knowing what the future holds for me and for my family, because we have Jesus’ personal promise on it. I have his guidance and his personal indwelling by the Holy Spirit. God is using me to lead others to Peace with Him.” (etc.)
So: a few minutes ago, when I briefly recited my testimony of salvation, it was 190 words—and took me less than one minute to read it aloud—but it included all the things we just mentioned.
A testimony can be very short, and light on details, or it can be a blow-by-blow account of individual conversations and experiences that led us to Christ. Our circumstances will dictate just how detailed we need to be. But the point of giving our testimony has to remain in focus—it is to shift the listener’s attention away from us and fasten it upon the person of Christ.
Paul’s testimony accomplishes just that: as we continue to study the book of Galatians, we will see that Paul is not at all concerned with impressing us about himself, but about Jesus Christ. He will go on to explain how we can learn to walk with Jesus as a real, day-by-day experience.
Think about your own testimony: If you had to give your testimony in two minutes of relatively slow, clear, simple speech, could you do it? Could you leave your listeners (at least in a bare-bones fashion) with enough to know how to be saved?
Would they be convinced from your testimony that you were a real Christian? And… would it seem to be a good thing? Much of the result of a testimony is dependent upon delivery. A great dinner, thrown suddenly in the face of the hungriest person, will still come as an attack, not an opportunity to eat.
Give these things some thought, and see if you can prepare a testimony that includes all the needful things, but is still short and to the point. You never know when you will need to use it.
The Lord bless us all as we seek to serve Him.