If you’re part of any church community, requests to hear your testimony about how you came to Christ and details of how He has touched your life have surely come up. I’ve been candid about my hesitance towards organized religion and, although sharing your story seems harmless, I’m still not sold on the need for these testimonials. It is true that they can be opportunities to release past sin issues, to cultivate more intimate and transparent relationships within the church congregation, and to offer hearers comfort if they’ve had similar experiences in their journey; however, in most cases, these personal testimonies are just that, personal.
When I use the term personal, it isn’t to imply private, as though details of your private life needn’t be shared. In fact, if we shared more of our private lives within the community of believers, we’d be welcoming real relationships that have an accountability factor to them. Personal, meaning that the typical focus tends to lean towards the person speaking, rather than maintaining all involving details on Who is to be the main topic. More often than not, testimonials recited before a Church body or the elders of a Church in seeking membership, take a detour as the giver loses sight of the vertical and stumbles into the horizontal aspects of their witness. There generally are circumstantial and experiential stories how your life changed dramatically after accepting Christ as your Savior: how your drug or pornography addiction ceased, how your relational struggles disappeared, how your woes became blessings of prosperity in forms of wealth or financial security, how your barren or miscarrying womb was filled and new births came to fruition, how your physical or mental infirmities were healed, how you, your, yourself, this, that, or the other.
The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:39 testifies, “He told me everything I ever did,” and by her testimony many Samaritans believed in Jesus. Two verses later, these new converts said to the woman who shared with them that “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v. 42). Her concise and brief public testimony as to the character of Christ, led the listeners to search Him out for themselves. The healed demon-possessed man in Mark 5:19 is told by Jesus, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” This man went into the Decapolis and witnessed and all the people were amazed (v. 20). These two examples tell how crucial a testimony focused on Christ can be when sharing the reason for our faith to those who haven’t heard, but the types of testimonies told within an existing body of believers don’t seem to be a testimony at all. They appear to be more closely aligned with a type of autobiographical account of one’s past, oftentimes only attributing Christ as the story concludes.
A believer’s testimony before other believers isn’t intended to seek out new conversions, or so I would gather. What it can do, especially the fantastical stories, is cause others who’ve had Christ consistent all their lives, without any miraculous transformations occur to their knowledge, pause to consider if they’ve missed the boat somehow on the profound powers of being indwelt by the Spirit. Why haven’t they experienced the healing they’ve prayed fervently for? Why are they still scraping by financially? Why don’t they feel the presence of God in ways that make them get goosebumps? Why have they fallen back into drug abuse or given in to sexual temptations repeatedly? On the other side of the token, is the one testifying prepared that they could, at any point, fall back into the sin He was gracious enough to pull them out of for the time He deems appropriate, or that their cancer could return, or their hearts could become hardened and stubborn again to feeling the closeness to God that they once had?
I leave you with my testimony: I am a sinner, a repeating sinner. My depravity is deep, still, though I’ve been chosen to be one of His. The miraculous transformation He promises is real, but slowly realized in a process known as sanctification. The more sanctified I become, the more apparent my sin condition is. Then, as my focus fades from myself and onto Him, my condition slides from knowing where I stand before a Holy God to why I can stand before a Holy God on that last day…because of Him, His saving grace, and until then, to testify the Truth to anyone that’ll listen in hopes they’ll search for Him as the Samaritans did or be amazed as those in the Decapolis were. Soli Deo gloria ~ Glory to God alone.