What makes a good testimony?

When individuals at GBC want to be baptized or join the church, we ask them to publicly share a brief testimony of their life with Christ and how they came to know Christ.  This is actually just a shortened version of what we ask them to do when they meet with the elders prior to baptism and/or membership.

When I mention the word “testimony” in those interviews, I am almost always asked, “what makes a good testimony?  What should I say?”

The New Testament word, “testimony” was used widely in the Greek and then Roman legal world to “denote one who can and does speak from personal experience about actions in which he took part and which happened to him, or about persons and relations known to him.  He may be a witness at a trial, or, in legal transactions of different kinds…” [Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV: 476.]

That sense is used by the NT writers to refer to both the offer of a general testimony of facts in a given situation, or more particularly of the distinctive work of God to produce salvation in the believer.

So to offer a testimony of salvation is to speak about the work of how God redeemed us from our sin.  This testimony is generally offered in three ways:

First, we offer testimony to what we were without Christ.  In this we acknowledge our sinfulness and the rightness of God to pour out His wrath on that sin.  We are affirming that we are hopeless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  This does not mean that we need to offer extensive or sordid details (those kinds of testimonies too often entice hearers to have an ungodly interest in the sin or to even relive and desire their own similar past sins).  Rather, the one offering testimony can say something like Paul did (1 Tim. 1:15) — “I was the worst sinner I knew; I sinned regularly and repeatedly.  I was trapped and I experienced many miseries because of my sin.”

Secondly, we offer testimony of what we are in Christ.  Specifically we want to articulate the essentials of the gospel (“Christ died for my sin so that God’s wrath was poured out on Him on the cross and then graciously imputed Christ’s righteousness to me.  I didn’t deserve it and I could do nothing for it, but Christ was my substitute”).  And then we also want to articulate briefly and specifically how we personally came to know the truth of the gospel.  For instance, “A friend in college told me about Jesus and forgiveness and when I told him I didn’t understand, he offered to do a Bible study with me and on our third meeting I understood the reality of both who I was and who Christ is and I trusted in Christ for my salvation.”

Finally, we offer testimony about the results of salvation in our lives.  We know that the gospel frees us from the penalty of God’s wrath against sin; but the gospel also liberates us from the power of sin.  So what evidence is there that God has saved you and changed you?  If there were clear evidences of what we were before Christ saved us, so there should also be clear evidences of the Spirit’s fruit working in us now that are saved (Gal. 5:22-26).  And if you are having trouble seeing that, asking a close friend or family member can generally help you — they will often have had a front row seat to both your sinful past and redeemed present and can assist you in seeing multiple evidences of God’s grace at work in you.

And whether you are asked to give a testimony publicly at a church event like a baptism, or a co-worker asks you what makes you a Christian (e.g., 1 Pt. 3:15), the formula is the same:

  1. What I was without Christ
  2. How I came to know Christ (and how one can know Christ)
  3. What Christ has done to change me

All that’s left now is to go give that testimony to someone.

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