Evangelicals value highly personal testimonies. There is good reason for that: the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives.
Paul, in one of the most powerful descriptions of the impact of gospel proclamation is found in the letter written to the Thessalonians. The gospel is proclaimed, in other words, the gospel is word-centered. Since it is “good news,” it must be proclaimed. But, as the Holy Spirit applies the completed work of Christ, encapsulated in “the gospel,” it enlivens and empowers the recipients of it.
Paul writes, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5). This gospel-proclamation resulting in gospel transformation is described in a powerful way: “they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1:9-10). What we read of the Thessalonians is that not only do they proclaim to others, i.e., they testify, the same gospel they received, others also testify of the transformative effects of the gospel in their lives.
As important as testimonies are, they must not be divorced from the gospel. That is, there is an objective truth to the “faith once for all entrusted to the saints” that is foundational to one’s receiving and believing it that results in regeneration in one’s life. Testimonies consist of both: the objective truth of the gospel received which results in a subjective, experiential transformation in one’s life. Often when sharing testimonies the subjective implications are communicated without acknowledging the truth of the gospel. It can then be heard as moral improvement. It also excludes what it is that makes Christianity unique and distinct from all other religions, that which is of first importance to Christianity: Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-5).
So when sharing testimonies, there are a few things to keep in mind. This is important not only for those of us sharing a personal testimony, but also for those who help others share their testimonies, especially during a church service or prior to a baptism. Not only do we hear the person’s story of God’s work in his/her life, but what they communicate also teaches those who hear something about what we believe about the gospel and regeneration.
As noted above, testimonies are shared during corporate services, often associated with baptism, and we also, because we are a believers’ church movement, are concerned to hear testimonies of potential members since the major requirement is that one be born again, converted, regenerated, a believer, a Christian.
To aid in that process, here is something I wrote for our EFCA membership manual: “Testimony – Sharing the Story of God’s Gospel Applied In My Life.”
There are various ways this can be done.
- Personal/experiential: The man who was born blind was healed by Jesus. When initially asked by those who knew he had been blind, he responded, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed by eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight” (Jn. 9:11; cf. v. 15). When the former blind man was asked by the Jews again, he replied simply about his testimony and followed it with an evangelistic question: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. . . . Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples?” (Jn. 9:25, 27).
- Doctrinal/Theological – Eternal Plan of God: Paul clearly goes all the way back to the plan of God before the creation of anything or anyone. In his great introduction to the saints at Ephesus, he writes that God “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:3-14, cf. esp. v. 4).
- Doctrinal/Theological – Eternal Plan of God with a Response. In response to the preaching of the gospel Luke records the following: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (Acts 13:48-49). God’s eternal plan with its focus on Christ must be heard and responded to. The objective truth of the gospel must be subjectively received.
In sum, it is imperative that wherever one starts, it must be stated that there is an objective truth to the gospel, it is God’s gospel, and that truth must be received by grace through faith. If we focus on God’s eternal plan, we must remember the necessity of receiving God’s gospel in one’s life that led to the spiritual transformation. If we begin with one’s personal experience, we must remember that must be divinely interpreted. We not only want to share what God has done in our lives personally, but we also want to teach people through our testimony the biblical truth of true conversion. If there are some present who have not heard or responded to God’s gospel, after hearing your testimony they should know the gospel and be challenged to believe the gospel.