Winsome Witnesses: The Power of Personal Testimony
There is unusual power in a personal testimony. When our hearts are warmed by Christ’s love and we are changed by His grace, we have something significant to say about Him. It is one thing to share what Jesus has done for someone else. It is quite another to share what He has done for us personally.
It is difficult to argue against personal experience. People may debate your theology or your interpretation of a text or even scoff at religion in general. But when an individual can say, “I once was hopeless but now have hope; I was filled with guilt but now have peace; I was purposeless but now have purpose,” even skeptics are impacted by the power of the gospel.
Although some people may experience sudden, dramatic conversions like the apostle Paul’s on the Damascus Road, more often conversion occurs as a person has a growing recognition of the preciousness of Jesus, a deep appreciation for His amazing grace, and a supreme sense of gratitude for the salvation He freely offers. Christ radically refocuses our lives. It is this witness that the world so desperately needs and longs for.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 11.
The word Decapolis comes from two words: deca, meaning ten, and polis, meaning city. The region of Decapolis was an area of ten cities along the shores of the Sea of Galilee in the first century. These cities were bound together by a common language and culture. The demoniac was known by many people in that region. He had struck fear into their hearts through his unpredictable, violent behavior. Jesus saw in him one who longed for something better, and so He miraculously delivered the man from the demons that tormented him.
When the townspeople heard that Jesus had permitted the demons to possess their herd of swine, and that the swine had run over a cliff into the sea, they came out to see what was taking place. Mark’s Gospel records, “Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid” (Mark 5:15, NKJV). The man was whole again—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The essence of the gospel is to restore people broken by sin to the wholeness for which Christ has created them.
What better person to reach these ten cities of Decapolis than a transformed demoniac who could share his testimony with the entire region? Ellen G. White states it well: “As witnesses for Christ, we are to tell what we know, what we ourselves have seen and heard and felt. If we have been following Jesus step by step, we shall have something right to the point to tell concerning the way in which He has led us. We can tell how we have tested His promise, and found the promise true. We can bear witness to what we have known of the grace of Christ. This is the witness for which our Lord calls, and for want of which the world is perishing.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 340. God often uses unlikely witnesses who are changed by His grace to make a difference in our world.
It was early Sunday morning, and the two Marys hastily made their way to the tomb of Christ. They were not going to ask Him for anything. What could a dead man possibly give them? The last time they saw Him, His body was bloodied, bruised, and broken. The scenes of the Cross were deeply etched in their minds. Now they were simply doing their duty. Sorrowfully, they made their way to the tomb to embalm His body. The gloomy shadows of despondency engulfed their lives in the darkness of despair. The future was uncertain and offered little hope.
When they arrived at the tomb, they were startled to find it empty. Matthew records the events of that Resurrection morning in these words: “But the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen’ ” (Matt. 28:5, 6, NKJV).
The women were now overwhelmed with joy. Their dark clouds of sadness faded into the sunlight of the dawning of Resurrection morning. Their night of sadness was over. Gladness graced their countenances, and songs of rejoicing replaced their tears of lament.
After Mary met the resurrected Christ, she ran to tell the story. Good news is for sharing, and she could not be silent. Christ was alive! His tomb was empty, and the world must know it. After we, too, meet the resurrected Christ along the highway of life, we, too, must run to tell the story, for good news is for sharing.
How fascinating, too, that despite all the times Jesus had told them what would happen, that He would be killed and then resurrected, the disciples—those ones Jesus specifically chose—refused to believe Mary’s testimony. “And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe” (Mark 16:11, NKJV). Thus, if even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t immediately believe, we shouldn’t be surprised if others don’t immediately accept our words either.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, NKJV).
The New Testament church exploded in growth. There were 3,000 baptized on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Thousands more were added to the church a few weeks later (Acts 4:4). Soon the authorities recognized what was happening. These New Testament believers had been with Christ. Their lives were changed. They were transformed by His grace, and they could not keep silent.
These believers were new in Christ, and they had to tell their story. Peter, a loudmouthed fisherman, was transformed by the grace of God. James and John, the sons of thunder who had difficulty controlling their tempers, were transformed by the grace of God. Thomas the skeptic was transformed by the grace of God. The disciples and members of the early church each had their own stories to tell, and they could not keep silent. Notice this powerful statement by Ellen G. White in the book Steps to Christ: “No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart.”—Page 78.
Notice, too, what the religious leaders said in Acts 4:16. They openly acknowledged the reality of the miracle that had been performed—the healed man was standing right before them. Even with all this, they refused to change their attitude. And yet, despite this open defiance, Peter and John were not going to back down from their witness.
In Acts 26, we find the apostle Paul standing as a prisoner before King Agrippa. Here, speaking directly to the king, Paul gave his own personal testimony. He talked about his life, not only as a persecutor of Jesus’ followers but also, after his conversion, of his life as a witness to Jesus and about the promise of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 26:8). When Paul was converted on the Damascus Road, our Lord spoke to him and said, “ ‘I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you’ ” (Acts 26:16, NKJV). Sharing our faith is always a dynamic experience. It is telling the story of what Christ has done for us in the past, what He is doing in our lives today, and what He will accomplish for us in the future.
Witnessing is never about us. It is always about Him. He is the God who forgives our iniquities, heals our diseases, crowns us with loving kindness, and satisfies us with good things (Ps. 103:3–5). Witnessing is simply sharing our story of His amazing grace. It is a testimony of our personal encounter with this God of amazing grace.
Although John and Paul had different life experiences, they both had a personal encounter with Jesus. Their experiences with Jesus were not ones that occurred at a particular point in the past and was then over. It was an ongoing, daily experience of rejoicing in His love and walking in the light of His truth.
Is conversion ever a thing of the past alone? Look at Ellen White’s statement about those who thought their past conversion experience is all that matters: “As if, if they knew something about religion once, they did not need to be converted daily; but we ought every day, every one of us, to be converted.”—Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, p. 46.
Let’s look again at Paul before Agrippa. The apostle Paul stands before this man, the last in the line of Jewish kings, the Maccabees, and of the house of Herod. Agrippa professed to be a Jew, but at heart he was a Roman. (See The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 436.) The aged apostle, weary from his missionary journeys and battle-scarred in the conflict between good and evil, stands there, his heart filled with God’s love and his face radiant with God’s goodness. Whatever has happened in his life, whatever persecutions and difficulties he has experienced, he can declare that God is good.
Agrippa is cynical, skeptical, hardened, and really indifferent to any genuine value system. In contrast, Paul is filled with faith, committed to the truth, and stalwart in defense of righteousness. The contrast between the two men could not be much more evident. At his trial, Paul requests to speak and receives permission from Agrippa.
Kindness opens hearts where abrasiveness closes them. Paul is incredibly gracious to Agrippa here. He calls him an “expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews” (Acts 26:3, NKJV). He then launches into a discussion of his conversion.
Paul’s testimony of how Jesus changed his life had a powerful impact on a godless king. There is no witness as effective as a changed life. The witness of a life genuinely converted has an amazing influence on others. Even godless kings are moved by lives transformed by grace. Even if we don’t have as dramatic a story as Paul, we all should be able to tell others about what it means to know Jesus and to be redeemed by His blood.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “ ‘Almost Thou Persuadest Me,’ ” pp. 433–438, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The essence of the Christian life is a relationship with Jesus that is so rich and full that we long to share it. As important as correct doctrine is, it cannot substitute for a life transformed by grace and changed by love. Ellen G. White makes it plain when she states: “The Saviour knew that no argument, however logical, would melt hard hearts or break through the crust of worldliness and selfishness. He knew that His disciples must receive the heavenly endowment; that the gospel would be effective only as it was proclaimed by hearts made warm and lips made eloquent by a living knowledge of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 31. In the book The Desire of Ages, she adds this powerful thought: “The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing.”—Page 826.
There are those who have the idea that giving their personal testimony is about trying to convince others of the truths they have discovered in the Word of God. Although it is important at the appropriate time to share the truths of God’s Word, our personal testimony has much more to do with the freedom from guilt, the peace, the mercy, the forgiveness, and the strength, hope, and joy we have found in the gift of eternal life Jesus so freely offers.