Part 3: A few things to remember
Sharing our Christian testimony is one of the simplest ways to share the gospel. We are essentially telling the story of how Jesus Christ saved us. This is exciting stuff, because each conversion story is a THTHTHT to the grace of God and the power of the gospel. It is an account of how light triumphed over darkness, grace over sin, and Christ over Satan. If our testimony is boring, it is not because God didn’t do something amazing, but because we don’t realize what an amazing thing God has done.
How should I tell my story? We have three accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts. The first is found in Acts 9. Here Luke, the human author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, narrates the events of Paul’s conversion as it happens. The second is found in Acts 22, where the apostle Paul shares his own testimony of conversion when the Jews level false accusations against him. The third is found in Acts 26. Again, the apostle Paul shares his testimony, only this time he shares it with a much smaller group and in a very different setting.
If you read all three accounts, you will find that there are subtle differences between them. For example, in Acts 22:8 Jesus identifies himself as “Jesus the Nazarene” (which does not happen in the first account). In Acts 9 we read about how the Lord prepared Ananias to minister to Paul, but Paul’s account in Acts 22 doesn’t mention it. In Acts 26 some details are left out, while more details of his call and his message are given. How do we make sense of these differences?
Some believe that these discrepancies prove that Paul made it all up and that his testimony was a fabrication. The opposite is true. In law, if a story remains totally unchanged when told at different times or to different people, it is more likely to be considered false. All of the details in Paul’s different testimonies are true, but weren’t included in each account. Why not?
Each of these testimonies emphasized different aspects of Paul’s conversion depending on his hearers. For example, when Paul was speaking to his fellow Jews, he emphasized his Jewishness and faithfulness to the Law. He also referred to God as “the God of our fathers”. He was trying to reach his fellow Jews with the message of the Messiah. He naturally changed his emphasis when he shared his testimony with Gentiles (see Acts 26).
This means that you, too, can shift the emphasis when you share your conversion story with different people. You don’t invent a new story, but you highlight different things. For example, the way that I share my testimony with teens or young adults differs slightly from how I would share it with someone older. I use different words (a different vocabulary), or I’ll highlight things that my listeners can relate to.
An effective testimony does not embellish or exaggerate. It recognizes that the salvation of a soul is a miracle of God’s grace. You don’t have to repeat the same rehearsed story every time; you can tailor the story to the situation while staying true to the facts. We want others to see how the gospel has changed our lives and how it can change theirs as well.
Because of Christ,
The apostle Paul has a pretty unique conversion story. It is first recorded in Acts 9, where the author gives us a spectator’s perspective of what happened. Later, in Acts 22, Paul shares his own testimony with the Jews as they were trying to arrest him. After his arrest, Paul had an opportunity to plead his case before King Agrippa (Acts 26). While the circumstances of each testimony is different, the essential elements of the story stay the same. We’ll look at Paul’s testimony before Agrippa as an example of how you can tell your conversion story.
What does a Christian testimony look like?
1. Introduce yourself (v. 4-8):
Paul’s introduction fits the occasion: he is standing before a ruler after being accused by his own countrymen. That is why he details his connection with the Jews, his strict adherence to their Law, and constantly shows deference or respect to the king.
In his introduction he sets the stage. He links his own story with the bigger story of Israel, one that the king would have been familiar with. He also introduces the theme around which he builds his story. It is in verse 8: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” The resurrection becomes a central theme in how he shares his conversion story.
There are other gospel themes, like forgiveness, eternal life, or reconciliation around which you can tell your story. A theme helps you to decide what to include and what to leave out. It also gives your story focus. What grabbed your attention when you first heard the gospel? Was it the love of God revealed in Jesus? Was it the offer of forgiveness? Were you looking for life in all the wrong places, only to find eternal life in Christ?
2. Describe your life before Christ (v. 9-11):
In verse 9-11 Paul describes the consequences of his self-righteousness and how it motivated him to persecute the church. He describes his fallenness; he tells the king what his sin looked like. Note, however, that Paul does not glorify his sin. This is not the most exciting part of his story. He does not go into the gory detail, but he shares enough to help his listeners understand that he needed salvation.
When we talk about our lives before faith in Christ, we must be careful that we don’t glamourize sin. Don’t share details that may entice or tempt others to sin, rather than pointing them to Christ. This is a confession, not a boast, and should be done with the appropriate humility (see 1 Tim. 1:15).
3. Describe your conversion (v. 12-18):
Paul’s account of his first encounter with Christ differs slightly from the first account in Acts 9. For example, he includes the words: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (v. 14). It was a common proverbial statement that meant that we cannot ultimately prevail against God’s will. Agrippa would have known what Paul meant: the Lord is in control, not Paul and not the king. In this version of his testimony he shares a lot of detail on his commission (v. 16-18). This links his story with the king’s story; the king is one of the Gentiles to whom the Lord has sent Paul!
What is most important, however, is that Christ takes centre stage. We must understand that our testimony isn’t ultimately our story, but God’s. It is about how he saved us, how he intervened in our lives. This should be the most exciting part of your testimony. This is the part where someone who was dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and lost in darkness (Col. 1:13), is brought to life and delivered into light by Jesus Christ.
How did you hear the gospel? Who shared it with you? What was your first response? When did you cry out to Jesus? What did you experience when you repented of your sin and trusted in the Saviour?
4. Describe your life after coming to Christ (v. 19-22):
Paul’s description of his life after coming to Christ is brief, but he wants to show that the gospel has made a difference. He wants to show how Christ has changed him: before he persecuted the church, but now he planted churches all over the Roman empire!
One of the elements we often neglect when we tell our conversion story, is how Christ has changed us. We are not who we used to be, and it will show (2 Cor. 5:17). Share how the gospel has made a difference in your live. What is different about you? How have your desires and plans changed? Where has God used you? What have you learned?
5. Conclusion (v. 23):
Paul concludes with an invitation: he restates the gospel clearly and simply: Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that light can be proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile. He brings his story full circle by pointing Agrippa back to the resurrection.
His story demanded a response, and our should as well. Not everyone will respond positively to your testimony (they didn’t always respond positively to Paul’s), but that is not our job. We cannot change hearts, only Christ by his Holy Spirit can. Our job is to testify to the grace of our Lord in our lives. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share.
Because of Christ,
Part 1: What is a testimony and why should I share it?
What is a testimony? Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the dictionary definition. I would, however, like to give you a Christian definition. A Christian testimony is a story. It is a story in which you testify about God’s character. It is your eyewitness account of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result.
In Acts 4 the disciples were being persecuted for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. After their release, they prayed, and God filled them afresh with his Holy Spirit. What was the result? Acts 4:31 tells us: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Then, in verse 33, we read: “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The disciples were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, or as the NASB translates it, they “were giving witness to the resurrection”.
In a similar way, when a Christian shares his or her testimony they are giving an account of what the Lord has done in their lives. Sometimes this means sharing the story of how the Lord answered prayer or delivered from a particular danger. In most cases, however, testifying means that we share how the Lord has changed our lives through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that we know what a Christian testimony is, we must consider why we should share our testimony with others. The apostle Peter instructed believers to: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,” speaking here of those who persecuted them because of their faith, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:14-16).
If we love the Lord Jesus Christ and devote our lives to honoring him, it will elicit a response from those around us. Sometimes people respond with curiosity, not understanding why we are different or how we’ve changed. At other times they respond with animosity (enmity, opposition, or even persecution – which is what Peter highlighted in his letter). Even if people reject us, Christians are people with a profound hope. This hope changes how we endure suffering for the sake of Jesus. We should be ready to explain why we have such hope, even in suffering.
One of the best ways to do so, is to share your testimony. It is a way in which you can honor Jesus Christ, share the gospel, answer your opponents, and encourage other believers. Do you want to know the best part? Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ has a testimony. True, your testimony may not be as exciting as the apostle Paul’s, which will look at next week, but you can share your unique story of how the Lord changed your life by grace through faith in the Saviour.
God can use your story to lead others into the glories of the gospel. If you know enough to be saved, you know enough to share the gospel with others.
Because of Christ,