January 1, 2013

The Power of a Personal Testimony

A personal testimony is a powerful tool. In a court of law, arguments based on material evidence and motive can have an impact, but often it is a personal testimony that has the greatest influence on a judge or jury.

Several years ago I was called for jury duty, and was selected to serve as a jurist for a criminal case in which the defendant was accused of robbing several convenience stores. The prosecutor presented evidence linking the defendant to the time and place of the crime. However, what really established the defendant’s guilt was the testimony of store employees. One by one, they were brought to the stand and asked to verify information that had been presented to the court. Then they were asked to identify the robber if he was present in the courtroom. One by one, they all pointed to the defendant. That was devastating to his case! In fact, the trial was terminated before the jury ever met to determine a verdict. One morning we were told by the judge that the defendant had decided to accept a plea bargain rather than to continue with the trial. The personal testimonies pointing to his guilt could not be refuted.

In Acts 26, we read the personal testimony of Paul, given to King Agrippa. Prior chapters describe how Paul had been brought before Roman authorities and falsely accused of sedition by the Jewish religious leaders. They claimed he had polluted the Temple in Jerusalem and was the ringleader of the Christian faith, or the Nazarene sect, as they called it. Paul denied the charge. Eventually his case was brought before King Agrippa, who was well-versed in Jewish law, and the Apostle was given a chance to defend himself.

Paul was a highly-educated man, and possessed sufficient knowledge of both religious and secular law to offer a strong defense regarding the charges leveled against him. He could have effectively used his knowledge of the Scriptures to make his case, argue a good point, and convince all present that Jesus was, in fact, the Christ. However, when given the opportunity to defend himself before King Agrippa, Paul chose to share his personal testimony of salvation.

In verses 19-23, we read the conclusion of Paul ‘s testimony: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”

The Apostle Paul understood the power and value of a personal testimony. And the way he delivered his testimony in Acts 26 gives us a good pattern to follow in how to effectively give our Christian testimonies to unbelievers.

There are three key parts in giving an effective testimony, all of which can be found in Acts 26. First, we should tell what we were like before our conversion. Second, we should relate what happened that caused us to change—our experience of salvation. Finally, we should describe what we have been like since that change occurred.

What was Paul like before his conversion? In verses 4-11, he gave a brief account of his early life, concluding with a description of his condition just prior to his encounter with God. He acknowledged, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:9-11).

What Paul did not do was to glory in his past life, give a lurid account of his ungodly behavior, or spend much time dwelling on what an evil man he had been. Similarly, when we give our testimonies, we do not want to draw the listener’s attention to ourselves by dwelling extensively on our past. We tell just enough to establish that we had a great need for salvation. Focus should be directed toward Christ who can save anyone.

Even when recounting our past, the objective of a testimony is to give honor and glory to God. The Psalmist said in Psalm 107:1-2, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” The redeemed of the Lord—those of us who have been born again—should give thanks to God who extended mercy to us and delivered us from the enemy. That really should be our purpose when we share our testimonies.

Next, in verses 12-18, Paul described in a very straight-forward manner his conversion on the Damascus Road. The Lord Jesus had revealed Himself in such a vivid way that Paul could still rehearse the exact words that had been exchanged between them. He did not need to prop up his testimony in any way. His simple account was convincing because it had been such a definite experience in his life. In just a few words, he was able to explain how God had met him, what God had said, and what God wanted from him—a life of service with the goal of pointing others to repentance and salvation.

In verses 19-23, Paul declared that he had obeyed that call, and that by God’s help he had been able to continue serving the Lord to that very day, witnessing to both small and great. What was he saying? He was relating what his life had been like since his salvation. The Lord had given him victory, and by His help he had been able to share his testimony and witness to everyone that the Lord had led his way. What a good, solid, victorious testimony!

A simple testimony of what God has done in a life will have an impact. After this account we read the reaction of two of those who heard Paul that day. Verse 24 tells the reaction of Festus. Upon hearing Paul’s testimony, he could not seem to contain himself—a probable indicator of conviction. It says he responded with a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” It is evident that he had no way to explain what he had just heard, or what he was feeling in response to having heard it.

A victorious testimony is a hard thing to dismiss inwardly because of the impression that it leaves on the one who heard it.

In verse 28, King Agrippa responded, “Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” There are different interpretations as to how he said these words. Some think he may have said them sarcastically, while others suppose he was sincere. Either way, King Agrippa felt compelled to respond to the testimony that he had just heard. Paul’s testimony impacted him personally. When we give our testimonies, people may dismiss us. However, a victorious testimony is a hard thing to dismiss inwardly because of the impression that it leaves on the one who heard it.

At times our testimonies may not be given verbally, but they can still make an impact. Body language experts say that seventy percent of communication is non-verbal. I remember a fellow student in my high-school drafting class in Bozeman, Montana. I knew he was a Christian. He never told me his testimony; he never said anything to me that indicated he had been saved. However, I knew he was a Christian simply by watching how he conducted himself and how he responded to other students who would play pranks on him. He never got mad. He never reacted poorly. Each day he brought a positive attitude to that class. And I noticed! Four years later, when I was under heavy conviction for the way I was living, that young man’s non-verbal testimony was one of the things that came up before me. In my heart I knew that a Christian could live a victorious life. That fellow student had witnessed to me every day, even though his testimony was never given to me verbally. To this very day I appreciate his Christian witness.

Another result of our testimonies is revealed in Revelation 12:11. It says: “And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” When we give our testimonies, we wield a conquering weapon that will help us obtain victory over the enemy.

Do you have a personal testimony today? If not, God can give you one—a powerful testimony that not only tells of victory over the enemy, but also gives you a way to talk to others and encourage them toward a life that is fulfilling, full of hope, and that leads to an eternal reward.

apostolic faith magazine