Who Gets The Glory In Your Story?
Marks of a Real Christian Testimony
Scripture Reading: Acts 26
Statistics show that people rank death as their second greatest fear. Number one on their list is public speaking. Most people would rather go skydiving or shark hunting with a Swiss Army knife than stand before a group of people and talk. While it is an insufficient reason, it is likely real for some of you, nonetheless.
Another possible reason why you haven’t shared your testimony is that while you believe you are soundly saved—a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, you’re just not sure how to put it into words. While that too may be a very real reason, it’s also a poor excuse. What can be more important than telling others about what Jesus Christ has done in your life?
Yet another possible reason for not sharing your conversion story with the church family is that you don’t think your story is all-that exciting. You don’t see anything extraordinary about your story. Trust me. We’re going to address this during our time together.
Here’s the most sobering reason of all that some of you might be hesitant to come forward and share your testimony. You don’t have one. You’re playing church. When you hear Pastor Ron talk about the Christian’s testimony, you picture yourself looking in the mirror and realize you have no testimony. The person the rest of the congregation might see on the outside is inconsistent with who you know you are on the inside.
Before we continue, let me share one of my presuppositions with you. It is this. Every Christian has a conversion story.
Oh, I don’t doubt that there are some of you here who are soundly saved, who would say that you’ve been a Christian as long as you can remember; but you’re not sure exactly when you came to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Be that as it may; there most certainly was a moment in time when you did come to repentance and faith. There most certainly was a moment in time when God saved you from your sin and the just punishment for that sin.
Salvation is not a process. While it may take a long time for some to come to repentance and faith, a person is not saved over time. They are saved in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. Depending on the circumstances, a rescue operation at sea can take a long time. But the person is not rescued; a person is not saved until they are plucked from the water.
I spend a great deal of time talking to people about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of the people with whom I speak readily admit that they do not know Jesus Christ. My heart breaks for them. Many people I talk to, however, claim to be Christian. Yet when I ask to hear their testimony, what comes out of their mouth often reveals the condition of their heart—that they are not born again.
One piece of evidence that causes me to draw such a conclusion is who gets the glory in their story. More often than not it’s the person I’m talking to who takes and receives the credit for their profession of faith in Christ. Oh, they’ll mention Jesus along the way. They’ll talk about what a friend they have in Jesus and how he has made their life better. They may even blasphemously refer to him as a lover or a homeboy. But, in the end, they credit themselves for making a decision to accept Jesus. They credit themselves for the changes they’ve made in their lives while thanking Jesus for a helping hand.
So, with everything I’ve shared thus far in mind, I would like to ask each of you the following question. Who gets the glory in your story? To help us answer that question, let’s look at the marks of a real Christian testimony as seen in the testimony of the apostle Paul.
The scene in Acts 26 finds the apostle Paul at the end of his third missionary journey. The journey began with a visit with the disciples in Galatia. He then, having arrived in Ephesus, encountered some disciples of John the Baptist. Paul would explain to the twelve the difference between the baptism of John and the baptism of Christ.
For the next three months, Paul spent much of his time in the Ephesian synagogue reasoning and persuading the Jews about the kingdom of God. Their hearts remained hard toward God and His Gospel. So Paul, along with the disciples whom he had baptized, spent the next two years proclaiming the good news inside the hall or school of Tyrannus. Tyrannus is thought to be either the owner of the hall or a philosopher who taught there. It is believed that Paul spent as many as five hours each day in the hall, probably from 11AM to 4PM, the time the hall would be unoccupied for the afternoon break.
God was doing many wonderful things and performing miracles by Paul’s hand, which led to a riot in Ephesus. The riot was instigated by a silversmith named Demetrius. The reason for the unrest: Paul’s proclamation of the gospel was being used to draw people to repentance and faith, which meant fewer people were purchasing idols. The increase in godliness was causing a decrease in revenue for purveyors of godlessness.
Sadly, that sounds like many churches today. They don’t preach the gospel because it may negatively impact the church’s financial condition.
Not being able to get their hands on Paul, the rioters snatched Gaius and Aristarchus—a couple of Macedonians who were among Paul’s traveling companions. Paul wanted to make his way into the crowd, but some of his disciples stopped him. The town clerk, of all people, was able to quiet the crowd—helping the mob to realize that a riot would only serve to cause governmental wrath to fall on their own heads.
When things quieted down, Paul made his way to Macedonia.
It was during this part of the journey that Paul and his team stopped in Troas for a week. This is where we find the memorable story of how Paul raised a young man named Eutychus from the dead, after he fell asleep during Paul’s preaching and fell from a window.
Just by way of full disclosure: I do not believe I have the spiritual gift of healing, so please stay awake.
Paul then made his way to Miletus. From there he sent word to the elders of the Ephesian church to come to him. When they arrived, he made his heart-felt address to them, encouraging them to keep the faith and beware of wolves who would try to attack God’s flock. He also tearfully explained to them that they would likely never see him again.
Paul set sail for Jerusalem. He made a stop in Caesarea where he visited Philip the evangelist. While there, a prophet by the name of Agabus came and prophesied that Paul would be taken prisoner in Jerusalem. Having heard the prophesy, Paul’s friends tried to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem. Paul’s response:
“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he met with the elders of the church, including James. Paul, as his custom, made his way to the temple to preach the gospel to his people. Jews from Asia, seeing Paul in the temple, stirred up the people who were gathered there, falsely accusing him of defiling the temple by bringing Greek gentiles into the temple with him.
The people drug Paul out of the temple, closed the doors, and started beating him. They were going to kill him, but he was rescued by a Roman tribune and a detachment of soldiers. The soldiers literally had to carry Paul out of harm’s way. Paul was detained in the military barracks.
With permission of the tribune, Paul makes his first of six defenses of his faith. He stood on the steps of the fortress and boldly addressed the mob.
The reaction from the people was violent, so the tribune decided Paul should be examined by flogging. The Romans actually believed that by flogging Paul they could find out why the people were so adamantly opposed to him. But before they could flog him, Paul said, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned” (Acts 22:25)? Well, this freaked out the Roman soldiers because it was punishable by death to flog a Roman citizen who had not had his day in court.
The next day, Paul is brought before the chief priests and all the Jewish council, which gave Paul his second opportunity to share his testimony with the people. Once again, the response was violent. The tribune, fearing for Paul’s life, ordered him returned to the barracks. That night, the Lord came to Paul, stood beside him, and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
Meanwhile, more than forty Jews were devising a plan to murder Paul. The chief priests and the Jewish council became co-conspirators in the plot when the forty came to them and solicited their help in getting Paul out of the barracks. Fortunately for Paul, and by God’s providence, Paul’s nephew overheard the conspirators. Paul called for one of the centurions who then took the boy to advise the tribune about the murder plot.
The tribune arranged to have two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to escort Paul to Felix the governor, who was in Caesarea. When he arrived, Paul was placed under guard, in Herod’s praetorium.
Five days later, the high priest Ananias, several elders, and a spokesman name Tertullus arrived in Caesarea. Together, they tried to make a case against Paul, before Felix. This gives Paul the opportunity, for the third time, to share his testimony.
Felix was well aware of the growing Christian movement, also known at the time as “The Way.” Felix postpones rendering a decision about Paul. Paul remained in custody, but Felix extended some courtesy to him, including allowing Paul’s friends to attend to his needs.
After several days, Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla summoned Paul so that they could hear more from him about his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul reasoned with them about self-righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. Felix was alarmed by what he was hearing from Paul, so he sent Paul away. But Felix kept calling for Paul, hoping that Paul would bribe him for his release.
Paul remained in prison for two years. Felix, who would be succeeded by Festus, wanted to do the Jews a favor by leaving Paul incarcerated.
Three days after Festus arrived in the area he went to Jerusalem. Still wanting Paul’s head, the Jewish hierarchy petitioned Festus to have Paul brought from Caesarea to Jerusalem so they could kill him. Instead of bringing Paul to Jerusalem, Festus went to Caesarea—inviting the Jewish leaders to go with him.
Festus had Paul brought before the tribunal. There, he was surrounded by the Jewish leaders who levied a slew of false charges against him. This gave Paul his fourth opportunity to testify to his innocence and his faith in Christ.
Knowing that the Jews wanted to kill Paul, Festus offered Paul the opportunity to have his trial in Jerusalem. Remembering the Lord’s visit to the barracks, and asserting again his Roman citizenship, Paul responded by saying, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). Festus responded by saying, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:12).
Several days later, King Agrippa II and Bernice arrived in Caesarea. Festus briefed the king about the situation with Paul. Festus admitted to the king that Paul had done nothing deserving death. Festus’ concern was sending Paul to the Emperor without any specific charges. Such a breach of protocol risked wasting the Emperor’s time, which itself could be an offense punishable by death. So Festus sought King Agrippa’s counsel, hoping that if the king examined Paul he might be able to assist in drafting official charges against him.
And this brings us back to our text for this morning, Acts 26, which contains Paul’s fifth defense of his faith.
Paul began his defense by stretching out his hand to the crowd. This was a common practice among orators of the day.
Paul Testifies About His Upbringing
And how does Paul begin his testimony? He testifies about his life before Christ (Read verses 4-5).
Paul’s audience was Jewish, so he asserted his Jewish pedigree. Not only was Paul and Jew, but he was a Jew among Jews—a Pharisee. At the time, there were only about 6,000 members of the Pharisees. Among the various ruling sects in the Jewish culture, the Pharisees were, by far, the most legalistic.
Whereas the Sadducees were considered rationalists, the Pharisees were considered ritualists. The Pharisees knew every aspect of Jewish Law—moral, ceremonial, dietary, and civil—inside and out, frontward and backward. A Pharisee was required to memorize all of the Torah.
Why was it important for Paul to talk about his background? So his audience would know something about him. While many of the people probably knew something about Paul, not nearly as many gathered that day actually knew Paul.
If you are going to share your Christian testimony, whether in front of a group of people or over coffee with an individual, let them know something about you. And during that time, let the other person talk about him or herself. People love to talk about their favorite subject—themselves.
What you’re doing is establishing a rapport with the person. What you’re doing is establishing a relationship with the person. That’s right. I said it. I’m talking about relationship or friendship evangelism—not the way all-too-much of the American Church defines the terms and practices them; but rather in a biblical way.
It doesn’t take days, months, weeks, or years to establish relationships with people. And it certainly doesn’t and shouldn’t take the types of “bait and switch” gimmicks so many churches use to lure people not to Christ, but to a religious community or a Christian club. All it takes is being friendly with others. All it takes—what it must take—is loving God enough to obey His command to reach the world with the gospel, and to love people more than we love ourselves.
Paul Testifies About His Sinfulness
Paul then testifies about his sinfulness (Read verses 6-11).
Paul, like the rest of us, sinned in many ways; but he chose in this instance to focus his attention on his sins against those who were now his Christian brothers and sisters. Paul talked about his hatred, persecution, and murder of those who named the name of Jesus Christ.
No Christian testimony is complete without the articulation of one’s sinful nature. A Christian testimony must include testimony about one’s crimes against God. And we must call sin what it is—sin.
For reasons I can only assume are motivated by a desire to not offend anyone and to avoid negatively impacting attendance at and giving to the church, churches around the country have initiated a full-court press against talking about the sinfulness of sin.
Instead of calling sin “sin” and instead of calling people to account for their sins, many churches now make people feel very comfortable in their sin by calling them hurts, hang-ups, and habits. It is en vogue, now, to refer to sins as short-comings, low self-esteem, unrealized felt needs, mistakes, poor decision-making, and to then tell people not to worry because we are all in this sin-thing together.
But there is something else that is even more insidious than the minimization of sin. It’s the glorification of sin. And Christians have a tendency to do this in their testimonies. They talk about their sin as if to almost brag about how sinful they were and are. If you share your testimony with people and what they remember most about what you shared is your sin, then you’ve completely blown it.
Notice that Paul spoke honestly about his sin, but he wasn’t gratuitous in his description of his sin. He didn’t make himself out to be a great sinner in order to impress and entertain other sinners.
Paul Testifies About His Conversion
Paul then testifies about his conversion (Read verses 12-18).
There he was, on the road to Damascus, with the authority of the high priest, breathing threats and murder against the Lord’s people (as we’re told in Acts 9:1), to round up Christians for the purpose of persecuting them—even unto death.
On that dusty road, under the heat of the midday sun, Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ. The result—not of a chance encounter, but of a divine and sovereign appointment orchestrated entirely by God alone—Paul turned from going to Damascus where he hoped to kill Christians and destroy Christianity. Instead, he went there in obedience to and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What happened to Paul was a miracle. And you might hear about Paul’s testimony and think to yourself, “I don’t have a testimony like that. In fact, my testimony is kind of mundane. I don’t share my testimony because it’s not very interesting. Nothing dramatic happened to me when God saved me.”
If you find yourself nodding your head to that, do you realize how sinful that way of thinking is? Yes, what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus was a miracle—but not solely because He saw the risen Lord on that road. The miracle was that God, according to His sovereign will and love, chose to save that murderous little Pharisee. The miracle was that Jesus Christ chose to save a sinner like Paul—to give him a new heart with new desires and to take his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh.
And if you are a born again follower of Jesus Christ, if He has saved you, then your testimony is a miracle—a miracle every bit as significant as what happened to the apostle Paul!
To say that there is nothing extraordinary about your conversion is to minimize the awesome power, grace, and love of Almighty God. It would be as if you were saying, “Yeah, God saved me. I’m not going to hell, now. No big deal.” How blasphemous would that be?
The focal point of a Christian’s testimony, on a personal level, should not be on our sin, and it should not be on what God has done for us since He saved us (and we’ll talk about that in a moment). The focal point of our testimony should be on what God did.
Salvation is a work of God. You didn’t participate in the saving of your life. You couldn’t. You were dead in your trespasses and sins; and as a dead person you could do absolutely nothing to help yourself.
Everything you experienced regarding your salvation came in response to what God had already done for you. If you have repented and placed your faith and trust in the Savior, it is because God first loved you. It is because God drew you to Himself. It is because God regenerated you. It is because He breathed new life into you and commanded you to come forth—just as Jesus did with his dead friend, Lazarus.
And since God did all of the work; since God alone should receive credit and praise for your salvation, then God should receive most of the attention and glory in your story.
Paul Testifies About His Life, Post-Conversion
In verses 19-21, Paul testifies to his post-conversion life (Read verses 19-21). Here is where most Christian testimonies go awry. This is where many Christian testimonies move from testimony to sales pitch. “Try Jesus on for size and this is what you’ll get.”
What you won’t hear in Paul’s testimony is a sales pitch for your best life, now. But what you will hear, even in such a brief passage, is a testimony of authentic spiritual fruit and times of testing.
Paul testifies—honestly, but not boastfully—about his obedience to Christ. His obedience was made manifest through the message he brought to the people. And the resulting benefit of that obedience was not a new car, a spouse who behaves as he or she should, kids that walk the straight and narrow, and a promotion at work. No, the benefit Paul derived from his obedience was persecution and tribulation. His own people wanted to murder him.
Now, does this mean that God doesn’t bless His children with good things? Of course not. God is the Great Physician who heals some of those who are sick. God does bring freedom from addiction to some. God does allow relational and financial victory in the lives of some of His children. God does save entire families, some of the time.
But we ought not to share the victories we have experienced in our own lives as some kind of guarantee to others. While there is nothing wrong with testifying about the blessings we have received post-conversion; we must be careful not to do so in such a way as to foster in unbelievers (or even other believers) a false hope of temporal blessing.
Tragically, too many Christians and too many churches make the Christian testimony about earthly benefits and not about eternal hope. And so people sincerely “try Jesus on for size” as instructed, with often tragic consequences.
They pray a prayer. They walk down an aisle or raise their hand or sign a card. But they never repent of their sin and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Oh, they may call Him Lord and Savior, but in reality He is nothing more to them than a spiritual butler—assigned to do their bidding and otherwise stay out of sight and mind. Jesus is relegated to the status of a cosmic genie whose responsibility is to grant the wishes of His masters. The Lord becomes the slave and the slave becomes the master.
Any teaching or testimony that leads a person to draw such conclusions, either consciously or subconsciously is blasphemous. It is blasphemous and it is idolatrous. It is blasphemous and idolatrous because it leads people to worship the creature rather than the Creator, the temporal gifts rather than the Giver of Life.
Paul Proclaims the Gospel
And this brings us to the most important component of any Christian testimony—the gospel (Read verses 22-23).
A person is not saved apart from the gospel; and a person cannot be saved by a gospel they do not know.
The gospel is not merely what Jesus Christ has done for you. The gospel is Jesus Christ. He is the gospel. What he has done for you is a result of the gospel.
Without the gospel, a testimony is just a heart-warming story in which the story teller is the focal point of the story. Without the gospel, a Christian’s story will likely sound no different than the life-story of a sincere Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or Muslim who experiences some sort of emotional epiphany, a change of lifestyle, and decides to worship the false god of the before-mentioned religions.
The Bible makes it very clear that it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Yes, the Lord can most certainly use our life story to prepare someone to hear the gospel. But our testimony, our life story, if it is devoid of the gospel, won’t save a single soul. You might impress people, but you will have done nothing for their souls.
Yes, when we speak about our conversion, if our conversion is real, we will inevitably include elements of the gospel in that part of our testimony. But the purpose of any testimony is not to simply touch upon the gospel in our story. The purpose of any Christian testimony is to bring all of the glory to Christ and to make Him known to others, through the proclamation of His gospel.
Paul’s Motivation for Sharing His Testimony
And this brings us to the motivation for one sharing their Christian testimony (Read verses 24-29).
Our motivation for sharing our testimonies should never be to draw attention to ourselves. King Agrippa was not at all confused about Paul’s motivation. “In short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Agrippa asked.
Paul’s answer was an uninhibited, resounding “yes.” The primary motivation for sharing our testimony is to bring glory to God—to testify as a means of expressing our love for Him. In addition to that, our motivation for sharing our testimony should be a love for people, both saved and lost. Our motivation for sharing our testimonies should be the desire to see people come to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Result of Paul Sharing His Testimony
And the result of Paul sharing his testimony and proclaiming the gospel? Again, it wasn’t his best life now (Read verses 30-32).
Paul had demanded to be tried before the Emperor. As a Roman citizen, it was his right. His request would be granted, according to the laws of the land and the sovereign will of God. And as a result, he would eventually be martyred for his faith.
The result of sharing your testimony and proclaiming the gospel may be similar to what Paul experienced. Sharing your testimony in a biblical, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting and glorifying way might cost you something. It might cost you everything.
Are you unwilling to pay such a high price? Are you unwilling to testify before men about Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord? Then neither will He confess you before God the Father, which means you are not saved. You are lost and bound for hell.