There are few things in life that should move us more than hearing the testimony of how a lost sinner comes to believe the gospel and be united to Christ by faith. A person being delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son causes all of heaven to rejoice, and it is a worthy cause for our own celebration. And yet, it’s often easy for our testimony to be a substitute for actually sharing the good news.
The Difference Between Your Testimony and the Gospel
Sharing your testimony, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute evangelism. Why? Because your testimony is not the gospel. The gospel is the good news of what the triune God has done to reconcile and restore fallen sinful humanity and creation to himself, through the work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his Holy Spirit. Your testimony is the story of how you came to be reconciled to God through hearing that good news; it’s the story of you acknowledging your sinfulness, repenting, and trusting in Christ for abundant and eternal life.
Mark Dever puts it this way:
A personal testimony is a wonderful thing. The Bible is full of examples of it, and we should testify to the wonderful experience of receiving God’s mercy. But consider John 9 and the man born blind. He gives his testimony but doesn’t even know who Jesus is. His words glorify God, but they don’t present the gospel. This is not evangelism. Unless you’re explicit about Jesus Christ and the cross then it is not the gospel.
God promises us that the gospel, not our personal story, is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16; 10:13). As our former pastor, Dave Leandre, constantly reminded us, “The gospel is not about you; it’s about Jesus!”. You are not the gospel; you cannot be the gospel. Rather, like the early church, our job is to bear witness, in word and deed, to what God has done in Christ. As an ambassadors of the kingdom, we announce the good news to the world, imploring sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).
Using Your Testimony to Point to Jesus
The woman at the well in John 4 provides an excellent example of getting from her testimony to Jesus. First, the woman testifies to what Jesus has done; she has a desire to share her experience with Jesus with others. After Jesus revealed her hidden sins, claiming to be the Messiah, the woman leaves her water jar to tell someone what has happened (John 4:28-29).
Second, she not only tells people in the town her story, she directs them to Jesus. After the Samaritans had come to the well to meet Jesus, we see them make a striking claim. The Bible tells us that they said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Of course, we can’t literally bring people to see Jesus, who has ascended to the right hand of Father. But we can point people to the Scriptures, where we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit (Eph 3:4-7; 1 John 1:1-4; 2 Cor 3:12-4:6).
How to Share Your Testimony
Although sharing a personal testimony should never be a substitute for sharing the Gospel, it can be an incredibly effective tool leading to evangelism. I heard one pastor say it’s an “on-ramp” to proclaiming Christ crucified. While your testimony is, in some sense unique, it should also be similar to the testimonies of all believers. The specific steps in your journey might look a little different, but everyone takes the same road to Christ. Here are some guidelines to help you share your testimony and get people focused on Christ, not you.
1. First, what your life was like before Christ.
Now hear me clearly: this is not a time to brag about your time as a sinner or to minimize your sin as a kid who grew up in church. This is the opportunity to explain that, no matter how much or little you sinned, you were separated from Christ, from birth, by your sin. In this season of your life you were what Scripture calls an enemy of God. Share what you used to think about God, the Bible, sin, etc.
2. How you came to repent of your sins, trust in Christ, and believe in the Gospel.
It doesn’t matter if you had a “Damascus road” conversion or a less dramatic experience (being led to Christ by your parents when you were young.) The point is this: there was a time when you repented and believed. This is an excellent time to explain how you believe God sent his Son into the world, to live the perfect life we couldn’t, to take the punishment we rightly deserved, to die in our place, and provide a way to be forgiven by and reconciled to God.
3. What your life has been like since knowing Christ.
If you understand the gospel rightly, you’ll know that this isn’t the time to explain how great you are, but how merciful and great God is. Share how your life has been transformed and how the things of earth are growing strangely dim. Share how your desires for sin are being replaced with desires for obedience to Scripture.
This is also a perfect time to debunk the myth that Christianity is for perfect people, or makes people completely perfect, happy, healthy, and wealthy. Tell them of your proneness to wander and how you still need the gospel daily. Tell them of the assurance you have that Christ is now interceding for you and giving you the power to persevere and obey despite the circumstances life may bring. Get them thinking about eternity by sharing with them the hope you have that Christ is returning one day to make all things new, raise us to new life, and bring judgment on his enemies.
4. How the person you’re sharing with can experience the same.
No gospel presentation is complete without a call to respond to Christ. The gospel is not a birthday invitation than can be politely refused; it is a divine summons to repent and believe. Just like your testimony pointed to Christ, your call to respond should do the same. Tell them to consider this Jesus, his claims, his work, and how he has changed your life. Let them know that he can do the same for them, despite how good or bad they think they are.
All I Have Is Christ
For Christians, the responsibility of sharing the gospel is both a joy and a privilege. It is the greatest news in the world and more important than any other news we can share. As we share our testimonies, let’s remember to get people to see Jesus.
I once was lost in darkest night, yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own a rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first I would refuse You still
But as I ran my hell-bound race indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state and led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed you suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
For excellent resources on evangelism, check out:
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY state Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have one son named Oliver Paul and are foster parents. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and supporting Bayern Munich. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchbedzyk