Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:45-49)
When I think of God’s Commandment that we should not bear false witness against our neighbor, I can’t help but think about what kind of witness we should give to our neighbors. If “bearing false witness” means to misrepresent, lie, and deceive, then bearing true witness means to give honest testimony to what we have seen, heard, and experienced.
This kind of witness is important both in a courtroom and in our everyday dealings with other people. But it is even more important when it comes to our Christian calling to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) by bearing witness to Christ. Bearing truthful witness is not only required under the Law, it is critical to the ministry of the Gospel.
There is a way of proclaiming the Gospel in the abstract, apart from subjective experience. Like the evangelists of Scripture, it is good and right to speak to others of who Jesus is and what he accomplished in his death and resurrection. In the victory of the cross, Christ has overcome sin, death, and the power of the devil.
As Christians, we believe that this is a message of objective truth in Christ, and we have been called to speak this good news on his behalf, proclaiming: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) This is most certainly true.
But there is also a way of speaking the Gospel that is much more personal and subjective. Not only are we called to tell the good news of what Christ has done for the world, we are also called to bear witness to what Christ has done for us in particular.
For example, when Martin Luther spoke of the promise of God that we have in Christ, he liked to emphasize the words “for me” and “for you.” Like when we come to the altar in Holy Communion, Luther emphasized that the promise in the Sacrament is not simply that Christ is present in bread and wine, but that the body and blood of Christ is given for you, and his forgiveness is for you in particular. This provides a target for the promise, by placing a bulls-eye on us, to help us see that his Word of grace and mercy is aimed at our hearts.
When I think of why our personal Christian witness is so important to evangelism, it is for this same reason. One of the best ways to share our faith with others is simply to talk about how we have experienced the power of God at work in our own lives. These moments of faith may not be earth-shattering events, or radical transformations in our way of life, but may be simple instances where God was with us to comfort or encourage us. Some of the best stories we can tell of Jesus are of times when we were weak or when circumstances were beyond our control, and we learned we had to trust in God alone. As the Apostle Paul once said, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
By being honest about the struggles we experience and our daily need for God, we bear witness to what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We become examples of a faith that does not rest in ourselves, but in Christ alone. We have the privilege of letting others know that Jesus is not just the Savior; he is our Savior.
This again shows the sacramental nature of our daily discipleship. God uses us as his “means of grace” by demonstrating that the real power of faith belongs to God, and not to us as human beings. By being honest about our struggles, doubts, and weaknesses, we can give our neighbors hope and faith that God is at work in their lives as well. Others will see in us that “no temptation has overtaken us that is not common to all people, but God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In making us his witnesses, God reveals his Gospel incarnate in us. We become the instrument and the example of his light shining in the darkness. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). It is to Him that we bear witness.
– Pastor Steven E. King