Over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of personal testimonies. To me it was always awesome to see the Lord using and changing these people in profound ways. Honestly, there were few things that I loved more than hearing such amazing testimonies.
However, I’ve come to realize that nearly every single testimony that I’ve ever heard, it’s always about how God changed their life in some way. While such stories of transformation and sanctification are remarkable as God is given the glory (most times), I do think that personal testimonies can be dangerous and skew peoples perceptions of God in at least the following three ways:
1. The Gospel is often truncated, as the wrath of God is not mentioned in light of a person’s sin. In personal testimonies the focus tends to be on how God delivered a person from physical or sexual addiction, abusive relationships, awful circumstances, financial despair, etc. As terrible as such things are, they are still tertiary in comparison to what one’s sin deserves—namely the full and eternal wrath of God. One’s ultimate problem is NOT addictions, bad relationships, emotional/physical abuse, or the like; rather, it is God Himself, His wrath.
Thus, the gospel gets distorted in such testimonies into how God will save a person from bad realities in their life, while neglecting the one true reality that one should completely be petrified of: God’s wrath and condemnation.
Impersonal, impractical, and abstract the wrath of God may seem to people. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that if one truly realizes that they deserve nothing but hell but have been saved by the precious blood of Christ, then one’s entire life changes. No matter how bad one’s life can get, the most horrifying thing that could ever happen has been dealt completely in Christ. One can say and experience in difficult times, “While things suck, I deserve nothing but hell and therefore things really aren’t as bad as they could be.” (See Luke 13:1-5.) What joy there isto know that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
2. The Gospel is often reduced to nothing but temporal rewards and satisfaction, not pointing to the only Reality that can truly satisfy. During personal testimonies the focus is mostly on what God has done for them in terms of personal and temporal needs being meet. God does that— no doubt, and He deserves praises for such realities. However, the picture being painted, as unintentional as it may be, is that “Come to Jesus and all your problems will go away.”
I don’t know how times I heard, and even said so myself, “Try Jesus. He’s great! Your life will get so much better!” But when this is not properly nuanced, Jesus becomes a means to an end (e.g. comfort, prestige, happiness, spouse, etc.), and not the end in Himself.
The whole point of the Gospel is to remove the obstacles (i.e. our sin and in turn God’s wrath) so that we can begin to enjoy Christ now and for Eternity. As 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also sufferedonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus did not suffer just to save us from our addictions and other problems. He suffered to remove the Wrath of God so that we can partake in the most awesome, satisfying, magnificent, glorious, Reality in existence—God.
3. Christ’s call for His followers to suffer and take up one’s cross is frequently downplayed or completely ignored. Too often one’s testimony is basically: I received Jesus and now things are great. Any person that has followed Christ more than a month knows that this is basically crap on so many levels. When the Spirit of God indwells in a person and their sin is confronted, it is not a fun and happy experience—though sweet and joyful in the long run.
In reality, things get even more complicated and difficult when Christ calls that person. Jesus makes it plain that His followers will be persecuted and suffer (Matt 5:10-12; John 15:20). As Paul said in 2 Tim. 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The whole book of 1 Peter is on being persecuted and suffering for Christ; just read the fourth chapter.
For someone to say, “Receive Jesus and all your problems will go away” is a liar or deceived. Christ was honest and upfront with people about what it will cost to follow Him. We shouldn’t be anything less.
However, I’ve learned that a testimony must point to Christ and His work ultimately, and anything less borders on self-adoration and/or deception. Thus, the more I understand the holiness and perfection of God, how much I fall short of delighting in Him as I ought, the wrath that I so utterly deserve, and the glories of Christ’s atonement my behalf, I realize that I do have a testimony. A testimony that points to the only Reality that deserves ultimate recognition and glory.