The principal of a Christian school asked me during breakfast at a local diner, “What do you tell a child who doesn’t have a wild testimony?”
He told me many of his students would attend a Christian event and hear the testimony of someone who was a murderer or drug addict before coming to Christ. The students often felt their story of coming to Christ was lame because it wasn’t dramatic.
“You came to Christ as a child,” he said. “What do you say to encourage someone like you?”
I did trust in Christ in my childhood. If you use the testimony format once recommended by Cru, then my story would begin, “Before I met Christ, I was potty training and disobeyed my parents.”
I praise God for every Mafia hitman converted, every addict set free, every embezzler redeemed. But is there a way of thinking about testimony that transcends What is the worst thing you did and how did God save you from that? Is there something more than stressing dramatic testimonies?
We easily misunderstand the seriousness of every sin. Those who downplay an early conversion, and those who exalt a dramatic conversion, are highlighting the wrong thing.
The Bible makes it clear that the seriousness of a sin is measured not by the act—or in the act in comparison with other sins, thoughts, and omissions. Sin is measured in the Bible by the one it affects. God is as grieved by Adam’s fruit-eating as by Cain’s murdering. That is why we see disobedience to parents listed along with murder in Romans 1. As Martyn Lloyd–Jones writes in Spiritual Depression, “There is only one sin, and that is the sin of unbelief.”
Those who downplay an early conversion, and those who exalt a dramatic conversion, are highlighting the wrong thing.
That means all of us stand on level ground at the cross. The man who knifes his enemy and watches his guts spill all over the ground is not in greater need of a dramatic rescue than a small child whose parents read him Bible stories and take him to church. Dead in sin means we all need an earth-shattering, miraculous act of grace to bring us to life.
We easily misunderstand grace because we make it too small. We act as if the only act of grace in conversion is being forgiven of sin. Meanwhile, we miss all the incredible acts of grace it took to bring us there.
It’s an incredible act of God’s grace that anyone hears the gospel at all. Many people have lived and died without ever hearing the message that I’ve heard every week of my life. It is grace to be told the truth.
Many people have lived and died without ever hearing the message that I have heard every week of my life. It is grace to be told the truth.
It is an act of grace to have parents, teachers, and pastors who model the gospel. I saw trouble in the church, but I didn’t see hypocrisy and corruption. Instead I saw repentance, genuine faith, passion, and integrity. That is grace.
It is grace to be wooed by the God of the universe. It is grace to be raised from death. It is grace to receive the gift of faith. It is grace to see and prize the glories of Christ. It is grace to persevere. Indeed, it is grace that preserves us through depression, despair, temptation, and doubt (Phil. 1:6).
All our stories are stories of grace from first to last.
What’s a Testimony?
I believe we should tell stories of God’s heroism, regardless of whether our sin was flamboyant. Every story of conversion is a dramatic telling of God’s kindness. When our focus is on his kindness, each story becomes a wild testimony of extravagant grace.
What do I tell someone who’s embarrassed about an ordinary testimony? We should wonder together both at how God saved the apostle Paul, an accessory to murder and enemy of Christians (Acts 9), and at how God used Timothy’s faithful mother and grandmother to lead him faith (2 Tim. 1:5). Both are stories of grace. One grace overwhelms; the other woos. After all, it’s by grace that both men entered and served in God’s kingdom.
So it is with all of us.