“The Testimony of God”
1 John 5:6-13
The word testimony, particularly when its used in the context of faith, has a tendency to make us Presbyterians a little uncomfortable, especially when we hear it used in the question, “Can I give you my testimony?” I don’t know about you, but for me, whenever I hear the word testimony, my first thought immediately jumps to the experience I had as a youth at a revival I was invited to go to by one of my more, shall we say, Baptist friends. During the revival I was asked to come up to the microphone and give my testimony, which I didn’t want to do and ended up not doing. I always wondered why I didn’t get invited back.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving our testimony or doing a little “testifyin” (that’s without the “g” on the end). In fact, doing a little “testifyin” is not only good for the soul, it is good for our faith. It helps to build us up. It helps to remind us of our experience of the living Christ. It helps to connect us to the people to whom we are testifyin, especially when we get a few Amens shouted at us, because the reality is that in our testifyin, we are speaking to the truth that is shared by God’s people, the truth that is bigger than us, the truth that encompasses and gives credence to our faith, the truth that comes only from God.
I’ll never forget my first experience leading a worship service in the chapel at the Atlanta Medical Center in downtown Atlanta. It was during my hospital chaplaincy my third summer of seminary, when I was asked to lead the Sunday morning service for the staff and patients. Now, keep in mind that I was part of a group of five seminary students, all men, doing this hospital chaplaincy together. Also, keep in mind that I was the only white guy in the group, and that the hospital is located in a predominately black neighborhood with one of the biggest and probably most famous evangelical Baptist churches in Atlanta a block away called Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King was a pastor. I couldn’t have been more out of my theological comfort zone.
On the Sunday morning of the service, I walked into the chapel to begin the service only to discover that I was the only white person in the place. My heart began to race and my hands started shaking, no it wasn’t the Spirit, it was my nerves, because I knew that what I was about to preach was going to be different from what they were used to hearing. After all, I was pretty sure that I was the only Reformed theologian in the place. But as I began giving the sermon, something happened. The people started saying out loud “Amen” and “Yes, Jesus.” But it wasn’t until an old woman in the back of chapel yelled our “now your testifyin preacher” that the power of the word testimony hit me.
What I discovered in this experience was that my testimony was not my testimony alone, but the testimony of all who sat in that chapel on that Sunday morning. My testimony was their testimony of the message of salvation in the living Christ. The reality is that giving our testimony about God’s initiative and action in our lives does indeed transcend denominational boundaries, not dismissing them mind you, but reminding us of the common divine act of salvation that is shared by all who confess Jesus is Lord.
Giving our testimony then is a profound act of our faith. In our Affirmation of Faith that we will say together in a few moments, we will again give the testimony of the truth we have been given to believe about Jesus Christ through the Spirit of God. In this affirmation of faith, we will again make a bold claim about who it is that is our Lord and Savior when we say, “We trust in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, who was crucified, suffering the depths of human pain and giving his life for the sins of the world. God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal.”
In this act of proclamation, we are really giving our testimony, a testimony that is not yours or mine alone, but the testimony of the whole church that is united together with Christ through the waters of Baptism. It is the testimony of the church of Jesus Christ, that Jesus was fully human and fully God, that he didn’t pretend to be human or wasn’t really the Word of God incarnate. It is the testimony of the church of Jesus Christ, that Jesus was crucified on the cross and suffered the depths of human pain, that he gave his life, his very blood, for the sins of the world. It is the testimony of the church of Jesus Christ, that God raised Jesus from the dead, not through resuscitation or reincarnation, but through the glorious resurrection, and in doing so vindicated Jesus sinless life, broke the power of sin and evil in the world, and delivered all those who confess Jesus is Lord from death to life eternal. Can I get an “Amen”?
But there is more to giving our testimony that using words to articulate our faith. We also give our testimony by what we do. One of your Elders made the point precisely when she said, that the world judges the Christian faith by looking at the way Christians live. In our actions, even more than words, we testify to the world about our faith in the one in whom we put our trust. When you treat others with Christ-like compassion, you are testifyin. When you love the other with Christ-like love, you are testifyin. When you built each other up with Christ-like comfort, you are testifyin. When you forgive one another with Christ-like forgiveness, you are testifyin. When you serve the other with Christ-like humility, you are testifyin. And as the same Elder said to me, even our coming to Sunday school and worship is a testimony of our faith.
But here is the question for us, how is it that you and I can give a testimony about anything, let alone believe anything? How is it possible for us to make such bold assertions of faith about Jesus Christ, and live the way we are called to live? How is it possible for us to testify to the truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ and believe that we have eternal life in him? Does it come from human testimony alone?
Certainly, the human testimony has been and will continue to be an important part of the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it should not ever be neglected or dismissed. The Old Testament is full of prophets who proclaimed the message of divine deliverance to the people. Jesus himself commissioned his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded them. The apostle Paul in his letters reminds the various churches to continue to proclaim their faith, and even Peter in his first letter to the Christians in Rome reminds them to be able to give a reason for the hope that they have to anyone who asks.
But is human testimony enough to evoke faith to the unbelieving? In this day and age of post-modernism, truth has become more suspect rather than certain, something more subjective than objective. In this day and age of scientific research, with talk of amino acids, DNA, and human cloning, God may seem to some to be more of an ancient belief that has long since out lived its time, akin to believing the earth was flat. In this day and age of modern scholarship, Bible has become an easy target for those who say that it doesn’t have any relevance for people today, because it’s only about an ancient people from an ancient culture and context and their search for God. In this day and age of the enlightenment, religion itself is seen by many to be only for those who are naïve and intellectually inferior.
No, human testimony alone is not the origin of faith and belief, for the origin of our testimony is from God. It is the testimony of God that changed fishermen to apostles, hardened skeptics into ardent apologists, and a persecutor of the church into one of its greatest witnesses. It is the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit that changes and transforms life and gives us the foretaste of the eternity.
What is the testimony of God? It is the promise of eternal life now. It is the promise that we have eternal life not just when we die, but here and now. It is the promise that all of us can have the quality of life God as chosen to give us today.
The resurrection is the proclamation that God’s testimony is true and real, and the quality of life in which God calls us to live is the invitation for us to make a commitment to Jesus Christ and live in eternal life now, to testify to the truth we know in him, and to proclaim to the world the promise of the testimony of God. Amen.