“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
I’ve been looking back over twenty years of articles, notes, and journals where I recorded happenings in the churches I pastored. Some of those events left scars, memories, and lessons enough for a lifetime. Some people in those stories are forever unforgettable, either for their amazing examples of Christlikeness or for lesser reasons.
Recently on this website, I chronicled the doings of a few people who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted. I suggested the reason for this behavior: They are lost. Unsaved. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”
That says it as well as anything.
Today–a week after posting that piece–I was reflecting on some of those people, a few in particular. And, realizing that most are now passed to their heavenly reward (or lack thereof; not for me to say), I prayed the Lord would be merciful to them. And at that point, the Lord explained something to me.
He called to my mind the statement of our Lord in John 15:21. “These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me.” The persecutions of the faithful– all “without cause,” He emphasizes–have a solid reason. These people do not know God. They are lost, unsaved, unredeemed, unforgiven.
That explained it to the satisfaction of our Lord.
And I thought of something.
If you had gone to any one of those people who were constantly at work harassing their leadership and asked if they were saved, born again, redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and going to Heaven, they would have assured you they were. And they would have given as their reason their testimony. Something like “When I was 12 years old, I was saved at East Fork Baptist Church, Route 4, Shabuta, Misissippi, and baptized the next Sunday. It is as clear in my mind as if it happened last week.”
And that’s the problem.
Testimonies are subjective. They speak of what happened to you, what you did and saw and felt. They are not verifiable, examinable, subject to analysis. It’s your word.
It’s your story and you’re sticking to it.
We used to have a saying in soul-winning training, “The person with a testimony is never at the mercy of one with an argument.” It’s true, as far as it goes. But that doesn’t come close to being the whole story.
A Mormon sat across the table from me, and explained why he “knew” the Book of Mormon to be inspired of God. “It gives me a warm feeling when I read it.”
That was it for him.
I told him chili does that for me.
The proof of a child of God is not a testimony. The proof of a child of God is not a feeling, no matter how warm. The proof of a child of God is nothing in the world but obedience.
“I wrote to you,” said the Apostle to the Corinthians, “that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things.”
Show us your obedience.
Here are a few statements of our Lord’s that come to mind, any one of which should settle this for all time…
–“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). (Note: He is not referring to what we call the Ten Commandments. See Matthew 28:20 where He commands His people to teach new disciples “to observe all the things I have commanded you.”) Show us your obedience.
–“Except you are converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Show us your childlikeness.
–“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another” (John 13:35). Show us your love for the people of God.
What we are not saying
Nowhere does Scripture allow us to measure our salvation by how much money we give, how often we attend church, whether we read our Bibles and pray every day, or any such marker some of us have been using.
We are given no measuring sticks. There is no ruler or tape measure or scale by which we may make an assessment over the spiritual depth or salvation status of an individual. We are given something better than that.
We are told to look for childlikeness, humility, and sweetness of spirit. A willingness to serve. A heart for blessing and not dominating, for helping and not hindering.
That standard alone–Christlikeness–would shut down a lot of would-be church bosses before they got started.
I suggest, pastors and other church leaders, that as church members choose their committee chairs and position leaders we encourage them to ask one huge question about the individuals: “Is he/she like Jesus?” And if the answer is anything but an unqualified ‘yes,’ they should not be selected.
When I ask my wife whether “this tie goes with this shirt,” if she hesitates, that is all the answer I need.
It was the Pharisees who loved to pile up regulations, to “tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders,” while they themselves “are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4).
It was the Pharisees who grew enraged when the Lord Jesus would not observe their ordinance (see Mark 3:6) and plotted how to murder Him.
It was the Pharisees who saw themselves as the keepers of the Law, the role models of orthodoxy, the paragons of virtue. They measured themselves by their fasting, praying, and rule-keeping.
They were lost and did not know God. They were headed to hell.
We used to train all our people to give their testimony in sharing their faith. In many cases, that was a mistake. Not all could not point to a specific time or place. Others, like myself, were saved at a young age and thus do not have the kind of stark reversal of life which seems to work best in witnessing. Clearly, one size does not fit all. Requiring all witnesses to use the same technique is clearly a practice you’ll not find taught in Scripture.
Instead, Scripture encourages us to look for the love, for the childlike spirit, for the teachable heart, for the willing spirit.
Look for Jesus in that person.
Show us your obedience. Show us your Christlikeness.
–In Luke 7, while Jesus sits at dinner with a Pharisee, a woman slips in and sits at His feet and begins to weep. She wet His feet with her tears, then wiped them with her hair, and then–in for a penny, in for a pound–broke open a container of costly perfume and smelled up the place as she anointed the Lord. I have no question about the woman’s love for the Lord Jesus Christ. But I cannot tell you when she was saved.
–In Acts 4:36, a disciple named Joseph–nicknamed Barnabas–sold a piece of property that he owned and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Later, in chapter 9, he befriends and supports the fledgling ministry of Saul of Tarsus, even when others were opposing him. And then, in Acts 11, Barnabas travels to Tarsus to find Saul in order to match him up with the ministry the Lord was opening in Antioch. I have no question about this man Barnabas’ love for the Lord Jesus Christ. But I cannot tell you when he was saved.
If someone wants to know about my salvation, the last thing they should know–and certainly the least informative–is that as an 11-year-old, I walked the aisle of a Free Will Baptist Church out from Nauvoo, Alabama, and prayed at the altar and was born again. They would do better to talk to my wife, my children, and my neighbors or co-workers. They will know whether I am walking the walk, whether I am showing the world Jesus.
(Note: Twelve hours after posting this article, I awakened thinking of such scriptures as “Go home and tell what great things the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you,” from Mark 5:19. And the early disciples would say, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” which may or may not have included their testimony. So, I don’t want to come across as anti-testimony in sharing our faith. If you have a testimony and the Spirit leads, share it. Tell what the Lord has done for you. But in all cases, show them the Lord at work in your life now.
The best proof that you are alive is not a birth certificate, Social Security card, drivers license, or passport. The most irrefutable evidence that you are a living and moving and working human being, one who speaks and loves and gives, is that you are doing just that.)