Our Bible Study group recently started going through The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living by John White, and the most immediate response I heard from several people was, “That’s an old book.”
Well, it is. First published in 1976, one might think that his teachings would be obsolete by now. On the contrary, they could not be more relevant. It would seem that human behavior has not changed very much over the past forty years.
In Chapter 4, White discusses what it means to be a witness for Christ. All of us who are believers in the Lord are witnesses for Christ whether we like it or not, but it is up to us to either good or a bad witnesses.
He points out that being a witness requires a first-hand experience of a certain incident. In the court of law, when a witness is called to the stand, a statement that begins with “I heard that…” or “Someone told me that…” would be immediately nullified. It does not matter what other people heard or saw. It only matters what the witness himself says he experienced—which leads to White’s next point.
A witness must be truthful. Anything and everything a witness says is expected to be completely true without any salt, pepper, glitter, or lace. “You need neither exaggerate nor minimize what has taken place in your life or what is currently taking place,” White writes. To say anything that deviates from the truth in court would be to commit a criminal offense.
And so when it comes to being a witness for Christ, all we really need to do is truthfully tell about our own personal experiences with God. Boring, dramatic, painful, exciting—regardless of how we perceive our stories to be, God can use the truth for His purposes in the lives of the people we encounter. John White words it this way:
“You will not ram your views down anybody’s throat. You will simply be open and share. You will not only share the triumphs you have experienced but the doubts, the fears, and the defeats. To do anything less would be to act as an untruthful witness. You have nothing to hide. The truth itself is infinitely more powerful than the filtered version of the truth that your vanity might prefer.” (Emphasis mine)
White then goes on to look at being a witness from another perspective: Being a signpost. A signpost leads and guides people to a certain destination. There are many types of signposts. Some are enormous and can be seen from miles away, while others are handwritten on cardboard pieces and taped to telephone poles.
Nevertheless, the function of the signpost has nothing to with its physical attributes. Its primary role is to point people in the right direction so that they can arrive at their destination. If we were to think of ourselves as signposts for the Kingdom of Heaven, then our sole purpose is to point people in the direction of “The Way, the Truth, and The Life”—Jesus. White writes:
“In a sense it matters very little whether you are an antiqued rural signpost written in elegant ancient script or a bright green modern one strung up high over the freeway. You do not exist to draw attention to yourself but to direct people’s thoughts to a divine destination. A signpost has defeated its purpose if it is so attractive that it draws attention to itself rather than to a city.” (Emphasis mine)
In other words, our testimonies of Christ and what He has done in our lives should testify of His greatness and His character as the loving and gracious God He is. Our stories ought to urge people to want to worship the same God we serve, and not to admire us or follow in our footsteps with no regard for Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many Christians today have gone above and beyond being a simple witness (as in the court of law) or a signpost. In our (mostly) commendable efforts to be witnesses for Christ, we have gotten distracted with various methods and formulas of winning souls for the Kingdom of God, and many of them, while useful to a certain extent, also end up backfiring.
White writes about “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers and carrying about leather-bound Bibles as means of sparking conversations with people around. With the rise of technology since this book was written, we have gone through what seems like every possible channel—television, radio, tracks/flyers, door-to-door evangelism, websites, apps, social media…
There are endless ways of marketing and selling the Christian faith, and with them come many dangers. While it may be a good thing that people are getting to know Jesus and being saved, we also need to be extra vigilant in not losing focus on the important things, and that is the persons of the ones we are reaching out to.
Why? Because the world is sick and tired of pretense. Christians have been struggling to shake off the “hypocrite” label for decades, but we’re still seen in that light. Despite our (mostly) honorable efforts to share the love of Christ, we get caught up with the numbers, the technicalities, and the quotas.
We so desperately want to do things right, that in our efforts to make sure that we have a method of responding to every possible outcome, we put ourselves into tiny little boxes with very detailed and specific manuals to follow. Write out your three-minute testimony and memorize it. Follow this booklet. Try this technique. Use these Bible verses.
White calls it projection. We end up becoming like salesmen, trying to work our pitch. We put on a certain image, which identifies us as representatives of our cause. And we begin to see people—real people in need of a Savior—as customers we want to persuade in become Christians. Without even realizing it, our good intentions of friendship evangelism and encouraging bookmarks get fuzzed out as one big cloud of “Fake” to the world. White writes:
“Projecting a Christian image has pitfalls of its own. If I am sad, it may be a good exercise to look into the mirror, smile and say: Whatever I feel like, I know that my Redeemer lives!” But to smile in order to project a joyful image when you are sick with heartache is to be phoney. You will say, “But I ought not be sick at heart.” Perhaps not. But if it is wrong to be worried, it is even more wrong to try to fool people about your worry. Two sins don’t add up to obedience. It would be far better to say to a non-Christian, “I know that as a Christian I should have lots of joy, but right now I don’t.” Witnessing and projecting an image are not the same thing.”
So how can we be witnesses for Christ without falling into these traps that we set up for ourselves? It’s simple. We go back to the basics. We stay on the right track in our relationship with the Lord, we grow in our love and devotion for Him, and we just be witnesses for Him. Be real. Talk honestly and share about what Christ has done for us. Let our honest stories point people to Jesus, and let God take full credit for it.
There will always be tools and techniques for just about anything in life, but when it comes to being witnesses for Jesus, less is certainly more. Just bear in mind that when Jesus gave this mandate to His disciples, that was all they had: their personal experiences with Jesus. And with nothing but their stories, they literally changed the ancient world.
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