You Will Be My Witnesses: God’s Job Description for Every Christian
March 15, 1998
I first heard the question 27 years ago from my friend, Ben Wilkinson, a Presbyterian evangelist. He came to the First Presbyterian Church of Russellville, Alabama for a week of evangelistic meetings. During the mornings he trained a team of young people to share the gospel door to door. Although it will be hard for those who know me to believe this, I served as the music director for that week of revival services. I directed the volunteer choir and led the congregational singing each night. Sometime during the week he posed a question that has stayed with me for more than a quarter century: Have you ever wondered why, when God saved you, he left you on the earth?
I pause to say that this is the sort of question that would never occur to most people—it certainly hadn’t occurred to me—and when you first hear it, no quick answer comes to mind. Which is why Ben Wilkinson asked it in the first place. He went on to make the following point. If God had wanted to, he could have taken you directly to heaven the moment you trusted Christ as Savior. But he didn’t, which means that he left you on the earth for a particular purpose. Read that last sentence again because it contains a vital truth you need to know.
William Arnot, a distinguished Scottish pastor in the last century, put the matter this way: “To every true Christian these two things may be said: You have need of Christ and Christ has need of you.” He then adds this thought: “The simple fact that a Christian is on earth and not in heaven, is proof that there is something for him here to do; and if he is not doing it, the neglect shows either that he is not yet a Christian or that he is a Christian who grieves Christ.”
What is it that God left you on earth to do? Let me put the matter another way. What is it that we can do on earth that we can’t do in heaven? We can sing on earth and we can sing in heaven. We can pray on earth and we can pray in heaven. We can fellowship with other believers on earth and we will certainly fellowship with them in heaven. The list could be lengthened. But when you think about it, there is one main thing you can do on earth that you will never do in heaven: You can tell a lost sinner about Jesus Christ. There will be no sinners in heaven, so if you’re going to tell them the Good News, you’ve got to do it while you’re here on earth.
We are God’s Witnesses
Just before he returned to heaven, Jesus explained to his disciples what they were to do after his departure. What he said to them, he also says to us. He left us on the earth that we might be his witnesses. In heaven there will be no witnesses because in heaven seeing is believing. There the Lamb will be the light and he will need no lesser lights, but in this dark world we are the only light he has. On earth we are his witnesses. He does not send angels to proclaim his name and he does not write the gospel in lightning across the skies. He uses people like us to convince other people like us to believe in him. We are God’s witnesses—his evidence if you will—to convince an unbelieving world. If we do not do our part, God has no other plan.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 as he imparts this truth to his followers:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Acts 1:8 emphasizes two things we need to know: 1) The Holy Spirit empowers disciples, and 2) Spirit-filled disciples witness about Jesus around the world. It is the first point we need to emphasize for just a moment. Our greatest need today is not for political power but for the power of the Holy Spirit. Political power can change leaders but it can’t change hearts. It can win an election but it can’t save a life. It can pass righteous laws—or repeal unrighteous ones—but it can’t make men righteous. Politics cannot change the way people think because it touches the outside of life. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts, restore families and save an entire nation from destruction.
The Grand Experiment
In 1919, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that prohibited the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The people who supported the Amendment—including the great evangelist Billy Sunday—meant well. They truly believed that by outlawing liquor, they could improve society. Many people called it “the Grand Experiment.” It didn’t work, largely because Americans by the millions chose to flout the law by patronizing bootleggers and speakeasies. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment and the Grand Experiment was over. It failed because no law can change human nature—a point Paul makes forcefully in Romans 7:15-25. If people want to drink, all the laws in the world aren’t going to stop them.
That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. He can take the gospel we preach and use it to bring men and women to repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ. He can replace their old hearts with new ones and give them a hunger to live for righteousness.
Jesus told his inquisitive disciples that instead of worrying about the timing of the Second Coming, they should focus their attention on the job at hand. First they would be filled with the Holy Spirit and then they would be witnesses for Christ. This was and is God’s plan for his people. It is not too much to say that this is God’s job description for all his children.
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” What did he mean? In its basic sense it means to declare the truth to another person. What is a witness? I’d like to offer three answers that help us understand what it means to be a witness for Christ today.
I. A Witness tells what he knows.
The dictionary defines the word “witness” this way: “One who has seen or heard something” and “One who furnishes evidence.” A witness is someone who can say, “I know this is true.” In a court of law a witness swears on a Bible and promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Witnesses tell the truth, and if they are good witnesses, that is all they do. A witness tells nothing less than the truth—and nothing more either.
Recently the eyes of the nation have been focused on a courthouse in Washington where dozens of people have testified before the Grand Jury. Who are these people? They are witnesses who tell what they know. If the witnesses fail to testify truthfully, they can be indicted for perjury. If they fail to testify about what they know, they can be put in jail.
A witness, then, is someone who tells what he knows and only what he knows. How does this relate to Acts 1:8? In his commentary on Acts, F.F. Bruce calls attention to how Luke uses the word “witness” elsewhere in the book of Acts. Here are a few examples:
Acts 2:32—God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.
Acts 3:15—You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
Acts 10:39-40—We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
Acts 13:30-31—But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
Acts 22:14-15—Then he said: “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” (I find this example striking because Ananias uses words that are similar to the dictionary definition: “One who has seen or heard something.”)
If we take all these verses together, we can sum them up this way: A witness is a person who tells the truth about Jesus Christ. The disciples testified to the things they knew to be true about Jesus Christ. Above all, they testified to the truth of the resurrection.
Let me apply this very simply. You don’t have to be a theologian to be a witness for Christ. You don’t have to go to Bible school or seminary and you don’t have to be a missionary. It doesn’t require a college degree or a high IQ. Just tell the truth about Jesus to anyone who is willing to listen. That’s where witnessing always begins.
II. A Witness shares what he has experienced.
I have a friend who has been witnessing to an acquaintance for the last year or so. They have spent long hours discussing what it means to be a Christian because the acquaintance believes that if you aren’t Jewish or Muslim, you must be a Christian. Recently this person asked, “What do you think I am?” meaning, “Do you think I’m a Christian?” My friend said “No, because you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” So now they’re discussing what we mean when we say that we know Jesus Christ personally.
That concept seems incredible to the people of the world. They simply don’t have a category for understanding our words. To them, saying that you have a personal relationship with Jesus is like saying you have a personal relationship with Christopher Columbus. How do you have a relationship with a dead person? The answer is simple. You don’t. You can only have a relationship with someone who is alive. Which brings us back to the resurrection. Either Jesus is alive or he isn’t. If he’s alive today, then you can know him just as you know your parents or your neighbors or your children. You can know him deeply and personally and have a relationship with him because he rose from the dead and is alive today.
Listen to the words of 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” John says, “I saw him, I heard him, I walked with him, I touched him.” Now listen to verse 2: “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” There are three stages here: 1) Christ appeared on earth, 2) We experienced him personally, 3) We now declare him to you.
Every sales person knows you can’t sell what you don’t believe in. People can tell a mile away if you’re just reading from a manual or rehearsing a memorized presentation. The best sales people are those who believe in what they’re selling to the point that they’re not selling anything—they’re simply talking about what they know to be true.
It’s the same way with the gospel. If you haven’t experienced Jesus, you can’t witness for him. Oh, you can try but it’s going to come off sounding canned. What a difference it makes when you share from the depths of your soul what Jesus means to you. This is the best kind of witnessing.
If you know Jesus, you can talk about what he has done for you. You can share how he’s changed your life. You can tell how he guides you day by day, how he gives you strength to face your trials and courage to conquer your fears. You can tell how he found you in your sin and gave you a brand-new life.
Let me add one word of advice. You don’t have to convince your friends that they need Christ—only the Holy Spirit can do that. There’s a big difference between telling and selling. If you do the telling, the Holy Spirit can do the selling. You can’t do his work and he won’t do yours.
Remember the First Law of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and we’re not. So tell the truth about Jesus, tell how he’s changed your life, then pray like crazy for God to make your friends hungry for Jesus.
III. A Witness remains loyal to the end.
In Greek, the word for witnesses is martures, from which we get the English word martyr. It means being loyal to Jesus no matter the cost and speaking up for him even when others oppose you. How many of us are willing to do that?
Last Saturday almost 100 of our people took tours to visit other religions as part of World Focus Week. Some went to a Buddhist Temple, others to a Hindu Temple, and some to a Muslim Mosque. A most sobering event took place at the mosque when a Muslim speaker got up, welcomed our group, and then very graciously—but very firmly—told them that the Apostle Paul was wrong about Jesus Christ, that Jesus is not the one and only Son of God sent to be the Savior of the world. He also told them that there is one God whose name is Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet. Someone remarked that the speaker surprised our people with his boldness. He politely said that they were wrong and the Muslim religion is right. A friend raised the question: Would we have been so bold if a group of Muslims were visiting Calvary? The answer: Probably not. We’d try to make them feel at home and wouldn’t say anything to offend them.
I think that’s true—but it doesn’t say anything good about us. As much as I disagree with what the man said, I admire his boldness. He was a good witness for the Muslim faith. I can’t fault him for that. Unfortunately, he was dead wrong in what he said.
Flowery Beds of Ease
If you are going to witness for Jesus Christ, it means being loyal to the end and that will make you unpopular in the world. You may not win Employee of the Year and you might be passed over for a promotion. It could cost you dearly to be a true witness for Christ. In the early church believers chose death rather than deny the name of our Lord. Are you willing to die for Christ? Since most of us won’t be called upon to do that, here’s the much harder question: Are you willing to live for him?
Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own his cause, or blush to speak his name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by thy word.
The Holy Spirit Does Not Stammer
Do you want to be a witness? Testify to Jesus Christ. Speak up for him. “But I stammer,” you say. That’s OK. The Holy Spirit doesn’t stammer. He can speak clearly through your halting words. “But I’m too shy to witness.” Don’t worry about your shyness. Let the Lord speak through you. “I don’t know enough Bible.” No one knows enough Bible. Work at it. While you work at it, tell what you know and leave the results with God.
“What if I make mistakes?” You probably will, and that’s OK, too. The Holy Spirit does not make mistakes, and he can cause people to forget your mistakes.
Perhaps you have one final objection. “I’m afraid it won’t work.” When people say that, they usually are thinking of someone they know who seems hardened against the gospel. Usually we think it won’t work when we’ve tried and tried but haven’t gotten anywhere. When you think that the gospel won’t work, remember this fact: It worked with you. If it worked with you, it can work with someone else. Don’t ever give up on the gospel because you think it won’t work. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would work through your testimony.
Let me leave you with this personal definition: A witness is anyone who cooperates with the Holy Spirit in telling others about Jesus. All God needs is a little cooperation from his people. When he gets it, we can change the world. God invites us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in telling others about Jesus. This is God’s job description for every Christian. If we will do our part, we may be sure that the Holy Spirit will do his.
Now what are you going to do about it?
I’m asking each person who reads this message to do two things.
1. Pray that God would give you a chance to witness for Christ this week.
2. Commit to speaking up when God gives you the opportunity you prayed for.
Witnessing seems frightening to many people. Before you can speak up for Jesus, you need to forget your fears, let go of past failures in this area, trust God to use you, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you.
Will you join me and hundreds of others at Calvary in praying for a chance to share Christ this week? And will you commit to speaking up when God answers that prayer?
Remember, if we will do our part, God will certainly do his. All he needs is a little cooperation from his people.