If we get these out of sync, we hinder our effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission.
For example, some Christians may focus so much on the second aspect (what we do) that they fail to verbally proclaim the gospel (what Christ has done).
Another example: Some Christians focus so much on the third aspect (our conversion experience) that they fail to properly proclaim Christ’s life and work.
Let’s look at this second danger a little more closely.
Christ’s Work in History vs. Christ’s Work in Your Life
The meaning of the word “witnesses” in Luke 24 and Acts 1, as well as throughout the narrative of Acts, refers to those who witnessed the work of the Lord and spoke of it to others. The witness of the disciples was centered on Christ’s life and work, most clearly seen in his death and resurrection.
So, let’s take note: The focus of apostolic preaching in Acts is not on the conversion experiences of the disciples, but on the work of Christ that makes conversion necessary. For this reason, we should ensure that our testimony of Christ’s work focuses primarily on what Christ did in history, not merely what Christ has done in our life.
The Place for Personal Testimony
That said, there is a place for personal conversion testimonies. After all, Paul appealed to his experience when testifying to his uniqueness as an apostle. The Samaritan woman ran into town and told of her conversation with Jesus. The man born blind, after being healed by Jesus, went and told everyone what had happened to him.
Don’t hear me saying that we should stop giving personal testimonies! They are powerful.
We should work, however, to make sure these testimonies undergird and support the clear gospel message and don’t somehow replace it. What Jesus has done for me should always be connected to what Jesus has done, period.
What Happens When Personal Testimony Takes Over
Focusing primarily on our own experiences with Christ can unintentionally downplay the importance of the historic events upon which the Christian faith stands or falls.
An evangelist who speaks only of his personal experience with Jesus may be surprised to encounter others who speak just as genuinely of their personal experiences in Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. The initial desire to speak of what one has experienced personally may run into the rocks of multiculturalism, leading to a neutered presentation of the gospel that loses its basis in historical reality.
The role of personal experience in testifying to the work of Christ should be seen as a further evidence of the power of the gospel. It is not the gospel itself, but it testifies to its power.
To sum up: Gospel presentations that include personal testimonies should take care to emphasize the gospel itself (the news of Christ’s death and resurrection), not merely our personal experiences of life transformation. A change of heart is a further demonstration of the gospel and should be used in personal evangelism, as long as the focus remains on Christ’s objective work on the cross.