When Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the power from on high came (Luke 24:49), he said that they would be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, the Father sent the Holy Spirit and innervated the church with Christ’s power (Acts 2).
Since then, Christ’s pilgrim people have traveled the globe, witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; etc.) and upsetting those who refuse to submit to Christ’s lordship (17:6). In every place the gospel has gone, local churches have sprung up to give a permanent witness to the kingdom of Christ.
As one of those churches, it behooves us to ask the question: In what way or ways should we witness to Christ’s kingdom? And how well do we do it?
Believing the Bible to answer such questions, we see that the lives we live and the words we speak play a significant role in Christ’s ability to work through us. In truth, it is not just the church who preaches the gospel. Ephesians 2:17 says Christ himself preaches the gospel of peace. But seated in heaven he preaches by proxy; it is his Spirit and his bride that say, “Come!” (Rev 22:17). Therefore, the effectiveness of Christ’s evangelism is contingent upon the purity of our lives. As we continue to consider what Jesus’s evangelism program looks like, let’s see how our lives contribute to the power of our witness.
Witnessing or Witnesses?
In our day, there are many good resources for witnessing, but isn’t it interesting that in the place where Jesus speaks of the term (Acts 1:8), “witness” is a noun, not a verb? Jesus calls his followers “witnesses.” He doesn’t command us to witness. Now, what’s the difference? Why does that matter?
Because witnessing is not something we do; it’s something we are.
We don’t put our witnessing cap on, witness, and then cease to witness when we pull into our driveways. Witnessing is not a church activity per se. Rather, it is the essence of what makes the church Christian. The church is a local body of sinners raised to new life, whose lives and lips bear testimony the king who died for them. The effectiveness of evangelism, therefore, rises and falls with the lives of the people who claim to follow king Jesus.
For this reason, the Bible regularly emphasizes the importance of living lives that draw attention to the power of Christ’s resurrection (e.g., Eph 4:1). In Acts, the disciples repeatedly bear witness to Jesus Christ and his resurrection. They did so with verbal testimony, but also with lives that look different after encountering Christ. The same is true for us, and thus we must attend to the way we witness.
Ephesians 2:5 says, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” Just a few verses later, after explaining how God saves us (vv. 6–9), Paul states that all who have been made alive have been “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Whereas the man dead in his sins (2:1) walks vigorously after the ways of his flesh (vv. 2–3), the man made alive in Christ now pursues good works with vigor and endurance. To a world who is unable to free themselves from addictions and idolatries, the change in one who has been born again is as startling as a blind man seeing (John 9) or a lame man leaping (Acts 3:7). It gets the attention of others and opens doors for gospel testimony.
Galatians 5 concurs. Here, Paul distinguishes the works of the flesh from the fruit of the Spirit. The former comes from a heart devoid of life and in turn leads to the second death (vv. 19–21). The latter is a gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 22–23). Not surprisingly, verse 17 reads, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, of these are opposed to each other.”
In a spiritually dead woman, there is no conflict between the Spirit and the flesh, only competing and confused sinful desires. But in the woman who has been raised from the dead (i.e., made alive), God’s Spirit bears witness to her new life. The fruit of the Spirit confirm her confession of faith (v. 22). More than that though, since Scripture commands each of these fruits—love (John 13:34–35; 15:12; 1 John 4:11), joy (Phil 4:4), peace (Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14), patience (Rom 12:12; Heb 10:36; James 5:7–8), kindness (Rom 12:10; Eph 4:32; Col 3:12), goodness (Luke 6:35; Gal 6:10; Phil 4:8–9; Heb 13:16), faith(fullness) (Mark 1:15; cf. Ps 37:3; Prov 3:5), gentleness (Phil 4:5 NIV; Titus 3:2), and self-control (1 Tim 4:7, 16)—her newfound obedience to God’s word proves that something has happened to her. Once again, the transformed life—more dramatic than anything staged—leads others to ask her about her faith (1 Pet 3:15).
When a church is comprised of such fruit-bearing people, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is made manifest. When self-centered, sin-loving idolaters are changed into self-sacrificing, flesh-mortifying believers, the world puzzles to figure out how. Consequently, the more personal contact a church has with the world the more powerful it’s witness becomes.
Importantly, the evangelistic church separates itself from the world by its actions and affections, not just external codes for dress and dance. Instead of physically separating ourselves from the world (i.e., being taken out of the world, John 17:15), the evangelistic church is ethically separated from the world (see 2 Cor 6:14–7:1). At the same time, the evangelistic church does not look down condescendingly on the sin of others, urging lifeless sinners to raise themselves to moral respectability. Gospel-minded Christians know that Christ’s resurrection is what changed them, and so they tell addicts enslaved to sin the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Trusting in the power of the gospel, they point away from themselves to Jesus. They don’t belabor their own conversion and the change God has made in them. Their “testimony” is the open door and background scenery for the greater gospel conversation. With the attention of those hating life and hated by others (Titus 3:3), the witness of Christ points them to Jesus and trusts that the same Shepherd called them by name out of the grave, will do the same to those lost sheep who hear his voice.
In this way, the church is a witness to the resurrected and reigning Lord. While it is the shared word of the gospel that saves; the lives transformed by that Word speak inaudibly of the power contained in the gospel. And when these two realities work together, the power of the church’s witness is unparalleled. But without the combination of walk and talk, the church however sincere in its efforts cannot expected to be strong in its endeavors.
In 2015, may God grant us renewed power to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. May the power of Christ’s resurrection be evident among us, and may such sightings of his resurrection open doors for us to share the good news.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds