I think personal testimonies, as part of Christian worship, are a good thing to do. And I think we need more of them. I wonder, though, if sometimes our testimonies might unintentionally empower Satan rather than combat him.
By a “testimony,” of course, I mean a believer’s sharing of the story of how he or she came to faith in Christ. Almost all evangelical churches have something along these lines. If not a verbal testimony from behind the pulpit, these stories still tend to show up. Sometimes they’re in a video shown during the offering or in an illustration in the pastor’s preaching. Sometimes they’re in our evangelical magazines or websites. And, of course, we perhaps most often find our testimonies in what we sing together (from “Amazing Grace” right on down).
The problem is, though, that we often choose to highlight those testimonies that we deem to be “dramatic.” We feature the testimony of the ex-alcoholic who says “Since I met Jesus, I never drink” or the ex-gambling addict who notes that he never missed the poker table. Conversions like this happen sometimes and we ought to give praise to God when they do.
But these kinds of liberation are no more miraculous than the far more typical testimony of the repentant drunk who says, “Every time I hear a clink of ice in a glass I tremble with desire, but God is faithful in keeping me sober.”
Now, I know why we shy away from such seemingly tentative testimonies. After all, the whole point is to give hope to those who are struggling. We don’t want the drunk out there to see his future as, potentially, a lifelong grappling with the temptation to drink. Isn’t it far more freeing for him to hear the testimony of the one who says, with the old gospel song, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day”?
The Christ life never promises freedom from temptation. The Christ life promises freedom from slavery to sin, and from the condemnation that comes with it. This is presented in the gospel as a skirmish, from now until resurrection from the dead. If the Scriptures are this honest, we should be too.
Moreover, there are multiple people in our audiences, and we ought to protect them with the vision of the gospel we project. The repentant drunk who still wants to drink might conclude he’s not really received by Jesus; that his temptation is evidence that he’s predestined to alcoholism. That couple who have cut up all their credit cards, because they know they’ll spend every line of credit they have if they don’t, might conclude they’re not “spiritual” enough to follow Christ because they’re still at war with their appetites.
If Satan cannot draw people into sin, and thus into death, he’ll draw them into despair because their fight against temptation hasn’t dissipated. Don’t leave those people with a message of condemnation, when the gospel promises freedom.
Yes, celebrate those who have escaped the grip of sin. But don’t just pretend that this means an escape from temptation. Even the ex-drunk who doesn’t want alcohol anymore (and there aren’t many) just has his temptation moving to some other area. Let’s celebrate too the sinner who wants what he doesn’t want to want, but who dies to self, picks up his cross, and follows Christ.
It might be that God frees someone instantly from the appetite for whatever he or she is drawn toward. But typically he instead enables one to fight it. This might go on for forty days, for forty years, or for an entire lifetime. That’s all right. In the meantime, we’re going to be there to bear burdens for one another.
Satan hates the gospel, and he hates the testimony of grace. Let’s make sure our people (and their demonic accusers) hear the whole message. Temptation isn’t instantly nullified by conversion. Even our sinless Lord Jesus was tempted. The grace of God leads us to Christ, and then joins us to him in the war zone.
That’s painful. Crucifixion always is. But it’s grace, and, however strong the fight, it’s amazing.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.