Our testimony is life and death, the before and after the cross experience. We must include the truth of our past to reveal the power of God to overcome it.
However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” (Mark 5:19)
As children, one of the most wonderfully creepy places ever was an old graveyard on the farm. I say ‘wonderfully’ because, in a child’s imagination, the ‘place of the dead’ held a kind of strange, forbidden attraction. Around this, we could conjure feats of bravery – like walking past at twilight – or moments of thrilling terror such as the time an old white fertilizer bag had caught on a branch. Of course, it would be the day we were running home in the early dark after visiting the neighbour.
Today, I can laugh long and hard, but imagine living among the tombs, trapped in a nightmare like the Gadarene demoniac. Once delivered, it’s little wonder this poor, tormented man wanted to leave at the first opportunity. Yet Jesus needed his testimony right where he was.
Our past is part of our testimony.
For those of us who have endured extreme hardship and suffering, this is a painfully difficult truth to accept. The scars of abuse are deep and agonising, and it’s natural to want to escape the environment in which it happened. Only someone who has endured the suffering can truly understand the need to cut loose and start over somewhere new with Jesus. There is a part of us that utterly rejects the past. We want to move on and excise the memory. More than anything, we want to forget, because remembering scratches at the scars and stirs up all the negative pain and emotions. But without the past, we have no testimony.
Jesus is the key to understanding this difficult truth. Without His suffering, torture, death, and resurrection, He would simply be a ‘good and wise man.’ The power of His testimony lies in the reality of all these things. It is because of them that we are able to look, to listen, and to believe that He is indeed the Son of God, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Without this testimony, we would have no basis to believe that He has overcome the world and the powers of darkness. In the same way, our testimony has no relevance without our past – to ‘after’ has no meaning without the ‘before.’
Our testimony is always a matter of life and death.
This is the very crux of the Christian faith. Our testimony in Christ must always be modelled on Christ’s testimony. He is our pattern, our role model, and our perfect example. His testimony is one of ‘before the cross’ and ‘after the cross.’ It’s literally a matter of life and death, both physically and spiritually. This is the pattern for every believer who moves from spiritual death to spiritual life. The Gadarene demoniac provides a heartbreaking picture of the magnitude of an extreme death to life reality. As someone who has survived a ‘living death’ of extreme emotional and psychological abuse, I can identify with this poor, tormented man. I absolutely understand his desperate need to ‘live’ with Jesus.
Aside from the truth that prior to salvation, we were dead in sin – spiritually dead – there is a condition I call emotional death. It’s that place ‘among the tombs’ where we are driven by despair. We live as emotional outcasts, rejected and existing in a kind of endless limbo with no hope of change. This is the place of the ‘living dead.’ We go through the motions. On the outside, we seem as ‘alive’ and as ‘normal’ as the next person. But inside, we’re as good as dead. This is what makes our transition to life in the fullness of Christ a powerful testimony.
Confronting the past provides future testimony.
Whether we’ve lived with extreme suffering or not, all of us must confront the past before we can move on. We all have things we would prefer to escape from. It’s far easier to ‘hide’ in Christ and simply pretend the past doesn’t exist. But the very nature of the transition from death to life involves confronting and overcoming the ‘death’ that is the past. No matter what it is we would prefer to keep ‘buried,’ true life can only be lived when we dig it up, look it squarely in the eye, and overcome it in Christ. While we continue to ignore it, we will never truly be free of it. Our testimony has no real value or relevance because it’s not built on the whole truth.
All of us have been moved at one time or another by a particularly powerful testimony. But there’s no special something extra that makes one more powerful than another. The key ingredient is truth. It is the truth that sets us free, and that involves confronting the past. We must examine the past in the light of Christ. The reality is that we may never understand it. Some things simply defy explanation, and confronting the past doesn’t mean wallowing in all the negativity and pain. It means acknowledging the death, grieving for it, and moving on into life. We never rid ourselves of the past. The truth of it is what infuses our testimony with power in Christ. But we do rid ourselves of the bondage to it when we confront it and overcome in His strength.
Why is our testimony so important?
Revelation 12:11 says: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. This is an awesome statement that reveals just how powerful testimony is, and we need to understand why. What is the power contained in our testimony? It’s the power of life and death as defined by Jesus. When we testify, we’re essentially ‘speaking Jesus.’ We’re speaking life into the place of death. Think for a moment of all the products and services advertised on the Internet. A common denominator in almost all of them is ‘customer testimony.’ We want to hear from others. Their personal experience has a definite impact on our willingness to accept something ‘as truth.’
Our testimony can only ever be about ‘the blood of the lamb.’ While our before and after can be dramatic, the defining factor is the transformation from death to life through Christ. It is this supernatural truth that imbues testimony with supernatural power to impact those who hear. Without the blood of the lamb, without ‘speaking Jesus,’ we’re simply telling a story or sharing an experience. While this may be able to move others, it will never contain true ‘resurrection power.’ Only when we ‘speak Jesus’ and the truth of His death and resurrection for our sakes will our testimony be used by God to reach, impact, and transform others.
Where God uses our testimony.
It’s true that when we hear positive testimony from those we know, it has a greater impact. This is the reason that Jesus turned down the demoniac’s request to go with Him. While we may have a natural desire to ‘go,’ God may have a more vital reason for us to stay. It’s not ‘wrong’ to want to leave an environment where we endured pain and suffering. But God places us where we will have the most impact for the kingdom. Once again, the demoniac provides a poignant example that sometimes, the evidence of transformation is greater when we are known. When those who know us can see the change and hear the reasons for it, God multiplies the impact.
I’m reminded of the Samaritan woman in John 4 whom Jesus sent back to town so she, too, could tell others. The principle is the same. The transformation from death to life is most visible to those who know the ‘before’ and see the ‘after’ for themselves. Of course, there are always those who will disregard the work of God – even undeniable miracles. But God will use our testimony where it will have the most impact, and only He knows where this will be. The key is to hear and to obey. Without those ‘ingredients,’ our testimony will never overcome Satan, either in our lives or in the lives of those who hear us.
A perfect and powerful testimony.
Hard as it may be to accept, the past is an integral part of our Christian testimony. Through grace, God no longer looks at sins that have been confessed and repented of. That’s part of the overcoming through the blood of the Lamb. The only criteria for a powerful testimony is that it be the absolute truth – about ourselves, which includes the past, and about Christ. Our natural tendency is always to forget what is unpleasant, but God seldom works according to our preferences. We can be encouraged, though, by holding fast to the truth that in Him, our testimony is perfect and powerful.
This is a truth I struggled with for a long time. I simply didn’t want to accept that the past had to remain a part of my future and of my testimony. Instead of allowing me to sweep it under the rug or cut it loose, God patiently taught me that His ways are not my ways. We need to take hold of the truth that every single thing that happens to us in our lives is within the hand of God. Things may be the result of our choices or the choices of others. They may be ‘situational’ or ‘circumstantial’ and we may never, ever fully understand the why of them. But all things work to the good of those who love the Lord. Our testimony is one of the ways God fulfils this promise. He transforms the past into something perfect and powerful, enabling us to overcome through our testimony.
Testimony is the practical path to overcoming.
Two things happen when we speak the testimony God has given us. Firstly, it reveals the blood of the Lamb and the resurrection life of Christ. In doing so, it overcomes Satan. Every time we speak, God uses it as a weapon to defeat the enemy – in our lives as well as the lives of others. Secondly, overcoming is both a single event and an ongoing process. Being human, our past has a tendency to creep in and work to defeat us. Each time we speak our testimony, though, we’re reminded of the blood of the Lamb and the resurrection life of Christ. We overcome again, and will continue to do so. Reminding ourselves of what God has done will empower us to overcome every doubt, fear, or temptation.
What a joy it is to know that He has a purpose in everything that has happened in our lives. Even the most painful things are transformed by the power of God when yielded to Him. He shapes the worst things imaginable into a perfect and powerful testimony and uses it to defeat the enemy. No matter what we have had to endure, our past can never destroy us. It is the ‘raw material’ God uses to effect a victory we cannot even begin to imagine.
Thank You, Lord, that in You, even the worst things work to our good. We yield all to You today, knowing that You are able to shape a testimony that is perfect and powerful because it speaks Jesus and His redeeming blood. Use us, Lord, where You will, and grant us the courage to speak the whole truth in faith that You will ensure the victory where it is needed.