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This Is My Story: Preparing Your Personal Testimony To Impact Others



"If you are a Christian you must, sooner or later, come to the moment when you must turn directly to another soul and say, 'This is what Christ has done for me.'" —C.S. Lewis1

Imagine guarding your life story so fiercely that you destroy all the evidence of it upon your death. When American novelist Henry James was on his deathbed, he instructed his nephew to destroy all his personal letters and journals. He was driven by a desire to "frustrate as utterly as possible the postmortem exploiter."2 James, it seems, feared the way his story might be misconstrued, manipulated, or simply misunderstood after he was gone.


But what about us? Do we, too, hold our narratives close, captive to anxieties about the messiness of it, or the ever-present risk of misinterpretation? If all traces of our life are removed, would we really be satisfied with the message of our life ending as a question mark?


Your story needs to be heard both while you are living, and after you are gone—particularly when when it comes to your relationship with Christ. Peter said it so clearly, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” 1 Peter 3:15.


Making an apologetic defense of the truth is part of the instruction, but notice that is not disconnected from you as a person. It’s reason for the “hope that is in you.” The personal experience of believing the Gospel, turning from sin, and surrendering your life to Christ to become a disciple is a story unique to you. At the same time, it shares common elements with every follower of Christ in every age and culture. It is the story that explains how you heard the message of Christ, and how you came to the point of surrender, and it shows what the effect has been since you came to life in Christ. It traces the hand of God as He led you to the transformation of your life, and this becomes a tool helping you fulfill your commission to make disciples of all people as you tell it and as it is told.


Making a defense to those you are trying to convince is important, and even when you are gone, it can continue to resonate. We see it in Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, whose righteous actions and faith are said to continue speaking to future generations even after his death. The broader context of Hebrews 11, often referred to as the "Faith Hall of Fame" or "Heroes of Faith," emphasizes how the actions and faith of various individuals from the past serve as enduring examples for believers well after they are gone. Consider the implications of that description: "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4).


Consider also Revelation 12:11—“… they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” In John’s vision, he had the chance to peer into the future and see a parade of those martyred for their faith in Christ. The story of their final triumph becomes the fuel of faith for everyone blessed by the words of that revelation.


The Example of Paul

If you look at the example of the Apostle Paul, his personal testimony follows a general outline in Acts 26:4-23: a “before” in verses 4-11, a “how” in verses 12-20, and an “after” in verses 21-23. Although there are not many examples in the New Testament as complete as Paul’s, there are none that stray from this pattern. Following Paul’s outline, think deeply about your story. Read and examine the passage for yourself and notice those sections, then clarify for yourself what that looked like in your own experience.


Your Life Before Christ?

What was your life like before you received Christ? For Paul, he included his life from his “youth,” and his upbringing. He dealt with his religious heritage, as a Jew, and a Pharisee. He also dealt with his attitudes toward Christianity before and how far he went to persecute the church. What were your main attitudes, needs, or problems that were true of you that might relate to others? Give specific examples. It’s helpful to use a couple of words to describe what only Christ could fill or do in your life (e.g. loneliness, feelings of insignificance, anger, rejection). What did you look to for security, purpose, peace of mind, and happiness? In what ways did you find your activities not satisfying? There are certainly many layers to your story, but narrow it down and stick to your theme.


Unhelpful example: Go on and on about your life of sin. The glamorization of it will surely convince—just not the way you want. It could unintentionally communicate some buyers remorse, or could expose an unhealthy appreciation for the things that once separated you from God. Share enough for people to see the transformation, but not so much that they feel they need to match your level of sinfulness to have a story at all.


Good Example: "I grew up bitter and broken. Parents divorced when I was young, we moved every year or so, until I finally dropped out of high school. I joined the army hoping that would help give some direction for my life. But all it did was lead to more problems with alcohol and drunkenness. I was empty.”


How did you come to Christ?

What did your turning to Christ look like? Christ confronted Paul and he details the day it happened. As he was on his way to make things worse for followers of Christ, the lights came on… literally. And Paul was asked a question, “Why are you persecuting me?” “I am Jesus,” Paul is then called to follow in repentance and faith. Why did you give Christ complete control of your life, and how did you come to this decision? What caused you to listen? Who influenced you? How and on what occasion did you turn from sin and turn to Christ?


An unhelpful example: "I have been a Christian ever since I can remember," or "We grew up in church, so I have always believed," or "I had lots of problems in my life, so I started going to church." The truth is, NOBODY has always believed, and if all you did was start reforming your behavior by going to church, all you have is a great example of how to become a Pharisee. There is no example in scripture of any person being a believer from birth. It is always a testimony of being confronted by the reality of the Gospel and coming to a crisis of faith. Furthermore, it's not about my church attendance; it's about coming into a real relationship with Jesus.


Good example: "A couple invited me to their home and told me about how they had turned their lives to Christ and were changed. They explained the Gospel to me and how it applied to my life. Even though I grew up going to church off and on, I couldn’t point to a moment of transformation. I was still trying to do things my way. I wanted to experience what this couple had, but I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t, or sure how I could. I went home and decided I was going to really clean up my act. I listed out everything I thought was a sin in my life, and decided I was going to quit all of it: smoking, drinking, bars, etc… But I realized quickly I couldn’t stop any of it. My new friends invited me to a worship service, and when the Gospel was preached, it was the first time I can ever remember hearing with clarity about Christ and realizing that I can’t clean my life up and come to Christ. Instead, I was confronted with the fact that my sin is why Christ came altogether. If I believe on Christ, and trust in His work for me, turning from my sin and rebellion… if I surrendered my life to Christ, He would come in to my life and clean my life up. That night I was changed forever.”


After Coming to Christ

What happened after you surrendered your life to Christ? Paul’s pattern of hatred was transformed, and he now explains the contrast. Where he was a persecutor, now the message of the Gospel is his greatest concern. A life of repentance and faith followed by “deeds in keeping with repentance.” Spend time on this. What conditions in your life before Christ have now been satisfied by a relationship with Him? What does it look like in your life to have a relationship with Christ? What are the blessings of following Christ? How do you depend on Christ for the struggles of your life? What difference has having Him in your life made eternally, and practically?


Unhelpful example: "After I was baptized, I joined the church and have been serving ever since," or "Ever since I was baptized, my life has been great." Baptism is not the point of transformation; it is a symbol of transformation. Besides this, the life we have in Christ is not going to be without challenges. Instead, what we have in Christ is His power and presence to enable us to deal with challenges rightly.


Good Example: “After I came to Christ, I felt “whole” for the first time in my life. It was not all immediate, but God helped me through addictions and issues. I went back to school and got my education, I found a wife, I had a family, and everything the Devil did to destroy my life… God restored. I went from broken to healed… Now, I can face my the troubles in my life with strength I did not have before. I am spending my life learning to be a disciple of Christ and tell others about Him. Has anything like that happened in your life?”


Ask the Lord to give you clarity, wisdom, and guidance, and write your story out. As you prepare this testimony, do so as if you are sharing with a family member or friend, or even a small group. A concise version of your story will be a powerful tool to communicate the message of Christ and work in you. In this example I have given, my entire testimony is summed up in about two minutes, and I can share this story in nearly any context.


Jonathan Edwards once said, "There is a twofold advantage in giving an account of the work of God upon the soul. It tends to the glory of God, and to the good of others.”3 Putting our story into words like this compels us both to face the reality of our experiences and align them with the teachings of the scriptures and further, it helps us structure this reflection in a sequence. We explore life before, the transformative encounter itself, and the impact afterward. In essence, we create a map to help others navigate from where they are with Christ in comparison. The instruction and examples set by Peter, Abel, Paul, and John serve as invaluable reminders that our stories should not be kept in the shadows, but are to be used to reveal the Glory of Christ in us. There is really no good reason to leave question marks for people so they are left in a state of mystery about the most meaningful part of our lives. It may be just the embodiment of truth someone needs to come and follow Christ.



Assignment

Describe your experience conforming your story to the pattern seen in the Apostle Paul. (USE THIS WORKSHEET)


1 Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 4


2 Leon Edel & Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life (HarperCollins, 1962), page 556


3 A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Conversions in Northampton



This article was originally published on December 26, 2023 at The Baptist Bulletin.

By James Biesiadecki

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