Witnessing: Re-envisioning God

by Dr. Lyle Pointer

Witnessing has been caricatured as salesmanship. Witnessing, an act of worship, hardly fits such an unfortunate description. John, the apostle, in his first letter defines witnessing accurately,  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us" (I John 1:1-2). Jesus' disciples described what He was like. God's witnesses testify to God--who He is and what He has done. God has granted us the noble task of re-envisioning Him for others.

Embodying Light

Our role as witnesses mirrors the ministry of John the Baptist who announced the Jesus' coming to evangelize. "There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light" (John 1:6-8).

John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, served as a forerunner to the ministry of Jesus. The Baptist predicted the Messiah's arrival and teaching. The unusual clothing, pointed message and predictive statements required John to deny being the Messiah. He clarified his role as paving the way for the Lord. He noted his own unworthiness to do other than announce the Christ's presence among them, "He is here, but you do not know Him" (John1:26; personal paraphrase).

The necessity of a forerunner for the Messiah was noted, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11). So John ". . . came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe" (John 1:7). God still uses witnesses to speak in His behalf; so people will know who He is and what He wants.

John the Baptist's witness pointed to "The true light that gives light to every man. . . ." The encompassing light, shining upon all people, served as an expression of God's inclusive nature and His desire for all to know Him. The Baptist embodied the informing nature of God. His ministry served as an expression of grace preceding Jesus.

The Baptist's introduction of Jesus startles us with its clarity and significance. John stated Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb to take away the world's sin; His eternal existence made Jesus greater than him; the Holy Spirit came from heaven to remain on Jesus; God told John to say these things; Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:29-34). What a witness! What an expression of God's grace!

Emboldened Service

Jesus spoke forcefully of how we were to live and serve as God's witness when He said, ". . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). We may not be inclined to think of this principle at the time Jesus chased vendors out of the Temple. His act challenged religious people to reconsider the connection between belief and behavior. Prevenient grace causes people, religious and otherwise, to contemplate the prevailing issues of life. When love is wrapped around a personality following principle, the spiritual consciousness is awakened. God still seeks and calls those who will speak words of redemption and grace.

Rita observed the Community of Hope church in Washington, D.C. restoring a building in her blighted neighborhood. She discovered in their activity an elevated self-esteem, hope and help. Over time she began to explore a relationship with Christ (Tom Nees, Compassionate Evangelism).

Good deeds often heighten the effectiveness of evangelism. Acts of kindness provide an accurate picture of an otherwise obscure and invisible God.

Empowered Acts of Mercy

Jesus' miracles acted as attention-getters and more. Jesus mourned the unwillingness of people to believe apart from supernatural phenomena. Upon expressing His misgivings, however, Jesus told an official, "You may go. Your son will live" (John 2:50). So He continued to perform miracles because they expressed His concern, involvement, and attentiveness to human predicaments. He cared deeply.

His love for family draws us to Him as a Savior. On the cross Jesus arranged for the care of His mother. The testimony of family love evokes an inner allegiance to the Lord. For the sufferer to care for a sobbing and sorrowing mom speaks of empathy and devotion. We can follow such a person. Jesus embodied a grace and graciousness.

Empowered Evangelism

Paul described how he witnessed. He wrote, "Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done?by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit" (Rom. 15:17-19).

Witnessing successfully achieves God's purposes when we employ words, deeds and His signs. The power of the Spirit supports the human witness. Jesus and His followers performed miracles. We are to expect God's presence and power to advance our witness in the world. We are reminded that while the words and deeds are ours, miracles are given at God's discretion. Our role is not to manipulate the divine, but to provide a holy conduit through whom God can work.

Exemplary Representatives

After the first Gulf War sparked by Saddam Husain's invasion of Kuwait, the American's ambassador to Iraq was subpoenaed to the Senate. She was questioned as to the accuracy of her communication with Husain. The question was, Did you clearly communicate George Bush's wishes? While she was not court marshaled, she was reprimanded for her inadequate duty as an ambassador.

God honored us with the ambassadorial work of representing Him in the world. His message through us is: All people are to be reconciled with God (II Cor. 5:11-6:2). This task involves persuasion. Persuasion sounds like debating and arguing. We react to the pressure we imagine accompanying persuasion. Who wants to confront or be confronted?! So our immediate reaction is to avoid being ambassadors.

George Hunter tells of inviting people "who believed that evangelism is important and ought to be done, but they were not doing it." to join his lunch table. He says that at that table he discovered "the greatest barrier to evangelism in our churches."

When asked why they were not doing evangelism, they usually responded with, "I am not that sort of person." In describing the kind of person who does evangelism, they used adjectives like: dogmatic, holier-than-thou, narrow minded, self-righteous, pushy, aggressive, over-bearing, judgmental, hypocritical, insensitive and fanatical. No wonder people resist serving as "ambassadors for Christ."

On the other hand, when recent Christians described the persons who influenced them to come to Christ, they gave this contrasting set of adjectives?loving, caring informed, understanding, accepting, affirming, interested, concerned, encouraging, supporting, kind and credible.

No similarity is found among the list of descriptors. One Christian observed, "We have been duped into assuming that you cannot be like Jesus if you want to reach people for Jesus!"

Conversions take place through conversations. Through conversation we try out ideas, take in differing perspectives and come to conclusions helpful to our spiritual journey. Ambassadors reflect the one who sent them. We picture God for unbelievers.

I spoke about God in a humanities class at the invitation of a professor in a state college. The students were hostile in their attitudes and in questioning me. At the end of the class a dozen students surrounded me at the lecture venting their disagreements with me. One student lingered at the back of the group as they scattered to their next classes. He protested politely, "I don't see God the way you do" he began. "Can you walk me to my car?" I asked. Without answering he accompanied me as I left the classroom. "How do you see God?" I asked. He described God as an angry detective turning into a vindictive judge. I asked him, "Do you prefer your god or a loving and forgiving God?" Suspecting where his answer would probably lead, he repeated himself, "I just cannot believe God is as you describe Him."

Sanctified and Sent

Jesus prayed for His disciples at the end of His earthly ministry. The repeated themes in John 17:15-23 are sanctification and sent into the world. Jesus wanted His disciples to be cleansed from sin, protected from evil and one with Him. What was His purpose in praying this prayer? "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20-21).

Our witness to the world includes our holiness. Worldly witnesses are not worthy of God. God makes us pure and godly. We separate ourselves from ungodly behavior. We participate in His divine nature (II Peter 1:4). We avoid sexual immorality (I Thess. 4:3).

An overlooked dimension of holiness is our union with God. Jesus prayed we would be one with God and each other. Jesus hoped oneness would testify to the world that He was sent by God. The Church, participating in His divine nature, is to announce God's eternal purpose as seen in Christ (Eph. 3:10).

Randy, a 34 year old skeptic, responded to my inquiry about his church background, "Don't expect me to go to church. None of you ?believers' (he flashed quotation marks with his fingers) can agree on anything. I am not going to be a part of anything so divided as the church."

I acknowledged his hesitancy and added, "The Church does express itself in a variety of ways. But if you compare my denomination to any other, we will only vary from one to three points. In matters of doctrine or belief we are far more united than what it appears from the outside. What differences we do have at times are a matter of emphasis and practice."

Jesus knew the importance of unity among the people of God. Our witness is affected. And the God we are envisioning for them is impacted.

Unchurched people are confused by the numerous labels and expressions of the Church. How we conduct our lives is strategic to the influence we exert upon an unsaved world. How we act and what we say are to draw people to the mystery of Christ which we are to explain clearly (Col. 4:2-6).

Greeting Pagans

Jesus insists that Christians are to take the initiative in starting friendships. In Matthew 5:47, Jesus says, "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" Getting acquainted with people outside the family of faith may stretch some folks, but our offer of friendship is a step toward being complete in Christ.

Jesus continues by saying "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Matthew 5:48). Our completeness (holiness) is found in acting as God acts. God takes the first step in the blessing of the unrighteous. He sends sun and rain upon the ungodly. He commands us to treat the ungodly in godly ways. God loves His enemies. We are to love the enemies of God, too.

An effective pastor in the Northwest was asked, "How do you get your church people to witness?" The pastor responded, "I tell them to drink more coffee." He went on to explain, "Fellowship encourages the unchurched to ask questions, to feel at ease and to consider God as a viable option for their lives."

Bill Hybels tells of a business man who walked across the room to meet a man who appeared as a Muslim. He discovered a man who suffered the quiet rejection stemming from the prejudices and fears of others. The businessman listened with curiosity and courtesy to the Muslim. They struck up a friendship, explored each other's religious faith and lunched together regularly. The Muslim, formerly a Christian in his childhood, explained, "There finally came a day--I remember being home alone when this happened--that I felt totally compelled to pray to God. I kneeled beside my bed, told God everything I was feeling, and in the end gave my life to Jesus Christ." Hybels summarizes, "All because of one man's walk across the room."

Depending upon the Spirit's Guidance

Our re-envisioning God for others is not an action of human discipline or persuasion alone. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as a guide. His role of counselor included convicting people of sin, convincing them of righteousness and assuring them of judgment (John 16:5-15). Any vision of God includes His righteousness. When we speak of God as holy and righteous, we unite with the persuasive power of God Himself. Our testimony coupled with the Spirit's power stirs the hearts of people outside God's forgiveness. As the people of God extend God's offer of forgiveness we picture for seekers a concerned and caring God.

---George G. Hunter III. "Evangelizing Pre-Christian People: A Thematic Perspective" Journal of the American Society for Church Growth, Winter 2009, p. 19.

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