Following Jesus: Testimonies

 

Purpose

This material provides a foundation on evangelism for students of our Following Jesus discipleship training. Our training material references this page at four points: Follow this link for information about these key aspects of our discipleship training:
Now that you’ve seen our approach to evangelism, it’s important to master one of the key ways that you can contribute – your testimony.

Your Testimony

Introduction

When we use the word “testimony” we’re referring to the story of how your life is evidence that Jesus is indeed the Christ (i.e. Israel’s true king) and Lord (i.e. the world’s true ruler). Your testimony is a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;  and you will be my witnesses  in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,  and to the ends of the earth.”– Acts 1:8 (NIV)

Your testimony is a key component of your role as a witness to the resurrection and lordship claims of Jesus! For this reason, we should learn to share our testimonies.

Instant Conversion vs. Gradually Becoming a Follower of Jesus

Before you proceed with actually writing down your testimony however, it’s important to recognize that not everyone arrives at the decision to follow Jesus in the same way:
  • Some people begin following Jesus at a well-defined point in time. This is sometimes referred to as a crisis experience.
  • Others come to this point gradually and, although they are genuinely committed to following Jesus, they cannot recall an exact time or situation when they made the decision to follow him.
There is room for both experiences in our evangelism and it’s important for us to become familiar with both kinds of testimony.

Testimony Format

We can use Paul’s testimonies in Acts 22 and Acts 26 as a model for composing a testimony. Your testimony will have 6 components:
  1. introduction
  2. Share what your life was like before following Christ.
  3. Share how you realized that you needed to follow Christ.
  4. Share how you began following Christ.
  5. Share what your life is like after following Christ or, alternatively, what following Christ means to you now.
  6. Conclusion
Some people will prefer to combine components 3 and 4 into a single component: How you began following Christ. If already feel comfortable with writing, feel free to skip the next section on “Help With Writing Your Testimony”.

Help With Writing Your Testimony

In written form your testimony should take the form of an essay – yes, that writing project that many of you will remember from high school. If you feel comfortable writing up your testimony using the Don’t let this be a source of anxiety for you however – we’re here to help! Check out the following writing resources: Your testimony is not a generalized essay however. Many of the components of a generalized essay are actually “locked in” by the purpose of a testimony. Thus, the key features of a generalized essay have the following specific meanings in your testimony:
  • The goal of your testimony is to help persuade people that Jesus is Lord and that they should follow him.
  • Your initial thesis is “The Jesus of the Gospels has risen from the dead and is active in my life”.
  • The introduction is: “May I tell you about the greatest thing that ever happened in my life?”
  • Sample topic sentences:
    • “Before I began following Jesus I lived my life on my own terms.”
    • “Before I began following Jesus my life was controlled by . . .”
  • The next 4 lessons will help you with developing the outline for the key sections of your essay.
  • The conclusion is: “Perhaps this has happened to you?”

Lesson 1: Life Before Following Christ

Acts 22:1-5; Acts 26:9-11

Paul

    • Paul was (and is) a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia. (Acts 22:3; 26:4)
    • Paul was brought up in Jerusalem. (Acts 22:3; 26:4)
    • Paul studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the Jewish law/tradition. (Acts 22:3; 26:5)
    • Zealous for God. (Acts 22:3; 26:9-11)
    • Persecuted Christians to their death, arrested others and threw them into prison. (Acts 22:4; 26:9-11)
    • Paul got permission to go to Damascus to bring Christians back to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 22:5; 26:9-11)

Someone Else

    • Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were Christian. By the time I was born my mother had turned away from following Jesus. My father died when I was 2 weeks old.
    • I did not grow up attending church, although my mother did attend briefly and took me to Sunday school for a few months sometime before I was 6 years old.
    • My ideas about God were largely formed by watching the Lutheran claymation show “Davey & Goliath” on television (a wonderful show) as a young child.
    • I attended an Episcopal summer camp for 4 consecutive summers 1971 – 1974. I became somewhat curious about church at that point and asked the priests questions but, although they gave me technical answers, they never attempted to explain the “big picture” of how to follow Jesus.
    • One of my older sisters, who was not raised with me, wrote me a letter about why I should follow Jesus and how to do so when I was 16 years old. I was offended by the letter; I tore it up and threw it away, but I never forgot what she had written.
    • At college I met a couple of Christian friends who encouraged me to follow Jesus but, although I found what they told me to be credible, I felt strongly that I would never be able to live up to the standards of the Christian life. I remember telling them that I might get saved “when I was 30”.

What about you?

    • Elements you might include:
      • Your ethnicity, where you were born, where you were raised:
        • The general beliefs you were raised with and/or that you eventually adopted.
        • What was your basis for deciding right or wrong?
        • What were your most important goals?
      • Your spiritual beliefs:
        • What did you believe about God generally?
        • What did you believe about Jesus?
        • What did you believe about Christians? How did you treat them?
        • Resurrection of Jesus – Jesus is of course central to your testimony. Keep in mind what you already know about Jesus as you reflect on your life before following him. The resurrection of Jesus is an extremely important point to be made in you testimony. What you believed about the resurrection or how you felt about it before you began following Jesus is worth sharing in this portion of your testimony.
      • Examples that illustrate your former beliefs.
      • Your former lifestyle:
        • What kinds of things did you do?
        • How did you behave?
        • How did you treat others?
    • Go for it! Write out some bullet points for your life before Christ.

Lesson 2: Realizing the Need to Follow Christ

Acts 22:6-10; Acts 26:12-18

Paul

    • At noon, as he approached Damascus, Paul saw a bright light and fell to the ground. (Acts 22:6; 26:12-14)
    • Jesus appeared to him and said: “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 22:7; 26:14)
    • Jesus told Paul to go to Jerusalem and wait for further instructions. (Acts 22:10; 26:15-18)

Timothy

    • Although 1st generation believers often become followers of Jesus through a crisis experience, their children often have a more gradual experience.
    • Timothy may be an example of this:

Someone else

    • On Sunday April 1, 1979, I was sitting in my college dormitory room looking out at the river on a beautiful spring day. I was not in any sort of crisis – there was nothing that I felt was wrong in my life. I wasn’t upset about anything.
    • Somehow Jesus made his presence known to me and made it clear that I now had an opportunity to follow him.
    • On that day in my dorm room however, Jesus somehow made it clear to me that if I decided to follow him then, it would work. I felt free to accept him and I was somehow confident that I could actually be a Christian. I also felt free to say no to Jesus, but I also had a nagging worry: I didn’t know when I would ever again feel that same freedom to follow Jesus!

What about you?

    • Elements you might include:
      • Time period
        • Did you come to the realization all at once or gradually?
      • Your spiritual beliefs:
        • What did you believe about Jesus at the time you realized you needed to follow him?
        • How did the realization that you needed to follow Jesus agree with or conflict with your spiritual beliefs?
        • Resurrection of Jesus – This is a good place to make it clear that the Jesus you realized you needed to follow is the Jesus who rose from the dead three days after dying by crucifixion and being buried in a tomb.
      • Examples that illustrate your realization.
      • Your former lifestyle:
        • How did the realization that you needed to follow Jesus agree with or conflict with your lifestyle?
    • Things to consider:
      • Followers are characterized by whom they follow and the determination with which they follow.
      • A follower of Jesus wants to understand and pursue Jesus’ agenda! The “energy” for this comes from Jesus through them – NOT from you! Merely enjoying church does not make someone a follower of Jesus.
      • When and how did the concept of following Jesus become real for you?
    • Go for it! Write out some bullet points for how you realized you needed to follow Christ.

Lesson 3: Deciding to Follow Christ

Acts 22:11-16; Acts 26:19-20

Paul

    • – Saul has been blinded by the light and is led back to Jerusalem by his companions. (Acts 22:11) – Ananias lays hands on Saul to restore his sight, passes along Jesus’ instructions for Saul, and baptizes Saul. (Acts 22:12-16)

Someone else

    • I got down on my knees in front of my bed and, recalling what my sister had written me 2 years earlier, I asked Jesus to come into my life and be Lord. I was immediately aware of the 3 stacks of pornography magazines I had under my bed. I threw them away in our dormitory suite trash.
    • I called my sister to tell her that I had accepted Jesus.
    • I called my maternal grandmother to tell her that I had accepted Jesus.
    • I think I told my best friend Michael, who lived in the room across the hall, that I had accepted Jesus.
    • I wasn’t planning to go to church because my mother had told me that churches were full of hypocrites, but I made a decision to start attending the Black Christian Fellowship (BCF) on campus because I knew the members and trusted them.
    • I started reading the King James Bible that a distant cousin had given me when I was a child.
    • That Friday, April 6, 1979 I went to the BCF Bible Study and, during the closing testimony time I told the group that I had asked Jesus to be Lord of my life and I believed that he had saved me.
    • Two Sundays later (4/15/1979) was Easter and I decided to attend church. After the service the Pastor invited the college students over to his home and he answered some questions that I had. I decided that he wasn’t a hypocrite and that I would begin attending his church. I was baptized there a few months later.

What about you?

    • Elements you might include:
      • Time period
        • Did you decide to follow Jesus all at once or gradually?
      • Your spiritual beliefs:
        • What did you believe about Jesus at the time you began following him?
        • What acts of repentance accompanied your decision to follow Jesus?
        • Resurrection of Jesus – This is a good place to make it clear that the Jesus you decided to follow is the Jesus who rose from the dead three days after dying by crucifixion and being buried in a tomb.
      • Examples that illustrate your decision.
      • Your former lifestyle:
        • How did the decision to follow Jesus agree with or conflict with your lifestyle?
    • Things to consider:
      • Not everyone comes to Jesus the same way.
      • Can you confidently say that you are a follower of Jesus?
      • If not, stick around – keep coming!
      • If so, do you remember a distinct point in time when you began following Jesus?
        • If so, tell it!
        • If not, describe the earliest time that you can recall realizing that you have become a follower of Jesus.
      • Include your own baptism.
      • Include the Christian fellowship you joined.
    • Go for it! Write out some bullet points for your how you decided to follow Christ.

Lesson 4: Life Now, After Following Christ

Acts 20:18-35; Acts 26:21-23

Paul

    • Acts 20:18-21
      • Serves the Lord with humility and tears despite persecution from fellow Jews.
      • Doesn’t hesitate to preach anything that would be helpful.
      • Taught publicly and from house to house.
      • Declared to Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
    • Acts 20:22-24
      • Paul is facing prison and hardship but he considers his life worth nothing to himself.
      • He wants to finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given him of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
    • Acts 20:25-31
      • Paul has not hesitated to proclaim the whole will God.
      • Warned them night and day with tears for three years.
    • Acts 20:32-35
      • Has not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
      • He has worked for everything he and his companions needed.
      • Taught by example that we must help the weak
    • Acts 26:19-23
      • From Damascus, to Jerusalem, to Judea, and to the Gentiles, Paul preaches that they should repent, turn to God, and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.
      • Paul testifies to small and great alike that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
      • Paul wants everyone who hears him to become a Christian.

Someone else

    • I started attending New Believers’ Class and every other class that the pastor offered.
    • I frequently asked the pastor questions. He opened up his study to me and mentored me.
    • I volunteered to help out during Sunday services.
    • I began evangelizing on campus and won several people to Christ.
    • Sharing the gospel at college meant that I encountered a variety of questions and challenges. I followed suggestions from the pastor and another fellow student involved in ministry about books that would help me answer questions and defend the gospel.
    • I eventually began leading the BCF Bible Study on campus.
    • I have served in various ministry positions using my gifts to teach the gospel and answer people’s questions.
    • I am determined to promote a culture of outreach, evangelism, and discipleship wherever I go.

What about you?

    • Elements you might include:
      • Your ethnicity, where you were born, where you were raised:
        • Your current general beliefs.
        • Your current basis for deciding right or wrong.
        • Your current most important goals?
      • Your spiritual beliefs:
        • What do you now believe about God, Jesus, Christians, etc.?
        • Resurrection of Jesus – If you haven’t already affirmed the resurrection, this would be a good place to make it clear that the Jesus you now follow is the Jesus who rose from the dead three days after dying by crucifixion and being buried in a tomb.
      • Examples that illustrate your current beliefs.
        • What acts of repentance accompanied your decision to follow Jesus?
      • Your current lifestyle:
        • What is following Jesus like for you?
        • How do you behave? How do you treat others?
        • How did the realization that you needed to follow Jesus agree with or conflict with your lifestyle?
        • How much of your agenda does Jesus occupy?
        • How do you engage with other believers now? Are you part of a congregation? Are you part of a small group? What’s the quality of your relationships with other Christians?
    • Go for it! Write out some bullet points for your life now as a follower of Christ.

Lesson 5: Putting It All Together

Now it’s time to put all four components together into a single written document.

Here’s an example:

What about you?

What’s Next?

You should now continue through the rest of our Evangelism material:

Following Jesus: Evangelism

Evangelism Resources


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Resource Lists (for your convenience)

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Acknowledgements

Please join me in acknowledging the key people who contributed to this material!

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