Anybody who grew up in any kind of church setting has probably heard hundreds of testimonies. A testimony is the account a person relates of how he or she became a believer. Recently, I was with a group of missionaries, and we were all asked to give our own personal testimony.
If you are like me, you have experienced that these times of sharing follow a general pattern. People talking about how they became a Christian will talk about what they were like when they were unbelievers. God changed everything. Some were addicted to drugs. Others were sexually immoral. Others just treated people badly. But when they became a Christian their lifestyle changed. It is common, for example, to hear how they used to use a lot of cuss words. But then God instantly cleaned up their speech.
Another thing, at least for me, stands out about these testimonies. Almost always the people giving their testimony speak about “giving their heart to Jesus,” or “asking Jesus into their heart,” or “repenting.” Rarely does one say he believed in Jesus for eternal life.
These testimonies are so common I don’t think we often think of them critically. The phrases that are used are not Biblical. The Bible does not speak of giving our heart to Jesus or asking Jesus into our hearts in order to be saved.
Lately, however, I have been thinking about how people often speak of the change that occurred to them when they became believers. One is left with the impression, or maybe it is just the impression left with me, that this is how they knew God had saved them. The proof that they are eternally saved is in the fact that there was this dramatic change.
To be sure, it is great to hear about people turning their lives around. But there are problems with seeing this as the reason a person knows he is saved from hell. Where do we find such a thing in the Bible?
But there are additional problems with these types of testimonies. Occasionally, someone will share how he or she doesn’t have a testimony like that. This person will say he became a Christian when he was young. He grew up in a Christian home. He or she was never a drug addict or prostitute. He or she almost says it apologetically! His testimony seems so bland compared to the great work God has done in the lives of others. It seems to me that at least in some cases, Christians doubt their salvation because they have not experienced a great, visible change in how they live.
A bigger problem is that it is irrelevant if such a visible change takes place. The problem with the non-Christian is not his lifestyle, it is that he doesn’t have eternal life. The moral unbeliever is in the same boat as the immoral unbeliever. The eight–year old unbeliever and the drug addicted prostitute who is an unbeliever both have the same need. We do not know we are saved from hell because there has been a dramatic change in our lives. We know we have eternal life because Jesus promises us if we believe in Him for eternal life, He gives it to us as a free gift that can never be lost.
I think that even Free Grace folks can fall into the traditional way of giving testimonies. These common testimonies push a salvation that is based upon works, or at least that we must have works if we want assurance. When we are asked how we became a Christian, the answer is the same for all of us. I believed in Him for eternal life. Whatever change took place before or after that instant of faith had nothing to do with the free gift we received. When you get down to it, we all have the same testimony.