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John MacArthur

Quite a few years ago I saw an attempted murder. When the police arrived, they asked if I would testify. I agreed to do so and eventually was called as a witness for the prosecution at their trial. After I was sworn in, the attorney asked me to tell the court three things: what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt.

That’s a good definition of a witness. A witness tells what he sees, hears, and feels. Such was the testimony the apostle John bore of Jesus in 1 John 1:1-2: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life . . . we proclaim to you also.” That’s what a Christian witness is—someone who tells others of his or her experience with Christ.

The Bible doesn’t view witnessing as optional in the Christian life. Such passages as Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 make it clear that all believers are responsible to be witnesses for Christ. You don’t have to be well-versed in all the intricacies of theology to be an effective witness. The blind man healed by Jesus in John 9 didn’t know how to answer all the theological questions posed to him by the Pharisees, but he could say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25). He was able to tell what Jesus had done for him. That’s something all Christians, regardless of how much theology and apologetics they know, can do. We can all share what Christ has done in our lives.

Witnesses in a courtroom don’t always present their testimony in an orderly manner. They often share things that are irrelevant. But a good attorney will take that testimony and apply it to the case being tried. The Holy Spirit will do the same thing with our testimony. Some of what we say may be right on target; some may not. We have the confidence, however, that the Holy Spirit will take our witness and use it to accomplish His purposes. The Holy Spirit uses our testimonies to build His case for Christ.

If you are a Christian, you have witnessed what Christ has done in your life. The only question is whether you’re willing to give your testimony. The victim in the attempted murder I witnessed was too frightened to testify. He certainly was a witness; he knew perfectly well what had happened to him. But his refusal to testify meant that his testimony was useless in bringing those criminals to justice. Similarly, our testimony of what Christ has done for us is useless if we don’t share it. Being a witness is not always easy. But if we are to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ, we must care more about what the world thinks of Jesus than what it thinks of us.

Dependence on the Holy Spirit

People are not saved because of your testimony. They’re not saved because you argue them into silence or because you use a clever “sales pitch” to present the Gospel. No one has ever been saved, or ever will be, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. Although the apostle Paul shared the Gospel with Lydia, she was not saved until “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). It is the Holy Spirit who will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Even knowledge of biblical truths will not save anyone, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

That’s a liberating truth. Sharing the Gospel would be a terrible burden if people’s salvation depended on our persuasiveness. How comforting to know that we are responsible only to be diligent and faithful and to allow the Holy Spirit to use us. People sometimes ask me if I’m disappointed whenever people don’t get saved in response to my preaching. I am disappointed for their sake; yet I know that I have been called to preach the Gospel, not to save people. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. All you and I can do is be faithful witnesses for Jesus Christ and allow the sovereign Holy Spirit to do His work.

The Importance of Follow-up

Our responsibility to those we lead to Christ doesn’t end with their conversion. Rather, our goal is to disciple them and bring them to the level of maturity that will allow them to make disciples of their own (2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus charged us to make disciples of those we evangelize (Matthew 28:19-20). If at all possible, you should establish a discipling relationship with those you lead to Christ. If you can’t, try to refer them to someone who can. At the very least, point them to good books and tapes that will help them grow in Christ.

How do you disciple someone? You meet with him regularly and teach him both doctrinal and practical truths from the Bible. Be concerned about his life, and warn him of the consequences if he continues in sin. If the persons you are discipling have problems handling money, teach them biblical principles relating to finances. If they struggle with lust, teach them biblical principles for handling temptation. Whatever areas of their lives need work, share with them biblical truths that apply. Admonish them if they persist in those sins. Be sure to set an example of godly living in your own life that they can follow. Otherwise your lifestyle will undermine the truth you are teaching them. Above all, love them. Serve them with a sense of humility. Make yourself available to them. Be their friend.

The call to witness and make disciples is urgent. Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Are you one of the Lord’s harvesters?

Permission kindly granted to Faith & Reason Forum by Crossway Books. Excerpted from The Keys to Spiritual Growth by John MacArthur, © 2001, Crossway Books.