Two people are in your church and you need to choose which one will share how God saved them in your Sunday morning service. Both are godly Christians. The first is 40 years old. He used to be the head of a gang, killed people, dealt drugs, went to jail, was able to manipulate the prison system and had food and women delivered to his cell. One day he read a Bible and Christ radically saved him.
The other person is 40 years old and has been a Christian since he was five. He prayed to receive Christ with his mother and has never looked back. He has been faithful ever since.
No drugs. No illicit relationships. No major moral failures. Just faithful service and a daily battle with sin and temptation that he overcomes with his Savior's help. He was radically saved by Christ as well.
Which one are you going to choose to speak? Which testimony is more compelling?
Iain Murray explaining MLJ's view on testimonies:
For one thing, he noticed that the giving of testimonies tended to reduce all conversions to a similar pattern, to standardise experience in a way that went beyond Scripture. And yet, at the same time, testimony-givers were prone to emphasise what made their story noteworthy. No doubt the motives were often well-intentioned, but the effect could easily be carnal and man-centered. Hearers readily became impressed with the dramatic and unique features of the story, instead of with the grace of God which is identical in every conversion.
When you tell your testimony is it more about your sin or about God? Are you bored by the testimonies of people who committed to Christ at a young age? For those who did, do you feel like you need to interject sin into your testmony to make it noteworthy?
I once heard a teenage girl, upon hearing the testimony of a former leader of a drug cartel, asked if she had a testimony even though she had never done anything he had. His response to her was that people loved his testimony because they loved sin. The questions he would get were never about his conversion, but about the details of his past life.
You and I both know that the person who has been to hell and back in their life seems to have a more compelling story. Let me offer three reflections.
1. To be born again is a miracle of God. A child, whether born into a godly Christian family or not, is not born in communion with God, but is alienated from Him. Whether that child turns to Christ at 5 or 45, it is an act of the Holy Spirit to bring about such a transformation.
2. I think we might actually have our admiration backwards. IF (big IF) there is such a thing as a more compelling testimony, shouldn't it be that God has the power to save someone young and keep them faithful from such a young age? Why is it a "more impressive" testament to God's grace that we chose our own path of destruction and suffered the consequences for years before He won our hearts? It seems more compelling to me and a greater testimony to the power of God that He can constrain a human being through the power of the new birth from destroying themselves by saving them young and keeping them faithful.
3. As a parent of young children, I pray they will learn God's grace at an early age and that they will avoid a life of brokenness and despair that is found apart from Christ by receiving the gift of salvation. I don't want them to have to play the prodigal. Far better for them that they would honor Him, whatever life brings them, from a young age until He calls them home.
Next time you think about asking someone to share their testimony to your church, consider those who have been faithful from a young age. Lift them up as testimonies of God’s grace. These are not people who will have large ministries that are based on their dramatic conversion. They will be the kind of people who have been made wise by the gospel from youth and are a special treasure in your church.
When I became a Christian I marveled at the knowledge and wisdom many Christians my age had. My testimony may have been more interesting for others to hear, but the Christians who had been saved at a young age knew the Savior in ways that have taken me years to understand.
The miracle of new birth is a miracle, no matter when it happens. The gospel is about what God has done. Our testimonies should be as well.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.