What is a Christian witness? Or better yet, what does it mean to be a Christian witness? Christian witnessing is expressed in two forms: positive and negative. They are, if you will, opposite sides of the same coin.
Often the positive form is stressed, which is commonly known as evangelism. Evangelism in its most basic sense is sharing good-news—i.e. the gospel. The negative aspect of witnessing entails the defense of the entire Christian worldview (faith-based-system), known as apologetics. How one defines these two terms (evangelism and apologetics; gospel and defense) is determined by their level of understanding.
For example, some limit the gospel to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth—the Christ—his life, death, and resurrection. Thus, this type of person tends to focus the gospel on the New Testament canon, in particular the gospels and a few other key note texts. When the subject of apologetics is discussed, some think that this means offering a defense of key Christian doctrines (e.g. Resurrection, virgin birth, existence of evil in the world, etc.). Neither position is entirely wrong, but they are not entirely right either. However, that is not the topic that I wish to address today.
What I would like to look at for a moment (if you have the time?) is “why Christians witness?” Again, depending who you ask answers will vary. From a biblical perspective why do Christians witness? Well, as I have been saying already, how you answer that question will depend upon your perspective.
Let’s take Matthew 28:18-20a, this is the normal go-to passage when speaking on bearing witness to the truth. Jesus says…
- “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (ESV).
Seems pretty clear, does it not? Would you agree that Jesus is saying, on the grounds of His Sovereign authority, that He is sending His disciples into the world to bear witness to the truth, to baptize those who identify in His saving work (in the name of the Triune God I might add), instructing them to live according to the word of Christ? Notice that this does not really tell us “why” Christians are to witness, other than the fact that Jesus commands it. Which, by the way, is really all the reason we need. But, there is more to the reason why.
“Well,” you say, “We witness to the people in our lives because they are sinners, they are lost and they are going to hell. We give them the gospel because they are in need and if nothing is done they will go to hell!” Fair enough. That is certainly true.
People, whether they realize it or not, are in desperate need of a Savior. No thoughtful Christian should ever deny this truth. However, that really does not get at the underlying reason why we bear witness to the truth.
We get a little closer to the truth when we look at something else Jesus said during his earthly ministry:
- “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20.21).
This statement by the Lord does not appear to bear the weight of an imperative (command); but rather, is a declarative statement (declaring a fact). Again, we are left facing an undeniable question: “What does this mean?” Not, what do I think this means, but what is the Lord actually saying.
Obviously, Jesus is telling them that the same mission the Father sent him on is the same mission that he is sending them on. Okay, what did Jesus’ mission look like? The overall context of John’s gospel lays this out for us. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth (cf. John 8.31-32; 18.37). He came to represent the invisible God to creation (cf. John 1.18). How did Jesus do this? By reflecting the mind of God in his thinking and actions. Jesus spoke what the Father told him (John 8.26; 12.49; 14.10) and he imitated his Father’s actions, claiming it was impossible to do otherwise (cf. John 5.19; 8.28). In so doing, Jesus identifies his work, the very work he was sent into the world to do, was primarily about glorifying the Father.
- “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17.1b, 4-5).
Weighing these words of Christ, what is the reason we witness? Think about Jesus statement in John 20;21 “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” and consider the following. Our witness to the world, to the people we come in contact with, to the very people God causes to cross our paths, is driven by what purpose? Ultimately, why do Christians witness? To glorify God. That’s our primary directive.
Well-meaning Christians will often say, “We witness because we love the lost.” In response, I ask “why do you love the lost?” What stirs the heart of believers if not the love of Christ (of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit) first and foremost?! If we witness for any other reason other than the reason to which Christ Jesus witnessed to the world, we are doing it for the wrong reason. While our intentions might be laudable in human terms, they miss the thrust of why Jesus is sending us into the world.
In the beginning, the Triune God created us in His image, to bear His likeness to the world (cf. Gen 1.1, 26-28). True, at that point in history witnessing was not a primary directive. Why, would it be? Fallenness brought by sin were not, as of yet, in the picture. Even then the manner of godly dominion to be expressed to the rest of creation was to be done in a fashion that glorified God in all things.
Am I then saying that we should not be concerned about people going to hell? If you’ve came to that conclusion after reading what I have written…do me a favor, read it again. That’s not what I am saying at all. My only point in writing this is to highlight a fact often missed or glazed over: We witness for the glory of God, not of Man. We witness because we love God the Creator, our love of fellow Man ought to flow from that not the other way around.
 Various parallel passages, or passages that share the same message are found in Mark 16.15-16, Luke 24.47-48, and Acts 1.8.
 Cf. Rom 10.17.
 The temptation here is to assume that Jesus only demonstrated the truth of the invisible God to humanity, but his acts were put on display for the angelic host as well (both the elect and non-elect; good and demonic); e.g. Luke 2.13-15; 1Pet 1.12; Matt 4.3-11; Mark 1.21-26. Moreover, creation is given a glimpse of how the Triune God, which until this time had been veiled in mystery, worked in creation; e.g. Mark 1.10; Matt 3.15-17; John 3.34; 14.16-17; 15.26; 16.13-15.