04 May 2018

Don’t exaggerate your testimony. Ever.

Far too many liars are spreading stories about God.

It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t lie. But we do, for various reasons, all bad. So stop. Wean yourself off exaggerating in order to make yourself look good; wean yourself off dissembling to get yourself out of difficulty. Quit lying. Jesus is truth; Jn 14.6 stick to the truth. There y’go; your mini-sermon for the day.

It should also go without saying we shouldn’t lie when we share our testimonies, and talk about our God-experiences. But once again, we do. Way too many of us do.

It’s out of pure selfishness: We wish we had a good testimony. Or a better one. One where God did something really spectacular. And no I don’t mean “spectacular” as in really great; I mean in its original sense as a serious spectacle, something visible which really gets people’s attention. Like when Simon Peter raised Dorcas from the dead Ac 9.36-42 or something. We want those sorts of stories, because we wanna sound like we have more faith, or more divine favor.

And rather than act in faith, rather than develop our relationship with God so that he’ll grant us greater favors, we take the shortcut and lie. Much easier to do that than behave, obey, take the leaps of faith, or simply listen.

Hence lying testimonies happen all the time. I know, ’cause I’ve heard plenty. I grew up in church. If you have too, chances are you’ve heard dozens or hundreds of testimonies, especially if you’re in a church which shares testimonies on the regular. People get up and share their stories of what God does for them. Some are profound and miraculous. Others are profound, but not all that miraculous—and don’t actually need to be, because they’re stories well-told, and point to God where appropriate.

But Christians tend to covet dramatic, miraculous stories. So if they aren’t miraculous enough… well, sometimes we exaggerate, and make them miraculous enough.

Here’s the problem: Embellishing our God-experiences, or telling fake miracle stories, gives people a false picture of who God is. Because we’re telling lies about him. We’re claiming he did what he hasn’t done. And when we claim God did something when he didn’t, even if we imagine we had the best of intentions behind our false stories, it’s still slander against God. Or to use the older word, blasphemy.

Detecting the fakes.

See, made-up stories about God always have something off about them. Because a liar isn’t inventing the story with any help from the Holy Spirit. It’s gonna lack the the fruit of the Spirit. Thing is, the fruit of the Spirit is God’s character. And if you don’t have God’s character right, you won’t have God right. The God of our lies is always gonna act just wrong enough.

God’s motives, fr’instance. Our motives and his motives don’t jibe. Is 55.8 Our motives are self-centered. More fleshly. It’s why we’ve made up these stories in the first place: We’re trying to make ourselves look better, holier, more faithful, more favored, more devout. As if God is pleased with us, and wants to glorify us for being good Christians. As if that’s God’s motive for doing miracles. If you really know God, you’ll know that’s not even close.

In the made-up testimony, God’s not the hero of the story: We are. (To be fair, in real testimonies done wrong, we make the very same mistake. But God’s greatness tends to slip out anyway.)

So, much as we might claim we’re giving all glory to God, the fake story really gives a fair amount of glory to ourselves. Miracles don’t take place in them because God is good, but because we are. Miracles don’t take place in them to grow faith; they’re given as rewards for us already having faith. The miracles don’t happen to silence doubts, but to give doubters their comeuppance. The miracles vindicate us, justify us, defend us, and make people impressed with us. Oh yeah, and God; he’s more of an afterthought, even though he’s supposedly the one empowering the miracles.

The miracles in these fake stories also sound mighty artificial. Too much like a movie’s special effects. They make a bigger splash than God would. They draw attention to themselves in a way God won’t. The people in our fictions react in a way real people don’t—with more amazement and belief, or even disbelief and skepticism, than you’ll find in real life. In real life, the Holy Spirit affects people in very unpredictable ways, because he’s trying to do different things with different people (and because some people are still gonna resist him anyway). In made-up stories, they always repent and believe. We do love our happy endings.

Thing is, you’ve probably heard a lot of these fictional miracles in your lifetime. Because seldom does a Christian ever call people out on their fake testimonies. We might not believe the stories, nor trust the person sharing them, but when have you ever seen someone (other than a pagan—and God bless pagans for their honesty!) say, “I’m not sure I believe a word you just said.”

Well, you don’t necessarily have to call people out on their lies. (That is, unless the Holy Spirit instructs you to do so… although you better hope he’s not planning to follow up this reveal with an Ananias-style smiting. Ac 5.1-6 Yikes.) But same as any teaching, judge it by its fruit. If a testimony doesn’t sound all that fruitful, don’t believe it. Ask questions to see whether the story holds together. Any true story will.

Don’t you start!

Every Christian gets tempted, just a little, to embellish their stories a bit. Just to make ’em sound more interesting. Or to make ourselves sound more interesting.

Thing is, we really don’t have to. Are you bothered that your testimonies aren’t miraculous enough? Then go out there and get better testimonies. Go get involved in some outreach ministry, where you’re required to act in faith more often than usual. Pay attention to what God’s been telling you to do, and actually do them. When the Spirit tells you to do the impossible, actually do it—and watch him show up and empower the impossible. Y’see if we lack testimonies, it’s entirely on us.

Once we’ve seen God do stuff, we can share those stories. We now have testimonies.

And if they weren’t miraculous enough for you, so what? They’re not really for you anyway. They’re for other people. Other people are searching for God, struggling to find him, and need to hear some authentic stories about how God interacts with his people in this world. They don’t need to hear fakes and fiction. They don’t need to get the wrong idea about what God-experiences look like—and as a result, miss the real thing when God’s really in their midst.

If you don’t come out sounding all that great in your testimonies, again, so what? Check out the testimonies in the bible: The apostles wrote down stories which made them sound like serious screw-ups. Because sometimes that’s precisely what we are. But again, it’s not about us, but about God. We need to get our pride out of the way, and make it clear God is eager to work with screw-ups. Jesus didn’t come to cure healthy people, but sick ones. Mk 2.17 Needy people need to see that we don’t have it all together either. But we do know God, and they can know him too.