10 June 2021

Don’t exaggerate your testimony. Ever.

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 encounters with God, what he’s told us, and how devoutly we follow him. But once again, we do. Way too many of us do.

It’s out of pure selfishness. We wish we had a really good God-encounter. We wish we witnessed something truly spectacular. And no I don’t mean “spectacular” as in neat; 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 these types 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 be hypocrites 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 part of a church where sharing one’s testimony is a regular thing: “Anyone have a testimony this week?” and people will get up and share what God recently did for ’em. Some are profound and miraculous. Others are profound, but not all that miraculous—and don’t 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 our stories aren’t miraculous enough… well, sometimes we exaggerate, and make ’em 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 presenting a false witness. Remember there’s a commandment against bearing false witness? Ex 20.16, Lv 5.20 This is precisely what the LORD and Moses were talking about: Claiming somebody did what they haven’t done. When we claim God did something he didn’t—even if we imagine we have the best of intentions—it still slanders God. Or to use the old-timey word, it’s blasphemy.

Detecting the fakes.

See, made-up stories about God will always have something off about them.

Because a liar doesn’t invent a story with any help from the Holy Spirit. So it’ll lack the Spirit’s fruit—and the Spirit’s fruit is God’s character. If we don’t have God’s character right, we don’t have God right. The God of our lies is always gonna act wrong.

Our motives and God’s motives don’t jibe. Is 55.8 Our motives are self-centered. They’re more fleshly. It’s why we make up stories about God in the first place: We’re trying to make ourselves look better, holier, more faithful, more favored, more devout—and make God pleased with us for doing so, and describe him as glorifying us for being such good Christians. But that’s God’s motive for doing miracles. At all. If you really know God, you’ll know it’s not even close.

In a made-up testimony (and, to be fair, poorly-told legitimate ones) God’s not the hero of the story: We are. So, much as we might claim we’re giving all glory to God, the fake story really glorifies ourselves. Miracles don’t take place because God is good, but because we are. Miracles don’t take place to grow faith; they’re rewards for us already having faith. Miracles don’t happen to silence doubts, ’cause we supposedly never doubted a thing; they’re to give doubters their comeuppance—and vindicate us, justify us, defend us, and make people impressed with us. As for God, he’s more of an afterthought, even though he supposedly empowered the miracles.

Miracles in fake miracle stories also sound mighty artificial. Too much like the CGI effects in a movie or TV show. (If you have crummy taste in entertainment, they’re gonna be the bad effects, too.) The “miracles” make a bigger splash than God would. They draw attention to themselves in all the ways God doesn’t. The people in our fictions react in a way real people don’t—with more melodrama. More stunned amazement and belief, or even disbelief and rejection, than you’ll find in real life. In real life, the Holy Spirit affects people in totally unexpected ways, because he’s not predicting how they’ll react; he knows how they’ll react, and cuts through all their façades and layers and filters like a buzzsaw through hot butter. And yeah, sometimes they resist him anyway—but 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 miracle stories in your lifetime. Because seldom do we Christians ever call people out on their lying testimonies. We might not believe their stories, nor trust the person sharing them, but when have you ever seen someone say, “I’m not sure I believe a word you just said.” (Other than pagans. And God bless pagans for their honesty!)

We 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 every teaching, judge it by its fruit. If a testimony doesn’t sound all that fruitful, you needn’t believe it. Feel free to ask follow-up questions and see whether the story holds together. Any true story will.

Don’t you start!

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

Thing is, we don’t have to! Are you bothered because you think your testimonies aren’t miraculous enough? Okay: 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, try it—and watch him show up and empower the impossible. Y’see, whenever 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 aren’t miraculous enough for you, so what? Testimonies aren’t 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; TBN cranks out crappy movies on the regular if you want 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 our 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 shared stories which made them sound like serious screw-ups. Because sometimes that’s precisely what we are. God doesn’t always encounter us when we’re mature, or in a good place in our lives. But again, it’s not about us. 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 God does, and we’ve met him—and they can meet him too.