Agonizomai: Are You an "I" Witness or an Eyewitness?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are You an "I" Witness or an Eyewitness?
I've published this piece on my blog once before, without the audio. I'm re-publishing it now because it sort of parallels the thoughts in parts of this study that relate to emphasis and the motivation in the Christian life.

Play in your default mp3 player

The word “witness” is an integral part of the Christian faith. It comes from the same Greek root as the word “martyr” . Martyrs are so called because their actions are regarded as a witness to the Lord for Whom they are dying. In a legal sense a witness is a person who testifies in court as to what he or she has observed. But it is the observation itself that makes them a witness and not the fact that they are called to testify. Their calling is the result of what they have seen, and the characterization of them by the name “witness” refers to what they saw, and not just the fact that they are testifying to it.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is to decide if “witness” is an active or a passive verb. In the world, people generally don’t like to be thought of as passive, so they sometimes turn passive words into active ones in order to feel as though they themselves are accomplishing something. Even Christians, when they go out to share the gospel, often speak of the act of sharing that they themselves perform as “witnessing”. But that is a misuse of the word. What they are doing is testifying to what they have witnessed. They are bearing witness i.e. being the bearers of testimony of what they have seen done by Another. The active part is in the telling, but the observation about which they are witnessing is entirely passive. Somebody else did it all.

So - to witness is really to observe what someone else does. Though many Christians might never openly agree to this, they nevertheless confirm it by using language that describes what the Lord did and is doing in their lives. The logical extension of the passive understanding of Christian witness is that we do nothing more than relate Jesus Christ and what He has already done, or what He is currently doing.

In the court of heaven there are no star witnesses. The witnesses only matter insofar as they testify to the truth of Him Whom they have observed. We are not “I” witnesses, but merely “eyewitnesses” to the glory and grace, the mercy and majesty of Christ.

But there is a deeper sense in which may we tend to be “I” witnesses when we are only eyewitnesses. That is in the experience of our own salvation and sanctification. We may subscribe to the idea that we have nothing that we did not receive, but still cling to the deception that we deserve to be credited with using it once we have received it. We may say that we died with Christ but still want to be alive enough to live for God as if we could give to, or add to, or increase Him somehow.

We should want to do our part in response to what He has done. But then we can misunderstand what our part is. Our mistaken response to what God has done is often to live for Christ instead of letting Him live in us. Our proper response is actually to lose our life entirely. What does that mean? I think it means nothing more nor less than to carry on being witnesses. Not just witnesses for Christ, but to witness Him in us. To continue to watch as He works in and through us, and to worship Him as He does it all before our eyes.

Living containers, vessels and even temples have no knowledge at all, except that of observing what goes on inside them. Vessels receive and are emptied. Temples are adorned, cleaned and maintained, beautified and worshipped in. But neither vessels nor temples do the filling and emptying, the adorning, cleaning, maintaining or beautifying. Similarly, it is not we, but God who does all in us and through us. Even the worship we do is a gift from Him – I might even say of Him.

We are witnesses of what He is doing. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. It is God Who justifies , Who saves for His own sake , Who sanctifies and Who finishes in us the good work that He started. It is He who is able to make us stand. He is our salvation.

He is doing the same thing in countless people, salting and preserving the world according to His wisdom, and the counsels of His own will from eternity, saving those whom He wills – those whom the Father has given and drawn to and created in Christ Jesus. He is making us into the sweet savour of Christ amongst those who are being saved and the stench of death to those who are perishing.

And when we are dead enough, when we have lost our life entirely, when He is fully and finally enthroned in us, in all of His power and majesty by the Spirit – then we will truly be His witnesses. For we shall be nothing more than vessels, holding our own selves in check through our living death, while we observe what God Himself does both in and through us. There will be no boasting. No creature pride. Only the sense of being lost in wonder, love and praise.

Mercy! How will anything ever get done when we behave this way? If we are not charging about to do things for Him, witnessing, doing works of mercy and grace then who will go? Surely the Christian life cannot be that passive? I tell you – if we would only get out of His way we would witness Him doing things in and through us that would be greater than the works Jesus did when He was here as one of us.

Do we want to be “I” witnesses, where we tell of what He has done and then hijack the process that He has already shown to be perfect by taking over ourselves? Or do we want to be eyewitnesses of what He will continue to do in and through the whole body, including that part which is us?


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