What does it mean to be a witness? What does it mean to be a witness for Jesus? Many have defined witnessing for Jesus as being bold and sharing your faith. It may mean having a fish bumper sticker on your car or taking a stand on a hot-button issue. If you listen to some Christians, witnessing sounds like a covert word for being obnoxious and pushy. It sounds like doing a lot of talking and arguing and not a lot of listening. For those who are beginners in the faith or outside the church, this doesn’t make sense. How can these things make you a witness for Jesus? How can you be a witness for Jesus if you haven’t seen him and you weren’t there when he walked the earth? What exactly is witnessing?
The word witness in the New Testament comes from a word used for those who would testify in court and place their lives on the line. They stood in court to testify and die for what they said. If they were found speaking falsely then, they were put to death. Jesus uses this word for the role the disciples would play after he ascended to heaven. In Acts 1:8, he says they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. They would speak truth about him even if it cost them their lives. And for all except one (the apostle John, who was thrown in a pot of boiling oil and exiled to a deserted island), it did. They were martyred in various ways on different continents for their faith in Christ.
From this we understand being a witness as telling the truth about what we have seen or experienced of Jesus. It’s about being true to who Jesus is and what he has done in our lives. It’s not something you do to another person. It’s more than just giving out some literature or putting a bumper sticker on your car or posting a scripture to your Facebook status. It’s not just about announcing to the world you are a Christian. Being a witness for Jesus is about your life, and that may include being vocal. It is about representing Jesus with integrity wherever you are, whether you’re in China or Chicago. To represent Christ is to imitate him and show his love to the world. It is when we become servants like he was. It could be something as simple as mowing your neighbor’s yard when they are bedridden and sick. You can represent him by being welcoming to the new person at work. The place doesn’t matter as much as the person. Some people can be poor witnesses. They speak a lot about Christ, but the way they do it is arrogant, and their lives are unChristlike. Maybe you’ve seen the guy on the college campus with the bullhorn calling people derogatory names and condemning them to hell. That is a poor witness. If you want to test out whether you are a poor witness or not, just think, “Would Christ be doing this if he were on the earth today?” If not, then you probably are being a poor witness.
So it’s more about who you are than what you say. It’s more of a noun than a verb. The action of witnessing flows from a person’s identity as a witness. That being said, it’s about your whole life and not just one moment. Those who follow Jesus are his witnesses 24/7 in everything they say and do. We are called to be witnesses in our work and our recreation. Witnessing means to love others the way Jesus would. It means to give extravagantly. It means to humble ourselves and serve the poor and downtrodden—not for our own altruistic motives, but because we are apprentices and followers of Jesus. In every area of life, our actions and speech must point to who Jesus is and what he has done.