What’s a Witness?

One of the Bible's most common metaphors means more than we think.


One of the most common metaphors the Bible uses for God’s people and for their role in this world is to call them witnesses. In a trial, a witness isn’t the prosecutor, and a witness. Isn’t the defendant. A witness also isn’t the judge or the jury. A witness is called into the courtroom to provide testimony—to share what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, and what they know. To tell that story. Their job is to serve as a landmark for the judge and for the jury who are trying to navigate their way toward some kind of truth, when truth is hard to find.

American politics doesn’t make it easy to be content to be a witness. American politics conditions us to either come into the courtroom and act like a prosecutor—announcing who did what wrong. Or it gets us to come into the courtroom and act like defendants—the morally upright people dealing with false accusations from our enemies. But neither of those things are what the Bible calls us to be.

The Bible calls us to be content being third-party witnesses in the trials that other people are having in their hearts over the truth of Jesus’ claims.

A lot of times, it seems like our goal isn’t to give that testimony. A lot of times, we kind of fall into the trap of coming into the courtroom because we really want to be the judge—we really want to be the ones to set the rules that other people have to play by. Or we really want to be the jury—the ones who get to decide who’s right, who’s wrong and put force behind our vision of what’s right and wrong.

Just being content to tell a story is really hard, partly because we don’t have a framework for it. What does it look like to go into the public square and try to just give a testimony to what Jesus did, instead of trying to wage Holy war on Jesus’s behalf?

Does our testimony come from what policies we support? My guess is, “no.” And my guess is also that our testimony doesn’t come from whether we even win or not. Right, no matter what policy you support, there’s going to be people who don’t share your faith who are way more into that goal than you are. No matter what party you’re part of, there’s going to be people who don’t share your faith who are way more dedicated to that party, who are living way more in line with that philosophy or that ideology than you are. No matter what policy goal you’re working toward, there are non-Christians out there who are going to be better than you at making it happen, at getting the ball farther down the field.

So if our testimony doesn’t come from the policy we support or the party we belong to, and if our testimony doesn’t even come from if we win in the public square, what does it come from? How do we tell that story?

The Bible doesn’t leave us hanging in that. The Bible tells us explicitly in Philippians: “Let the manner of your life be worthy of the good news of Christ. This is a clear sign to them.” When we’re in the public square, the way we conduct our lives is how the Bible says we tell the story of Christ. It’s how we provide that testimony. We are going to explain Jesus in the public square, we are going to testify to the gospel in the public square, by behaving differently from the people who agree with us about politics, about government, about policy.

If people on the other side of the aisle who don’t share our faith aren’t looking at us and seeing that we behave differently from the rest of their political opponents, if they’re not looking at us and seeing that there is something more admirable about us than there is about the rest of their political opponents, we may not actually be offering the testimony we want to be offering.

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