If you knew me from my sophomore year of college and back into my past, you most definitely knew me to be the most helplessly clueless person when it came to pop culture references (I’m still not where I need to be, but I’ve come a long, long way since then). A large part of my cultural-living-under-a-rock syndrome came from the fact that I grew up listening only to Christian music. Ok, sure, you probably just chuckled at that nonsense, but you gotta hand it to my loving parents who protected their little one from the greater degrees of nonsense that comes through the speakers, courtesy of secular radio. Christian music, like all music, has it’s ups and downs, but growing up, I generally liked it. And I still like listening to it from time to time now, too.
The music really is uplifting and truly allows me to praise the Lord. However, there are times when my experience of listening to Christian radio simply causes me wince–and when I say this, I’m not talking about the music, the lyrics, or the talk show hosts.
I’m talking about the testimonials. That’s when the real wincing happens. But even more than that, my main concern is that I feel like the testimonies make God wince most.
To provide some more direct context, I listen to a Christian radio station called ‘His Radio,’ which really is a great radio station that airs over most of NC, SC, and parts of GA. As a way of sharing testimonials over the air, the station hosts a brief segment between songs called “I am His because…,” which features 15-second, already-recorded testimonials of listeners who share a nugget of encouragement about why they are His. I think it’s a great idea, but the content of what is said as to why they are His is just simply a bit unsettling, quite disheartening, and greatly alarming.
First off, major disclaimer: I am in no way trying to bash this radio station in the slightest bit; what I want to discuss in particular is something that is not unique to His Radio at all, but something that I believe is a much larger, systemic problem of the church in general, namely, identifying the basis of our salvation and therefore, emphasizing that content in our testimonies. In other words, if we are telling a basis of our salvation that is incorrect, then we are communicating to the listening world something that is not the Christian’s true hope. These 15-second statement type testimonies that are broadcasted to millions of people immediately become a dangerous mistake if they communicate misleading content.
So, here are some testimonial statements that I heard not too long ago that made me wince, and I’ll discuss the danger of these statements and their implications further below.
“I am His because one day, I was in church and I was wondering if I was going to heaven… And I just felt it.”
“I know I am His because of the change he’s made in me.”
“I am His because He gives me strength to face the hardships of every day.”
“I am His because I am free of 15 years of epilepsy and free of medication.”
I don’t mean to be crass, but really? Really? You know you are God’s because you felt it? You know you are God’s because you’ve become a more moral person? You know you’re God’s because you have better stamina? You know you’re God’s because you’re healthy?
Let’s just approach this statement-by-statement, one at a time.
Concerning the first statement–What if you feel you are God’s today, but not tomorrow? Are you God’s only on the days that you feel it? Of course not. What if that feeling was chalked up to your crush noticing you (if a good feeling) or a bad Taco Bell experience (if a bad feeling)? If you feel His, does that mean you are?
Concerning the second statement–Certainly, good morality is a byproduct of your being saved. But is your good morality the basis of why you are God’s? No. Was your good morality what got you into God’s graces in the first place? So what if you fail morally? What if you’re great on Sunday, but on Monday you blow it? Are you God’s only on the days you feel accomplished and moral? Of course not.
Concerning the third statement–Facing hardships more effectively is the basis for why you are God’s? What if I read a book written by an atheist that showed me how to handle hardship better–and it helped me? Am I God’s then? What if facing hardship better is just a matter of job experience, or more sleep, or a persevering personality? Am I God’s then? And what if hardships seem too overwhelming? Am I not God’s anymore? Non-Christians can have strength to push through trials. But does that make them “His”? No.
Concerning the fourth statement–Praise God for health, but is good health the reason for why you are God’s? If you get cancer, are you not God’s anymore? If you don’t have good health, is that a sign of God forsaking you? What if I get into a car accident? Am I no longer God’s? What about the non-Christian who was healed from their sickness? Does that make her “God’s” or do we just chalk it up to ‘medicine’?
Personally, and most importantly, I think God is livid at these statements. I feel like He’s in heaven saying, “Really?! Ok, great, I’m glad you appreciated me healing you, but HELLO! Anything else….? Like….. The greatest thing I ever did for you? I LIVED AND DIED FOR YOU! I AM the reason you are Mine! I saved you from sin, death, and hell by the nails in my hands and the empty grave! THAT is why you are MINE!” These testimonials are simply offensive to God. They base their salvation ultimately in feelings they possess, morality they have acquired, ability they have nourished, and health they have loved. Feelings, morality, ability, and health are not bad things, but they are not the basis for why Christians are God’s own children! These are not the gospel of God–and it’s greatly alarming that Christians think their assurance of salvation in is things, not Jesus.
When have you ever heard, “I know I am His because even while I was his enemy, God sent Jesus to die for me because He loved me. How much more so am I His now that I am his beloved child?”
A testimony isn’t about you. It’s about God. It’s called a testimony precisely because you are testifying to something much larger than yourself. As such, a ‘Christian’ testimony is only ‘Christian’ so long as it points to the Christ behind the ‘Christianizing.’
Giving God credit for your healing, strength, ability, and growth in morality is appropriate and fitting, but it’s not primarily why you are His. You’re His primarily because of what He’s done to rescue you from your sin and to adopt you as His own.
All these testimonies improperly point to circumstances that God may have used, but they do not explain why someone is His. Only the gospel truly explains why we are His. Circumstances may happen as a byproduct of us being in Christ, but it’s not the basis as to why we are in Christ.
I feel like it’s offensive to God when we define “I am His” testimonies to the circumstances that have happened to us—which is highly subjective–all the while we ignore the most obvious truth! The truth that gives us the most assurance–the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to save us–which is objective! It’s rooted in history! The reason why we are His is not because of a subjective, circumstantial, only happened-in-my-head (or stomach) type of thing. The reality of gospel happened outside of us–and it’s what we are called to point to, testify to, boast in, and rejoice in.
When we get our assurance of “I am His” from the limiting circumstances around us, we inevitably make our statements of “I am His” incredibly shallow, immediately subjective, and most importantly, theologically dangerous.
As Christians and as Christian organizations–whether we are witnessing to one friend or broadcasting to millions of listeners–it’s incredibly important to get the message right. The message is everything, and it’s what salvation hangs on. So let’s spread the message as much as possible in whatever channels necessary–let’s just make sure the content is on point before it’s on air.