“After his suffering, [Jesus] presented Himself to [His apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
—Acts 1:3, 6–9
In Acts 1:8, before the Lord Jesus returns to the house of God to prepare heaven for you and me, He leaves His disciples with a simple message: You will receive power through the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses.
This message echoes back to the Garden of Eden, in Genesis. In the beginning, God created men and women in His likeness, so that we could be His witnesses to all of creation. Even when humans were in perfect communion with the Lord, He formed us to reveal Himself; this is who we are.
In Acts 1, Jesus calls His first followers as well as present-day disciples to return to our essential identity as image-bearers—to show our world and the people of our everyday scenes what the love of God looks like, feels like, and is like.
Jesus calls us back to the garden to remind us that our family is not yet complete. The work is not yet done, and the kingdom of God has not yet fully come on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, we—both individually and as the family of God—long to make our family complete; we must do the work of loving our world like God loved the world. And we must live in a way that makes our Father’s kingdom come and His will be done by us, as His witnesses, right here, right now.
The trouble with witnessing
We Christians often make witness a verb, something we do, rather than a noun, who we are.
If we approach witnessing as something we do, then it becomes only part of our faith, a part-time duty, or maybe just the work of a gifted few. It becomes easy to view it as an action we take, a message we deliver, a strategy we implement. We may be tempted to relegate our “witnessing” to those moments when we make the intentional effort to tell others about Christ. And yet, our lives keep witnessing long after our words and actions have stopped.
An incomplete view of our witness also widens the gap between those in the Kingdom and the many people who yet may come to know and love our God.
In their book unChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons study this disconnect among young adults outside the Church. The authors note that as these young people shared their perceptions of Christians, recurring descriptions of believers as “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental” emerged.
This message is hard to hear. But it highlights that our outreach has been rendered increasingly ineffective because our witness—the entirety of our words, our deeds, our lives—often does not point to the Christ we say we love.
Christ’s corrective vision
We contemporary Christians are not alone in the way we often misunderstand or misrepresent Christ’s message. Even after Jesus lived with, died for, and resurrected before them, the early disciples often missed His message. For instance, just look at the final question they had for Jesus before He ascended: “Lord are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?”
In His response, we see Jesus correcting His disciples—then and now—whose dreams are too limited, who only want to see a single nation restored. Jesus reveals the incredible reality that God’s kingdom is the kingdom of every nation, tribe, and tongue. And God’s citizens are all of his children who believe in His name and long to make His kingdom come.
In response to the Good News of God’s borderless love, we must realize that our God saves and then He sends. God so loved the world that He sent Jesus. Then, God so loved the world, that He sent the Holy Spirit. And before returning to heaven, the Lord Jesus calls all of His disciples and followers and says, Now I’m sending you. Every believer is called to be a witness as God sustains His redemption plan for the world.
Christ calls us to be His witnesses so that in our everyday lives who we are and how we love testifies, invites, proclaims, and welcomes all of our Father’s lost children back home again.
When people encounter us, they should not have to wonder about who God is, where God is, or whether or not God loves them. Through our witness, our world should see the wonder of God and the beauty and peace of knowing our God loves them. Through our witness, our world should know the miracle of God’s salvation and the power of a transformed life. Through our witness, our world should get a glimpse of the kingdom of Heaven that lasts eternally.
And our testimony to that Kingdom begins right where we stand. In Acts 1, Jesus calls His disciples to be witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in all of Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. As heirs to that call, we must be witnesses locally, nationally, and globally.
The practice of love
The first step in relying on God to be a witness right here, and right now, is to pray. We all know people who are outside our Father’s kingdom—our parents and siblings, our friends and co-workers, our acquaintances and even people we might only see once in our lives. Choose one person, and pray. Pray for them and for your interactions with them. Then listen to what the Spirit may be saying.
Secondly, identify your mission field. We used to view missions as traveling to distant lands to interact with people who do not believe. Now, all we have to do is look across the cubicle or down the street, open our eyes at the grocery store or the restaurant. We must be witnesses in the places we frequent and to the people we regularly interact with.
Finally, we must live circumspectly, keeping our eyes, hearts, homes, and lives open to the Spirit and to others. Because, if you pray and if you are a witness in your mission field, the Lord will send a harvest. Live with sensitivity so you will recognize it.
Our God desires redemption, reconciliation, and then generative response. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make redemption possible. As the Spirit leads us back to God, the Father’s love and forgiveness of our sins make reconciliation possible. But sisters and brothers, we have the privilege of being partners in the life-giving response—working alongside our God and one another as the family of God—to help expand our Father’s kingdom. It is through who we are as witnesses that the Lord’s image is revealed, and it is through the sharing of our lives that those around us can experience our Father’s great love.
This article originally appeared in the winter 2013 issue of In Part magazine.