What is a Christian? What does it mean to become a Christian? What is it that distinguishes us from non Christians? The disciples were among the very first Christians, devoting their lives to the service of a Christ who was physically present and able to teach and guide them in person. They listened to his words and accepted them, they knew that Jesus came from God, and they believed that he had been sent by God to save the world. The twelve apostles became the nucleus of the early church, leading and guiding it with an authority based on their personal experience of following Christ on earth. Peter even now, after all that Judas had done, acknowledges Judas as ‘one of our number who shared in his ministry’ and realises that if someone is to take his place they must have the same level of experience. What follows is the last occasion in the bible when drawing lots is used as a way of deciding. Following this incident decisions were led by the Spirit. The need for someone who had shared the experience of knowing the Human Christ was strong, as their testimony would carry the conviction of an eyewitness who had seen and heard first hand the teachings of Jesus.
Like them we are called to hear his word, to examine his teaching, and, knowing that He came from God, believe in his power to transform our lives and our world into ‘The Kingdom of God’. And like them we are called to testify. Testimony is a very important part of being a Christian. We are called to believe and then testify to others that God has given us eternal life, and that that life is in his son. We don’t have the eye witness authority of the twelve, but we do have access to the teachings of Jesus and the word of God. In the first psalm we are introduced to the characteristics of a godly person. We are told that such a person does not take advice from the wicked, or loiter on the way that sinners take or sit around with those who mock others. Instead such a person delights in the law of the Lord, that which is written in God’s word, and meditates on it day and night. The word meditate is stronger than simply to learn. It involves more than an intellectual knowledge. In John’s letter he speaks of carrying that testimony in the heart. We have all used the expression to ‘learn by heart’, which at first sight appears strange as the memory centres are associated more with the brain, but the heart as a centre of feeling and emotion is where we need to consider how that word should be lived out in our lives. Brain learning is interesting, but heart learning is motivational, it leads to action.
So as Christians we listen to God’s word and take it to heart, we believe in God and believe that he sent Jesus to save the world, and we are motivated to act in a way that will testify to our belief to the world around us. I wonder what the effect of our testimony has been so far. I wonder what the non church-going people of our area think about Christians. Do we say one thing and do another? Or do we avoid being openly Christian at all outside church. As Christians we belong to another world, the kingdom of God, but we are called to extend Christ’s ministry here. Jesus says ‘as you have has sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’ I’ve heard it said that it is not helpful to be so ‘heavenly minded’ as to be ‘no earthly use’! We may long for heaven, but it is on earth that our work for Christ is done. In the acts of kindness that we show to each other, in the help and support we can offer to those around us, in the service we undertake for our local communities, in all these we work for Christ. 'What ever you did for the least of these my brothers you did for me.' (Matthew 25).
It is possible to be a good person without being Christian. You can be nice to people without believing in God. But if we truly believe in God, and his son, are we doing anybody any favours by hiding our Christianity in situations where we could help not only physically, in ways that alleviate suffering in this earthly life, but also spiritually in order to bring them to a situation in which they can decide whether or not to become children of God. Through our acts of service, our charity, our generosity of spirit, motivated through the Gospel message in our hearts, we act as witnesses to our belief. A witness presents evidence at a trial. From that evidence the jury must decide whether something is true, or whether it is not. It is Jesus that stands trial on our testimony. Will he be accepted or rejected?