Between Confession and Testimony

Have you read The Cross And The Switchblade? It is the thrilling testimony of Nicky Cruz as he left behind a world of drugs and gangs and found a new home with God’s people in the church. David Wilkerson writes with agony and passion of the many young people he met in the city’s gangs, speaking with the love of a brother as he faithfully pursues Nicky and his friends.

It is currently the #19 bestseller in Christian Biographies on Amazon.

First published in 1962, it remains as popular as ever. It is a gift given to every youth-group teen on their baptism, or after reaffirming their commitment to Jesus, or when the Youth Pastor thinks that they might be boring the youth.

That a 40 year old paperback can remain so popular in our increasingly skeptical age tells of the power of testimony. I have heard it said that new Christians are the best evangelists. It is implied that this is because when you stay in the church for too long, theology and other trivialities begin to overshadow that powerful testimony which you once proclaimed; that convicting witness to truth you once knew so thoroughly. So my theological studies, and my experience teaching and preaching in churches has dulled whatever testimony I once had.

Now I have no tale of Divine Mercy to tell. I have no conviction in my own narrative with which to convince you, dear reader, of the rightness of my faith. It would have been better if there had been a period–no more than six months–after my conversion where I got to go on a tour. Maybe a few churches, school assemblies and arts festival engagements, culminating in a big summer festival. After that, I should have been flown off to a remote retreat house in the Alps, far away from the prying eyes of the world. Because, you see, the testimony I told was a narrative I could never live.

The marketable story, so refined by the consumers choice, is of a life gone wrong and turned around through the transformation of the human heart wrought through intense suffering and unbelievable love. They will never be the same again, they tell the crowd of teens in a darkened room, before asking everyone to close their eyes and raise a hand if they want to become a Christian.

So I should have been whisked away to a remote place. Then the world wouldn’t have to see how the stains of sin which mar my heart, become an infection which I eagerly pass on to others in my jealous rage and furious self-pity.

It’s as if I created Christianity for myself, and then let myself down.

In truth, I think I have only disappointed the story I tried to sell. It’s not even in the Bible anyway. Yahweh, the Bible’s God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of generations and ages, of children and elderly, of women and men who knows the time of birth and death for each person. He patiently bears with the grievous wrongdoings of his people for centuries, from the moment they left Egypt (Exodus 32:9).

This stiff-necked people constantly remained the people of God, despite their sins and rebellion. And I am part of that now. Why should I try to live a story which was never true? God bears with the sinners, calling them to himself, saving them and sanctifying them. Why would I desire to change that?

Probably because that story isn’t as attractive to me as the magic of the youth-group testimony.

Whoever  conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who  confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Confession is halfway to a testimony, since through confession God’s mercies are obtained and it is mercy which the church proclaims. So it is through confession that I can tell a story truer than the one I once believed. Yet I suppose I do not know if it will be true until I have lived it.

Does mercy truly await the penitent?

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One Comment

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  1. Such a sad reflection once again. Is this really how you see yourself under the new covenant – or are you just writing for effect? You say it is mercy the church proclaims – I confidently declare it is grace. mercy was the old covenant promise – Grace unadulterated outageous awesome incredible unbelievable immeasurable grace is the new covenant promise. That is what you have Ian – not mercy in exchange for your confession of sin – but Grace which does not require a confession of sin. Grace that insists that you no longer see yourself as a sinner because Christ has died to make you into the righteousness of God – already sanctified – not waiting to be. To raise up old and well used but still relevant cliches – mercy is when you don’t get what you do deserve (ie: lack of punishment for your confessed sin) – grace is when you do get what you don’t deserve (ie: declared righteousness and NOT a sinner through the sacrifice of another). Your testimony should be purely and simply what you have experienced of the wonderful grace of God – your witness should be what amazing works he does in your life on a daily basis – nothing more nothing less – no talk of your sin – only talk of his grace. Perhaps you would find life a happier more joyful place to live if you could decide to experiment at taking God at his word and believing all his new and better covenant promises and declarations about the reaity of who you now are.

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