“We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Cor 4:2)
1. Holiness means Knowing the Truth
The credibility of a witness will be in proportion to their holiness. The holy is completely disinterested; as such it has no motivation for deception, compromise or illegitimate appeal. Only the witness who needs no response to their communication can have the sovereign authority of a complete moral right to speak into the life of another. This cannot be so when church leaders need recognition through numbers of attendees, conversions or applause. Where I need something from the hearer my communication necessarily compromised. “For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be servant of Christ. ” (Gal 1:10)
In Christian society and the church, “positive feedback” from humans is regularly confused with “holy knowledge” of God. In 1 John 2:20, 27, for instance, believers are said to have “knowledge”; “you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge.” (1 John 2:20), “his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie.” (1 John 2:20) Feedback can be perversely motivated, as in flattery, as to a degree in the primal Satanic word, “you will become like God knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). “Holy knowledge” however is internal knowledge, it is the knowing that comes from deeply being present in the life of another person. In such situation of intimacy, the other is truly known from the inside. Doubts over their motives are as impossible as doubts over one’s own immediate feelings.
The holy witness is Jesus’ witness to men from the Father. “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth ”(Rev 1:5) Since Jesus knows who he is in the Father, he has no need for the witness of men to affirm his witness to God. “When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” (John 2:23-25)
2. Jesus Life is about Holy Witness
Jesus always knew who he was in the Father because this was always being communicated to him by the Spirit. An outstanding example of this witness in his earthly life is at his baptism “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:22).
As the revelation of his Sonship this is his anointing with power, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. ” (Acts 10:38). His authority to proclaim or bear witness to the kingdom of God his Father is his inner knowledge that he is the Son. Since Jesus received this testimony of the Spirit to his Sonship “without measure” (John 3:34), his practical authority to minister is unlimited.
Jesus’ glory as a Son is that he is able to witness to the Father in pure love without the need for human or divine recognition. He does not need divine recognition because he already possesses it in an absolute and unconditioned way. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt 11:25)) In these words, Jesus links the exercise of authority in “all things” to the mutual personal knowledge of Father and Son.
This witness is complete, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”(John 14:10- 11)
Jesus is saying that if Philip knew him as he knew the Father, then he would know in Christ’s works “all that the Father is doing” (John 5:19) and so know the Father completely. The reason why the apostles do not know Jesus and the Father is about to be exposed by their behaviour. Philip says, “30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” (John 16:30-32). The false witness of the apostles is revealed in their abandoning of Jesus; this shows that they did not know him in the way they imagined. Or from another angle, they lacked holy knowledge.
Jesus greatest work is the cross. It is the cross that will attest that he uniquely knows God as “holy Father” (John 17:11). It is because the Father loves him in such a holy way that he is able to bear true witness to Father’s love in the cross. In other words, only because Jesus knows so intimately that the Father does not want anything (“feedback”, “payback”) from him or from humanity, is he able to find in this pure love the strength to go without anything for himself. Jesus receives nothing for himself in his experience of the cross. He does not die as a glorious or applauded martyr, not even in the eyes of his most devoted followers. The crisis of the cross is that it is the one place where he lacks this witness (of the Spirit) concerning the Father (Mark 15:34). Here, his self –identity as a witness is imperilled and obscured. Yet his faithfulness means that this is the apex of his witness. Thus his death is a purely holy action- an action of love deep enough, when it is revealed, to turn the hearts of mean and women who refuse to believe that God loves them for themselves, back to him.
3. The Christian Life is about Holy Witness
Contrary to popular Christian perceptions, “witnessing” is not limited to telling other people about Jesus or even living in a visibly different way to the world. The whole of life is about witness.
Life is all about witness because all its major relationships provide an opportunity for people to know one another and to speak concerning each other. Parents alone know their children well enough to share with them about all the gifts and graces God has put into their lives. Husbands and wives united in intimacy bear testimony of the glory of God that they see in their spouses. Ministers of the gospel tell believers of Christ’s “glory in the church” (Eph 3:21).
Every Christian in the workplace is in a position to testify by example and word what it means to be a worker in God’s creation. Every realm of society and culture– art, science, education, economics etc. is to be immersed with the witness to the truth of the stewardship that God calls forth from humanity. It is in this way that the people of God fulfil their prophetic destiny, “he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23).
4. Dead Witness
There can be no doubt that most of the church in the Western world is failing to give live witness to God in Christ. This is clear not only from the declines in church attendance but also the severe moral decline in society. Apparently, we are failing on a broad scale to be “salt” and “light” (Matt 5:13- 14). At the very least, where the people of God know God, that is, live with him in an intimate way, they will be persecuted. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me”. (John 15:20-21) The absence of such things must ultimately mean we do not know God in a holy way. Lack of holiness in the people of God means a lack of understanding of God’s unselfish love and so little faithful witness to the cross . “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) This is the crisis that we are in at the present time.
5. Becoming Holy Witnesses
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The witness that Jesus personally commends without qualification is one that endures at whatever cost. ““I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.””(Rev 2:13)
In the light of the holy love revealed in the cross the church can never witness with deep and true authority unless it let’s go of all its obsessions to do with power and success. The quoting of statistics to do with size, the endless appeals for money and the uplifting of personalities cannot convey to the world, and even to those who are persuaded to follow Christ in this environment, that God’s love is absolutely pure and holy.
Conversions in such an environment necessarily lack the deep penetration of the Word of God into the heart (Heb 4:12) that we see in scripture (Act 16:14). The fruit of this is a church that has become “Laodicean” – speaking great things of itself but spiritually destitute (Rev 3:15- 18). The One who rebukes this church is the One who calls to us, 14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: 15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” (Rev 3:14- 19).