by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved
Alone, the testimony of transformed lives does not provide an adequate defense of the gospel. For there are those who claim that another religion has changed their lives for the better. Therefore, it is better to argue for Christianity through other means first, and then use testimonial apologetics to strengthen one’s case.
Still, there are people who do not need intellectual arguments to come to Christ. Instead, they are more likely to come to Christ through hearing how Jesus has changed another person’s life for the better. They long to have their lives changed as well, and they find through another person’s testimony that Christ can do this for them.
In this chapter, the evidence of how Jesus Christ changes lives will be examined. If Jesus is truly alive today, then He is still in the business of changing lives. In the next chapter, divine intervention (the other aspect of testimonial apologetics) will be discussed.
When using evidence from changed lives, three things should be noted. First, there must be thorough transformation. The changes in the life of the person using testimonial apologetics must be so thorough that it could not have been produced through human will power alone. If a person quit smoking cigarettes due to accepting Christ, this is not enough. Many non-Christians have given up smoking without conversion. Evidence from other areas of the Christian’s life must be shared as well.
Second, there must be genuine transformation. Often, a person’s testimony is later discovered to be filled with lies and exaggerations. This can only push people further away from Christ.
Third, there must be permanent transformation. Too often new converts are called upon to publicly share their testimonies. Then, a short time later, these supposed converts are once again practicing their old lifestyles. A sufficient amount of time is needed to assure others that the changes are of a permanent nature.
The Bible supports the practice of testimonial apologetics. First, it teaches that Jesus changes the lifestyles of those He saves. James tells us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Thus, true saving faith will produce good works in the life of a believer. After listing many sins of the unrighteous, the apostle Paul states, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul also taught that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus declared that “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Second, the Bible records the apostle Paul sharing his testimony on two separate occasions to provide evidence for the truth of Christianity (Acts 22:1-21; 26:1-23). Therefore, testimonial apologetics should not be ignored when discussing ways to defend the faith. Still, it must be remembered that it is not the only way to provide evidence for the faith.
The remainder of this chapter will provide several brief examples of lives that had been transformed by Jesus Christ. First, the lives of two apostles will be discussed. Then the lives of other Christians will also be examined.
THE APOSTLE PETER
This Jewish fisherman had sat under the teachings of Jesus for over three years. Still, when Christ was arrested, he became fearful and three times denied knowing Christ (Matthew 26:69-75).
After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter confessed his love for Jesus three times (John 21:15-17). Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower Peter and the other apostles (Acts 1:8-9). The Holy Spirit came upon Peter, the apostles, and the rest of the church ten days later (Acts 2:1-4). Filled with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaimed Christ’s salvation message despite opposition from the Jewish religious leaders. No longer was he overcome with fear. Three thousand people accepted Christ as their Savior due to Peter’s first message (Acts 2:14-42).
The courage that Peter had in that day due to the transforming work of Christ continued to be evident throughout his life. This
apostle suffered great persecution for the Christian faith (Acts 4:1-3; 5:40-42). Eventually, Peter was martyred for preaching the gospel. He was crucified (possibly upside down). 1
THE APOSTLE PAUL
Paul was schooled in the Old Testament from his youth. At a young age he became a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader specializing in teaching the Old Testament (Philippians 3:4-6). His greatest desire was to serve the God of Israel. However, he mistook Jesus of Nazareth for an impostor and a false messiah. Therefore, he dedicated his energies to persecuting the church which he thought to be heretical.
When Paul was on the road to Damascus (attempting to persecute more Christians), he encountered the risen Christ. Falling to the ground and blinded by the light of Christ’s glory, he realized that Jesus was who He claimed to be . . . the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world. Christ then commissioned Paul to be the apostle to the gentiles (Acts 9:1-22; 22:3-16; 26:9-18).
From that day forth, Paul, who had previously led the persecution against the church, became the greatest missionary of the early church. Despite the horrible persecution he was to suffer, he managed to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman Empire. He was stoned, scourged, shipwrecked, beaten, and mocked (2 Corinthians 11:24-33). But nothing could deter him from his mission. His life was totally devoted to the one he had met on the road to Damascus.
This persecutor of the church had been transformed into one of the church’s greatest assets. He loved his Messiah and faithfully served Him until death. He was beheaded for sharing the gospel sometime after 65AD. 2
Saint Augustine (354-430AD) spent his early life seeking to find fulfillment in sexual immorality. Finding no true joy there, he accepted the Manichean teaching (matter is evil and co-eternal with God), but later found this inadequate. He then began to despair. How could evil exist if all that God created is good? He doubted that he would ever find ultimate truth. All during this time, his Christian mother prayed for his salvation. 3
Eventually, he was exposed to the teachings of Ambrose, a Christian philosopher. Ambrose taught that evil exists only as a corruption or perversion of God’s perfect creation. 4 This and other teachings of Ambrose answered much of the philosophical doubt that Augustine had in regards to the Christian Faith. In 386AD, while in a garden meditating on his spiritual thirst for God, Augustine heard a neighbor’s voice stating, “Take up and read.” Augustine, taking this to be a sign from God, opened his Bible to Romans 13:13-14 and began to read. This passage commands one to depart from sexual immorality and to appropriate the work of Jesus Christ to one’s life. Augustine immediately broke off his immoral relationship with a woman and became a Christian. 5
Augustine became one of the greatest scholars of church history. His many writings are still widely read by Catholics and Protestants alike. This great thinker’s quest for truth led him to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. His life of sexual immorality was replaced by a life of holiness.
John Newton (1725-1807) sought lustful pleasures throughout his early life. He was also a man of extreme violence and was a ruthless slave-trader. However, this man who victimized men and women himself became a victim. His life collapsed as he himself was sold into slavery. In the midst of his despair he called out to Jesus for salvation. Once saved, his life was totally transformed. After his conversion, he was ordained to the ministry.
Today, we do not remember John Newton as one of the vilest men who ever lived. Instead, we remember him as the man who penned the words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” 6
Nicky Cruz grew up on the streets of New York. He was the leader of a gang called the Mau Maus. His life was filled with violence. He trusted in his own strength to solve his problems. But when a persistent preacher proclaimed the gospel message in his presence, the heart of this street warrior began to melt. He accepted Christ as his Savior, and his life has never been the same.
Now he speaks publicly throughout America, leading many city youths to faith in Christ. Because of Cruz’s testimony, hundreds of youths have been directed off the path of destruction that he once traveled. 7
Chuck Colson was one of the most powerful men in America. He was one of the top political figures in the country. He worked directly under the leadership of President Richard Nixon. But the Watergate Scandal brought down the kingdom Chuck Colson had built. Soon, he was just another inmate in just another prison. However, this man was set free from the spiritual imprisonment of his soul. As he read a book written by the Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, he came to know Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Chuck Colson no longer seeks power over other men. Currently, he not only spreads the gospel, but also leads the fight for prison reform throughout the world. 8
Frank Morison was a journalist who set out to disprove Christ’s resurrection. He proceeded to research the historical evidence in great detail. But, having examined the evidence, the skeptic was alarmed with his own conclusion: Christ had actually risen from the dead! Though reluctant at first, he decided to accept the evidence. He accepted Christ as his Savior and is now a defender of the gospel he once tried to destroy. 9
These are just a few examples of how Jesus Christ has transformed lives throughout history. Many others could be given. These testimonies speak loudly of Christ’s ability to make good come out of the worst of situations. Jesus is alive, He saves, and He is still in the business of changing lives.
Paul E. Little speaks of the transforming power of Christ:
The late Harry Ironside was preaching, some years ago, when a heckler shouted, “Atheism has done more for the world than Christianity!” “Very well,” said Ironside, “tomorrow night you bring a hundred men whose lives have been changed for the better by atheism, and I’ll bring a hundred who have been transformed by Christ.” Needless to say, his heckler friend did not appear the next night.10
Although many people claim that only ignorant people become Christians, this is not the case. People from different walks of life have become Christians. They have had different levels of education. Some have been poor; some have been rich. Some were successful; others were failures. Some Christian apologists have even suggested that there is more evidence for atheists fitting into a tightly defined group than there is for Christians. 11 Many leading atheists throughout history have had either absent or passive fathers. 12 It can be argued that atheists deny God’s existence because of their desire to kill the father image. 13
It seems that a merely psychological explanation for a conversion to Christianity is unacceptable. The transformed lives of Christians who have come from many different backgrounds provide strong confirmation for the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.
1 Carsten P. Thiede, Simon Peter (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 190.
2 F. F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 450.
3 Cairns, 146.
4 Dowley, 206-207.
5 Cairns, 146.
6 Ibid., 396.
7 Nicky Cruz, Run Baby Run (Plainfield: Logos Books, 1968), entire book.
8 Shirl Short, “Exclusive Interview with Chuck Colson.” Moody Monthly (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, Feb., 1976).
9 Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone? (London: Faber and Faber, 1958), entire book.
10 Paul E. Little, Know Why You Believe (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1967), 145-146.
11 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 229.