Luke’s record of Jesus pre-ascension words in Acts 1 are familiar to all under the banner of Pentecost. Verse 8 reads, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” It is noteworthy the call of Jesus is not simply to witness but rather be a witness. It may seem like semantics, but I think there is an implication in Christ’s words worthy of our consideration. Jesus wasn’t merely calling His disciples to action, but identity.
The Spirit of holiness and its practical impact in our life serves as an excellent example. It is entirely possible for someone by their own will to carry out an action that holiness would naturally produce, yet they themselves do not truly have a holy identity. Man may fashion many identities for himself, but only He who is holy can make man holy. There is no holiness without the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, to one who has been filled and continues to be lead by the Holy Spirit, the formation of their identity as influenced by a holy God will produce good works. Through man’s eyes they can seem so similar but from the stand of heaven, the Judge of the earth weighs the hearts of men (Genesis 18:25; Proverbs 21:2).
As unrelated as they may seem, holiness and evangelism are born of the same source – the Spirit of the Lord. Just as it would be futile to try and be holy by the works of our flesh, so it would be vain to try and witness without having the Witness Himself in us (Romans 8:14-16). As no one can be holy without the Lord, it is also true no one can effectively witness without the Lord. By this I do not mean those whom are still coming into covenant with God are unable to reach others, certainly their personal testimony and ability to share what they have seen and heard is valid but in the strictest sense, the call to be a witness is itself a call to covenant.
Working out the fulfillment of the great commission is much more than an enthusiastic event where we invite people to our church. It is a life fashioned by the influence of grace (Romans 12:1-2), where just as Christ was the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), we too “flesh out” the Word of God (2 Peter 1:3-4). This is not to say we refrain from event-driven evangelism, but if we attempt the action of a witness without the identity of a witness, those we endeavour to reach will soon discover the dichotomy within our own lives. The apostle Paul said it best, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” (2 Corinthians 3:2)
If this is true, the implication is that present within the great commission is the great call. In sending His disciples into the world, He is calling them into covenant with Himself. The westernization of Christianity has caused us to think of witnessing as inviting someone to church, and while in a loose context we may say this, it is much more than that. The true witness Jesus speaks of is one you cannot do without His Spirit. This is precisely why power (to be a witness) comes after the Holy Spirit is come upon us (Acts 1:8).
The work of the witness in the context of Christ is truly great, for we are called to witness of an event we have not seen first hand. Just as a judge may discredit the validity of such distant testimonies in a court of law, it is no surprise our skeptic-ridden western culture so easily pulls back from the table of Christian testimony. Without the very real and powerful work of the Holy Spirit, we are nothing more than tellers of an ancient story. When Jesus recreates us into His image (Romans 8:29) and testifies of Himself through us (Romans 8:16), He is giving firsthand testimony of His own resurrection.
The work of a witness may be carried out in the flesh but the identity of a witness comes only by the Spirit. Any work without God cannot yield fruit for God but if our work is the active result of a spiritual identity, consider your reward eternal.