In the Christian world, a testimony is the story of how a person came to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be. But I've noticed something interesting: people's testimonies sometimes morph over time. There can be a tendency for the stories to grow bigger than they really are. That's because as human beings, we typically like to outdo other people's stories—"Wait until you hear my testimony."
Well, wait until you hear Paul the apostle's testimony. Let me share with you three ingredients for building an effective testimony, based on what he wrote in Philippians 3:
1. Shred your religious résumé. Paul had a packed spiritual résumé when it came to the Jewish faith: "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (vv. 5-6).
There are a lot of people who trust in some ritual to be right before God, just like Paul once did. It could be baptism, being raised in a religious home, going to a Christian school, or trying to be a good person and keep certain rules. Paul, however, discovered that everything he was trusting in for salvation was actually keeping him from a relationship with God.
2. Have a spiritual encounter. Look at the very first word of verse 7: "But." Paul was making a pivot, saying that these were the things he used to trust in, but something changed his life, and that was getting saved (see Acts 9:1-6). The episode on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus changed everything. This pompous, religious man had a personal, spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ and was transformed from persecutor to preacher. The rest of his life became about doing what Jesus wanted him to do.
3. Learn how to count. "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (vv. 7-8). Paul spent his whole life working on his spiritual religious résumé, and he put it all in the profit column. But then he learned how to really count and discovered, "I'm bankrupt before God. These things actually kept me from a real, authentic relationship with God, so I'm moving them to the loss column."
In fact, Paul said he counted these things as rubbish. That's a very strong Greek word that, to put it mildly, refers to the excrement of animals. He was saying that trusting in your religious background stinks. Trusting in how you were raised stinks. Your heritage may be wonderful. Your upbringing may be awesome. Your education is worth something. But if you're relying on any of those things to go to heaven, they stink. You need your own personal encounter with Christ.
So toss your résumé, get saved, and learn how to count. I could even reduce it down to this: lose your religion and choose your relationship with Christ. All the things you and I are tempted to rely on stink in comparison to the sweet-smelling savor of trusting in Jesus alone for our salvation.