Back to Basics

Hyveth Williams

is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.

​Required: Personal Experience

I was teenage terror. I drove my mother crazy and can still hear her saying to me on several occasions as she pulled out her hair in desperation, “Just wait till you have your own kids; then you’ll understand what I’m going through!”

The time came when I not only understood it, I repeated it regularly to my own son during his exasperating teenage years. There’s something inexplicable about being a parent that can be understood only by personal experience.

Like being a parent, Christianity must be personally experienced. Otherwise we will give our allegiance to people instead of our personal Savior. The experience of the Samaritans in John 4:39-42 is an inspiring confirmation of this fact.

In this familiar passage, commonly known as the story of the woman at the well, a nameless woman from Sychar, the red light district of Samaria, had a personal encounter with Jesus. It changed her life forever. So dramatic was the transformation that she left her water jar to tell everyone she met along the way about “a man” whose name she didn’t even know at the time, who told her everything about herself.

Several Samaritans in the town believed her testimony and sought out Jesus to see and hear Him for themselves. And when they did, they too were changed. So, like the woman, they went back home and told others. This resulted in the conversion of “many more.” After they all met and spent time with Jesus, they made this fascinating statement: “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (verse 42).

The Samaritans listened and responded to the woman’s testimony, but soon were not satisfied with just a secondhand knowledge of Jesus. They wanted to meet and experience Him for themselves, so they sought and found Jesus. Their faith was now based on personal experience with “the Savior of the world.”

If a personal experience with Christ is at the very heart of the Christian faith, on whom or what is your faith anchored? In the words of a favorite hymn: “Will your anchor hold in the storm of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift, or firm remain?”*

Our anchor can and will hold only if, like the Samaritans, our faith is built on nothing less than a personal knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ’s righteousness.

Christianity, as you know, is more than just a statement of faith, more than church membership, more than faith in the words of a preacher, even if it’s evident that one has been changed, healed, freed, and delivered by Jesus. It is a faith based on personal experience with the Savior, so that going to church isn’t about who’s preaching, but about being in the presence of the Savior of the world, to worship Him in spirit and truth.

The apostle Paul, one of the great Christians of all time, wrote on more than one occasion about his own impeccable heritage and history. But he said that he counted all of those things as “loss” compared to his personal faith experience with Jesus (cf. Phil. 3:7, 8).

The Christian experience often begins with hearing the message, but it doesn’t stop there. One must believe the message and come to Jesus for oneself. Peter said, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Secondhand experience was not good enough for Peter, Paul, or the Samaritans; and neither is it good enough for us.

Upon meeting Jesus, the Samaritans quickly switched their affection and allegiance from the woman to Jesus and said, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” They didn’t just think or feel as if He might be the Savior. They knew because they experienced Him personally. Only this knowledge can sustain us through the ups and downs of life.


* The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), no. 534.

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