1. What normal spiritual life is and what engaging in religious ceremony is
Relevant Words of God:
Faith in God necessitates a normal spiritual life, which is the foundation for experiencing God’s words and entering into reality. Does all your current practice of prayers, of drawing near to God, of hymn-singing, praise, meditation, and pondering the words of God amount to a “normal spiritual life”? None of you seems to know. A normal spiritual life is not limited to such practices as praying, singing hymns, participating in church life, and eating and drinking of God’s words. Rather, it involves living a new and vibrant spiritual life. What matters is not how you practice, but what fruit your practice bears. Most people believe that a normal spiritual life necessarily involves praying, singing hymns, eating and drinking the words of God or pondering His words, regardless of whether such practices actually have any effect or lead to true understanding. These people focus on following superficial procedures without any thought to their results; they are people who live in religious rituals, not people who live within the church, and much less are they people of the kingdom. Their prayers, hymn singing, and eating and drinking of God’s words are all just rule-following, done out of compulsion and to keep up with trends, not out of willingness nor from the heart. However much these people pray or sing, their efforts will bear no fruit, for what they practice is just the rules and rituals of religion; they are not actually practicing God’s words. They focus only on making a fuss over how they practice, and they treat God’s words as rules to follow. Such people are not putting God’s words into practice; they are just gratifying the flesh, and performing for other people to see. These religious rules and rituals are all human in origin; they do not come from God. God does not follow rules, nor is He subject to any law. Rather, He does new things every day, accomplishing practical work. Like people in the Three-Self Church, who limit themselves to practices such as attending morning services every day, offering evening prayers and prayers of gratitude before meals, and giving thanks in all things—however much they do and for however long they do it, they will not have the work of the Holy Spirit. When people live amidst rules and have their hearts fixed on methods of practice, the Holy Spirit cannot work, because their hearts are occupied by rules and human notions. Thus, God is unable to intervene and work on them, and they can only continue living under the control of laws. Such people are forever incapable of receiving God’s praise.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Regarding a Normal Spiritual Life
What kind of life is the spiritual life? The spiritual life is one in which your heart has completely turned to God, and is able to be mindful of God’s love. It is one in which you live in God’s words, and nothing else occupies your heart, and you are able to grasp the will of God today, and are guided by the light of the Holy Spirit today in order to fulfill your duty. Such a life between man and God is the spiritual life. If you are unable to follow the light of today, then a distance has opened up in your relationship with God—it may even have been severed—and you are without a normal spiritual life. A normal relationship with God is built upon the foundation of accepting the words of God today. Do you have a normal spiritual life? Do you have a normal relationship with God? Are you someone who follows the work of the Holy Spirit? If you are able to follow the light of the Holy Spirit today, and can grasp God’s will within His words, and enter into these words, then you are someone who follows the stream of the Holy Spirit. If you do not follow the stream of the Holy Spirit, then you are undoubtedly someone who does not pursue the truth. The Holy Spirit has no chance of working within those who have no desire to improve themselves, and as a result, such people are never able to summon their strength, and are always passive. Today, do you follow the stream of the Holy Spirit? Are you in the stream of the Holy Spirit? Have you emerged from a passive state? All those who believe in the words of God, who take the work of God as the foundation, and follow the light of the Holy Spirit today—they are all in the stream of the Holy Spirit. If you believe that God’s words are unequivocally true and correct, and if you believe the words of God no matter what He says, then you are someone who pursues entry into the work of God, and in this way you fulfill God’s will.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Know God’s Newest Work and Follow His Footsteps
A normal spiritual life is a life lived before God. When praying, one can quiet one’s heart before God, and through prayer, one can seek the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, know God’s words, and understand God’s will. By eating and drinking of His words, people can gain a clearer and more thorough understanding of God’s current work. They can also gain a new path of practice, and will not cling to the old; what they practice will all be to achieve growth in life. As for prayer, it is not about speaking a few nice-sounding words or breaking down in tears before God to show how indebted you are; rather, its purpose is to train oneself in the use of the spirit, allowing one to quiet one’s heart before God, to train oneself to seek out guidance from God’s words in all matters, so that one’s heart can be drawn to a fresh new light each day, and so that one will not be passive or lazy and may set foot upon the right track of putting God’s words into practice. Most people nowadays focus on methods of practice, yet they do not do so in order to pursue the truth and achieve life growth. This is where they have gone astray. There are also some who are capable of receiving new light, but their methods of practice do not change. They bring their old religious notions with them as they look to receive God’s words of today, so what they receive is still doctrine colored by religious notions; they are not receiving today’s light simply. As a result, their practices are tainted; they are the same old practices in new packaging. However well they might practice, they are hypocrites. God leads people in doing new things every day, demanding that each day they gain new insight and understanding, and requiring that they not be old-fashioned and repetitive. If you have believed in God for many years, yet your methods of practice have not changed at all, and if you are still zealous and busy about external matters, yet do not have a quiet heart to bring before God to enjoy His words, then you will obtain nothing. When it comes to accepting God’s new work, if you do not plan differently, do not go about your practice in a new way, and do not pursue any new understanding, but instead cling to the old and receive only some limited new light, without changing the way you practice, then such people as you are in this stream in name only; in actuality, they are religious Pharisees outside the stream of the Holy Spirit.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Regarding a Normal Spiritual Life
The true spiritual life is a life of prayer—it is a life that is moved by the Holy Spirit. The process of being moved by the Holy Spirit is the process of changing man’s disposition. A life that is not moved by the Holy Spirit is not a spiritual life, but a life of religious ritual only. Only those who are often moved by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, have entered into spiritual life. Man’s disposition constantly changes as he prays. The more the Spirit of God moves him, the more proactive and obedient he becomes. So, too, will his heart gradually be purified, and his disposition gradually change. Such is the effect of true prayer.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Concerning the Practice of Prayer
How many religious practices do you observe? How many times have you rebelled against the word of God and gone your own way? How many times have you put God’s word into practice because you are truly considerate of His burdens and seek to satisfy His will? You should understand the word of God and put it into practice accordingly. Be principled in all your actions and deeds, though this does not mean abiding by rules or doing something grudgingly just for show; rather, it means practicing the truth and living by the word of God. Only practice such as this satisfies God. Any course of action that pleases God is not a rule, but the practice of truth. Some people have a penchant for drawing attention to themselves. In the presence of their brothers and sisters, they might say they are indebted to God, but behind their backs, they do not practice the truth and act entirely differently. Are these not religious Pharisees? A person who truly loves God and possesses the truth is one who is loyal to God but does not outwardly show off as such. Such a person is willing to practice the truth when situations arise, and does not speak or act in a way that goes against their conscience. This sort of person demonstrates wisdom when matters arise, and is principled in his or her deeds regardless of the circumstances. This kind of person can provide true service. There are some who often pay lip service to their indebtedness to God; they spend their days with brows locked in worry, putting on an affected air and pretending to be pitiable. How despicable! If you were to ask them, “Can you tell me about how you are indebted to God?” then they would be rendered speechless. If you are loyal to God, then do not talk outwardly about it; instead, demonstrate your love for God by way of actual practice, and pray to Him with a true heart. Those who just deal with God verbally and perfunctorily are all hypocrites! Some speak of indebtedness to God each time they pray, and begin to weep each time they pray, even without being moved by the Holy Spirit. People such as this are possessed by religious rituals and notions; they live by such rituals and notions, always believing that those actions please God and that He favors superficial godliness or sorrowful tears. What good can come of such absurd people? In order to demonstrate humility, some feign graciousness when speaking in the presence of others. Some are deliberately servile when in the presence of other people, acting like lambs without an ounce of strength. Is this a manner befitting people of the kingdom? People of the kingdom should be lively and free, innocent and open, honest and lovable, and be living in a state of freedom. They should have integrity and dignity and be able to stand witness wherever they go; such people are beloved by both God and man. Those who are novices in the faith have too many outward practices; they must first undergo a period of being dealt with and broken. People who have faith in God deep down are not outwardly distinguishable from others, but their actions and deeds are commendable. Only such people can be deemed to be living out the word of God. If you preach the gospel every day to various people in an effort to bring them to salvation, yet in the end are still living by rules and doctrines, then you cannot bring glory to God. Such people are religious figures, as well as hypocrites.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. In Faith, One Must Focus on Reality—Engaging in Religious Ritual Is Not Faith
If, in believing in God, people treat the truth as a set of regulations to be adhered to, then will their belief not be liable to turn into just a bunch of religious ceremonies? And what are the differences between such religious ceremonies and Christianity? These people may be deeper and more progressive in how they say things, but if their faith has merely come down to a set of regulations and a type of ceremony, then does that not mean that it has turned into Christianity? (Yes, it does.) There are differences between the old teachings and the new, but if teachings are nothing more than a kind of theory, and have merely become a form of ceremony or regulation for people—and, likewise, if people can neither gain the truth from it nor use it to enter truth reality—then has their faith not become just the same as Christianity? In essence, is this not Christianity? (Yes, it is.) Then, in your behavior and when performing your duties, in which things do you have views and states that are the same as or similar to those of believers in Christianity? (In adhering to regulations, and in equipping ourselves with letters and doctrines.) (In focusing on the appearance of being spiritual and exhibiting good behavior, and on being devout and humble.) You seek to outwardly exhibit good behavior, doing your utmost to package yourselves in a kind of spiritual appearance, and you do some things that are relatively approved of within human notions and imaginings, pretending to be virtuous. You stand in the high pulpit preaching letters and doctrines, teaching people to do good, be virtuous, and understand the truth; you preach spiritual doctrine, saying the right spiritual things; you put on airs of being spiritual and exude a superficial spirituality in everything you say and do, yet in practice and in performing your duty, you never seek the truth. As soon as you encounter a problem, you act entirely according to human will, tossing God aside. You have never acted according to the truth principle, nor do you have any idea what the truth even is, what God’s intentions are, or what the standards that He requires of man are; you have never taken these matters seriously or even concerned yourselves with them. Do such external actions and internal states of people—that is, does this type of faith—comprise a fear for God and the shunning of evil? If there is no connection between people’s faith and the pursuit of the truth, then do they or do they not believe in God? Regardless of how many years people who have no connection with pursuing the truth might believe in Him, can they or can they not truly fear God and shun evil? (They cannot.) What, then, is the outward behavior of such people? What kind of path can they walk? (The path of the Pharisees.) With what do they spend their days equipping themselves? Is it not with letters and doctrines? Do they not spend their days arming themselves, dressing themselves up with letters and doctrines to make themselves more like the Pharisees, more spiritual, and more like people who supposedly serve God? Just what is the nature of all these deeds? Is it worshiping God? Is it genuine faith in Him? (No, it isn’t.) So, what are they doing? They are deceiving God; they are just going through the steps of a process, and engaging in religious ceremonies. They are waving the flag of faith and performing religious rites, attempting to deceive God in order to achieve their aim of being blessed. These people do not worship God at all. In the end, will such a group of people not end up just like those within the church who supposedly serve God, and who supposedly believe in and follow God?
—“Only by Constantly Living Before God Can One Walk the Path to Salvation” in Records of Talks of Christ of the Last Days
During the course of man’s entry, life is always boring, full of the monotonous elements of spiritual life, such as praying, eating and drinking the words of God, or forming gatherings, and so people always feel that believing in God brings no great enjoyment. Such spiritual activities are always carried out on the basis of humanity’s original disposition, which has been corrupted by Satan. Although people can sometimes receive the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, their original thinking, disposition, lifestyles and habits are still rooted within, and so their nature remains unchanged. The superstitious activities that people engage in are what God hates the most, but many people are still unable to let go of them, thinking these superstitious activities to be decreed by God, and even today have yet to shed them completely. Such things as the arrangements young people make for wedding feasts and bridal trousseaus; gifts of cash, banquets, and similar ways with which joyous occasions are celebrated; ancient formulae that have been handed down; all the meaningless superstitious activities conducted for the dead and their obsequies: these are even more detestable to God. Even the day of worship (including the Sabbath, as observed by the religious world) is detestable to Him; and the social relationships and worldly interactions between man and man are all the more despised and rejected by God. Even the Spring Festival and Christmas Day, which are known to everyone, are not decreed by God, let alone the toys and decorations for these festive holidays such as couplets, firecrackers, lanterns, Holy Communion, Christmas gifts, and Christmas festivities—are they not idols in the minds of men? The breaking of bread on the Sabbath, wine, and fine linen are even more emphatically idols. All the traditional festival days popular in China, such as the Dragon Heads-raising Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Laba Festival, and New Year’s Day, and the festivals in the religious world, such as Easter, Baptism Day, and Christmas Day, all of these unjustifiable festivals have been arranged and handed down from olden times to today by many people. It is humanity’s rich imagination and ingenious conception that have allowed them to be passed down to today. They appear to be free of flaws, but are in fact tricks Satan plays on humanity. The more a place is thronged with Satans, and the more obsolete and backward that place is, the more deeply entrenched are its feudal customs. These things bind people tight, allowing absolutely no room for movement. Many of the festivals in the religious world seem to display great originality and to create a bridge to the work of God, but they are actually the invisible ties with which Satan binds people and prevents people from coming to know God—they are all Satan’s cunning stratagems. In fact, when a stage of God’s work is finished, He has already destroyed the tools and the style of that time, without leaving any trace. However, “devout believers” continue to worship those tangible material objects; meanwhile they consign what God has to the back of their minds, studying it no further, seeming to be full of the love of God when they actually pushed Him out of the house long ago and placed Satan on the table to worship. Portraits of Jesus, the Cross, Mary, Jesus’ Baptism and the Last Supper—people venerate these as the Lord of Heaven, all the while repeatedly crying out “Lord, heavenly Father.” Is this not all a joke? To this day, many similar sayings and practices that have been passed down amongst humanity are hateful to God; they seriously obstruct the way ahead for God and, furthermore, create huge setbacks to humanity’s entry. Putting aside the extent to which Satan has corrupted humanity, the insides of people are completely filled up with things like the law of Witness Lee, the experiences of Lawrence, the surveys by Watchman Nee, and the work of Paul. There is simply no way for God to work upon human beings, because they have inside them too much of individualism, laws, rules, regulations, systems, and the like; these things, in addition to people’s feudal superstitious tendencies, have captured and devoured humanity. It is as if people’s thoughts are an interesting film narrating a fairy tale in full color, with fantastic beings riding the clouds, so imaginative that they amaze people, leaving them dazed and speechless. To tell the truth, the work that God comes to do today is mainly to deal with and dispel the superstitious attributes of human beings and completely transform their mental outlook. God’s work has not lasted until today due to the inheritance that has been handed down through the generations by humanity; it is work as personally initiated by Him and completed by Him, without any need for succeeding to the legacy of a certain great spiritual man, or inheriting any work of a representative nature done by God in some other era. Human beings need not concern themselves with any of these things. God today has another style of speaking and of working, so why should human beings trouble themselves? If humans walk the path of today within the current stream while continuing the legacy of their “ancestors,” they will not reach their destination. God feels deep repugnance for this particular mode of human behavior, just as He abominates the years, months and days of the human world.
The best way to change the human disposition is to remedy those portions of people’s innermost hearts that have been profoundly poisoned, allowing people to begin changing their thinking and morality. First of all, people need to see clearly that all these religious rites, religious activities, years and months, and festivals are hateful to God. They should break free from these bonds of feudal thinking and eradicate every trace of their deep-seated propensity to superstition. These are all included in humanity’s entry. You must understand why God leads humanity out of the secular world, and again why He leads humanity away from rules and regulations. This is the gate through which you will enter, and although these things have nothing to do with your spiritual experience, they are the greatest obstacles blocking your entry, blocking you from knowing God. They form a net which enmeshes people.
—The Word, Vol. 1. The Appearance and Work of God. Work and Entry (3)