An Arrogant Believer’s Process of Transformation
Zhang Yitao Henan Province
“God, Your work is so practical, so full of righteousness and holiness. You have been patiently working for so long, all for us. In the past, I believed in God but I didn’t have a human manner. I disobeyed You and hurt Your heart without knowing. I am full of shame and regret and am indebted to You. Only now do I realize this. … Without Your harsh, I wouldn’t have today, and facing Your genuine love I am grateful and indebted to You. It was Your work that saved me and caused my disposition to change. Without sorrow and pain, my heart is full of happiness” (“Oh God, the Love You Have Given Me Is Too Great” in Follow the Lamb and Sing New Songs). Every time I sing this song, I think of God’s salvation for me through all these years, and I am full of gratitude for Him. It was God’s judgment and chastisement that changed me. It made me—an arrogant, ambitious, rebellious son—appear a bit more like a human being. I sincerely give thanks for God’s salvation of me!
I was born in the countryside. Because my family was poor and my parents were honest, they were often cheated. From the time I was little people looked down on me, and being beaten and bullied became a common occurrence. This frequently made me sad to the point of tears. I put everything I had into my studies so that I would no longer have to lead that type of life, so that in the future I could have a position as a government official, be someone in charge, and everyone would look up to me. But as soon as I finished middle school and I was preparing for the high school entrance examination, the Cultural Revolution started. The Red Guards revolted, workers went on strike, students walked out. Every day was caught up in the revolution. It was pandemonium, the people were in a panic, and the college entrance examination system was banned. So, I lost the opportunity to test into a school. I was devastated—I felt as terrible as if I had become seriously ill. Later, I thought: Even though I can’t test into school or become a government official, I’ll work hard to earn money. As long as I have money people will think highly of me. From then on, I was looking everywhere for ways to make money. Since my family was poor, I didn’t have any funding to start doing business. Through relatives and friends, I managed to borrow 500 yuan to start a shop selling braised pork. At that time meat was only seventy cents a pound, but after buying the equipment I needed, what was left from that 500 yuan just wasn’t enough. Every time I had some income it went straight into funding the business. As soon as I earned any money I would repay my debt. I endured many hardships so that I would be able to lead a better life than others. From morning till late, I had no free time. After several years of hard work, my skills became more and more refined, and my business was booming more and more. My family quickly became more well-off, and many people looked at me with envy.
In the spring of 1990, there was someone in our village who talked to me about believing in. I listened to a few sermons out of curiosity, and I saw that when the brother who was preaching was speaking, many people looked up to him. I was incredibly envious of that sight of him being surrounded and admired by the crowd. I thought to myself: If I could become someone like that, not only would everyone adore me, but I’d be able to gain the Lord’s grace and be rewarded by Him. That would be so wonderful! Driven by these thoughts, I started to believe in the Christ, and I joined a house church. After that, I worked hard to study , particularly seeking knowledge of the Bible, focusing on memorizing some passages, and very quickly I knew many famous chapters and verses by heart. I read chapter 16, verse 26 of the of Matthew where the Lord Jesus said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Then I also read about the Lord Jesus calling out to Peter, and he immediately forsook his fishing nets and followed Christ. I thought to myself: Having enough money to get by is fine; if I earn more, what use is it when I die? If I want to gain the praise of the Lord, I have to follow the example of Peter. So I gave up my business, and began busying myself in full time. I was very passionate at the time, and through my relatives and friends I had evangelized to 19 people before long, and then that was expanded to 230 people through those 19. Then, I read the words of the Lord Jesus: “Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). I felt even more self-satisfied. Based on what I understood from the literal meaning of His words, I believed that I was already following the Lord’s path, that I was on the road of following the will of the heavenly Father, and in the next age when the kingdom of God is realized, I would reign as a king on the earth. Under the domination of this type of ambition, my enthusiasm became even greater. I set my determination that I absolutely had to follow Jesus’ words to “love your neighbor as yourself” and “be tolerant and patient,” as well as to lead by example, and to be unafraid of enduring hardship. Sometimes when I went to the homes of my brothers and sisters, I would help them carry water, light fires, and do farm work. When they were sick I’d go visit them. When they didn’t have enough money I’d help them from my own savings; I would go help whoever was experiencing difficulties. I quickly gained the praise of all of my brothers and sisters as well as the trust of the upper leaders in the church. A year later I was promoted to be a church leader, to shepherd 30 churches. I was managing about 400 believers. Once I had obtained this position, I felt great. I felt that all my hard work and effort had finally paid off, but at the same time I formed an even loftier ideal in my heart: to pursue a higher position, to gain the praise and adoration of even more people. Through another year of hard work, I became a high-level church leader, leading co-workers in five counties, shepherding 420 churches. After that I was more afraid to slack off, so I paid particular attention to my good behavior on the surface, and to establishing my image among my co-workers and brothers and sisters. For the approval of my co-workers and so my brothers and sisters would look up to me, I opposed extravagant meals in the church, and I prohibited all contact between members of the opposite sex and unhealthy practices. My “uprightness and sense of justice” gained support and approval from my co-workers and other brothers and sisters. My arrogant nature also swelled and became more out of control. On top of that, I knew some of the more common passages of the Bible backward and forward, and when meeting with and preaching to some of the lower-level church leaders and co-workers, I could recite passages without looking at my Bible just based on the chapter and verse numbers. My brothers and sisters really admired me, so I always had the final say in the church. Everyone listened to me. I always thought that what I said was correct, that I had an elevated understanding. Whether it was church governance, sectioning out churches, or promoting church leaders and co-workers, I never discussed things with others. What I said always counted; I truly did have the reign of a king. At that time I particularly enjoyed standing at the pulpit, speaking eloquently and endlessly, and when everyone was gazing at me with admiration, that feeling of being on top of the world was enchanting to me and made me forget about everything. I particularly felt this when I read chapter 12, verses 44-45 of the Gospel of John: “Jesus cried and said, He that believes on me, believes not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that sees me sees him that sent me.” I also felt this when I read chapter 3, verse 34: “For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives not the Spirit by measure to him.” I really basked in this, and I shamelessly believed that I had been sent by God, that God had imparted me with the , and God’s will was expressed through me. I believed that because I could interpret the scriptures, I could understand “mysteries” that others couldn’t, that I could see connotations that others couldn’t. I only cared about immersing myself in the pleasure brought about by my position, and I had entirely forgotten that I was just a creation, that I was merely a vessel of the grace of the Lord.
As the church continued to grow, my reputation also grew, and everywhere I went I was pursued by the police for participating in unsanctioned religious activities. Due to this persecution from the government, I didn’t dare return home. I could hide for a time, but not forever, and I was caught by the police one time when I went back to get some clothing. I was sentenced to three years of reeducation through labor. During those three years I underwent every kind of cruel persecution and torture. The days truly did feel like years, and it felt like a layer of skin had been peeled off from head to toe. But after I got out, I still continued to preach the gospel with the utmost confidence, just the same as ever, and I was also reinstated to my original position. After another six months, I was once again detained by the local government and sentenced to another three years of reeducation through labor. After torturing me in every possible way, they put me in a detention center for another 70 days. After that, I was put into a labor camp where I was carrying bricks. At the time it was the seventh lunar month and the weather was sweltering. The temperature in the kiln was around 70 degrees centigrade and I had to make more than 10,000 bricks every day. My hunger combined with the previous cruel torture had made my body extremely weak. I could not physically tolerate that type of labor in the heat, but the vicious guards didn’t care about any of that. When I couldn’t complete my tasks they handcuffed my hands behind my back, made me kneel down, and placed bottles in my armpits and behind my knees. Then they beat me with electric prods until the handcuffs dug deep into my flesh. It was unimaginably painful. Subjected to this type of cruel torture, I had only completed seven days of labor when I passed out inside of the kiln. I wasn’t rescued until 52 hours later, but I had nearly become a vegetable. Aside from being conscious and being able to see and hear, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t eat, talk, walk, or even use the bathroom. After being ravaged this way by the Communist Party, my arrogant nature had been largely defeated. That energy of power and arrogance that I had in the church had just vanished. I had become dark and pessimistic; I was living in the midst of boundless suffering and helplessness. Later the people in the detention center came up with a warped idea and found a doctor to create falsified records saying that I had a “genetic disorder.” They called my wife and had her pick me up and bring me home. In order to treat my condition, everything in our home was sold, and when my relatives came to see me they were sarcastic, rude and ridiculing. Faced with this situation, I was disheartened and felt that the world was too dark, that there was no familial affection or love between people, that there was only cruel persecution and slander…. Facing the torture of this painful illness, there was no hope in my life and I didn’t know how I could continue on.
Just as I was sinking into desperation,extended a hand of salvation to me. After I had been back at home for over a month, two brothers came to preach God’s gospel of to me and that He was working on a new stage of work, His second incarnation to save mankind. At the time I didn’t believe it at all, but because I couldn’t speak, I found some passages in the Bible to show them. This was how I refuted them. They gently replied to me: “Brother, when you you should hold a heart of humble seeking. God’s work is always new; it is always moving forward, and His wisdom cannot be comprehended by mankind, so we cannot be too caught up in the past. If you hold on to God’s work in the Age of Grace will you be able to enter into the Age of Kingdom? Not to mention, what the Lord Jesus said in the Bible all has its own meaning and context.” Then, they opened up the words of Almighty God for me to read, and after that found many prophecies in the Bible for me to read regarding God’s work in the last days. Through God’s words and the fellowship with my brothers, I came to understand the meaning of the name of God, the inner truth in His three stages of work, His purpose in His management of mankind, the mysteries of His incarnations, the inner truth in the Bible, and more. These were things I had never heard of in my life, and they were also mysteries and truths that I had not been receptive to when I had been working so hard on studying the Bible for all those years. I listened to it with relish; I was utterly convinced. After that, my brothers gave me a book of the words of God, saying: “After you’re better, you can preach the gospel to your co-workers and brothers and sisters.” I very happily accepted the book of God’s words. At that time, I was only able to lie in bed all day and read God’s words. I felt a longing and enjoyment that was like a fish returning to water. I read it every day, and I prayed every day. Before long, my health was gradually improving. I could get out of bed and walk around a bit, and I was able to be more independent in my life. After that I was living the life of the church in my home, and I had meetings twice every week.
I hadn’t imagined that in my future church life my arrogant disposition would be so thoroughly exposed. Through His words and various people, matters and things, through His judgment and chastisement, His dealing with me and pruning aspects of me, God caused my arrogant, unruly heart to be taken down bit by bit. One time the church arranged for a young girl of 17 or 18 to come meet with me. She was the daughter of a brother from my original denomination, and before when I was the church leader I had gone to her home frequently. I thought to myself: What’s wrong with the church leader’s arrangements? Having a child come guide me—do they look down on me? Under the rule of my arrogant nature, I said with disdain: “I’ve believed in God for more years than you’ve been alive. When I used to go to your house you were just a few years old. I would play with you then, but now you’re coming to guide me….” My little sister turned red from what I had said, and she didn’t dare to come again. The next week a different little sister came. She was also quite young and was from the neighboring village. I didn’t say anything, but I thought: Whether it’s number of years or qualifications of believing in God, knowledge of the Bible, or experience in church governance, I am so much better than you in every regard! From your age, I can see that you’ve been a believer for three or four years at the most. I’ve believed for 21 years. How can you possibly be qualified to come guide me? … But who could know that this little sister was actually very articulate—she spoke frankly and sharply. When meeting, right away she opened God’s utterances and read out loud: “… some people … like to give speeches and work outside. They like to meet together and speak; they like when people listen to them, worship them, surround them. They like to have stature in the minds of others and appreciate when others value their image. … If he really behaves in this way, then that is enough to show that he is arrogant and conceited. He does not worship God at all; he seeks high status, and he wants to have authority over others, to possess them, to have stature in their minds. This is a classic image of Satan. What stands out about his nature is arrogance and conceit, unwillingness to worship God, and a desire for the worship of others” (“How to Know Man’s Nature” in Records of Christ’s Talks). God’s words pierced my heart like a sword, making a direct hit on me. It was an incisive revelation of my despicable intentions and ugly performance in my actions of believing in God, as well as the true essence of my nature. I was full of shame and wanted nothing more than to just disappear. As for what was exposed in God’s words, when I thought of what I revealed, only then did I realize that my nature was too arrogant and that in essence I was being hostile to God. In the past, in order for people to look up to me and admire me, to be someone in charge of others, to be on a higher level, I worked hard at reading the Bible and put everything into equipping myself with knowledge of the Bible. Because of this, I attained a status and title that I had only dreamed of as well as the support of everyone. I gained enjoyment from others’ admiration, and I preached in order to satisfy my own vanity. Through my monopoly on power, I revealed myself and showed off. I was always happy to enjoy the feeling of being on top of the world when standing at the pulpit, and I even shamelessly used passages from the Bible to bear witness to and elevate myself. I believed that I had been sent by God. I was overbearingly arrogant. That day, I looked down on that little sister, using my many years of preaching as capital. I believed that because I had believed in God for more years and I had greater knowledge of the Bible, greater experience in church governance, I was better than everyone. I didn’t think much of anyone, and I underestimated and scorned those two sisters. When I spoke I wounded others, and I arrogantly forfeited my sense and normal humanity. Only then did I realize that my pursuits were in resistance to God and opposed Him. I was struggling with God for status. The essence of my nature was the classic image of Satan. Facing the words of God, I couldn’t not be convinced. I prayed to God, saying: “Oh God, I am too arrogant. When I had status I was high and mighty, and when I didn’t have status I still didn’t listen to anyone. I used my old credentials and authority to rule over people, to look down on them. I am so shameless! Today I received Your salvation. I am willing to accept the revelation and judgment in Your words.”
After that, the sister once again opened to a passage of God’s words for me to read. They were: “… man’s sense has lost its original function, and that man’s conscience, too, has lost its original function. The man that I look upon is a beast in human attire, he is a venomous snake, and no matter how pitiable he tries to appear before My eyes, I will never be merciful toward him, for man has no grasp of the difference between black and white, of the difference between truth and non-truth. Man’s sense is so benumbed, yet he still wishes to gain blessings; his humanity is so ignoble yet he still wishes to possess the sovereignty of a king. Who could he be the king of, with sense such as that? How could he with such a humanity sit atop a throne? Man truly has no shame! He is a conceited wretch! For those of you who wish to gain blessings, I suggest you first find a mirror and look at your own ugly reflection—do you have what it takes to be a king? Do you have the face of one who could gain blessings? There has not been the slightest change in your disposition and you have not put any ofinto practice, yet you still wish for a wonderful tomorrow. You’re deluding yourself!” (“To Have an Unchanged Disposition Is to Be in Enmity to God” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). After hearing God’s words, I couldn’t stop the tears flowing down my face. I felt that every sentence of God’s words grabbed hold of my heart, I keenly felt His judgment, and I felt particularly ashamed. Scene after scene of my disgraceful pursuit of reigning like a king in my former church appeared in front of me: Among my brothers and sisters I was high and mighty, I ordered people around, I wanted control of everything, and not only did I not bring my brothers and sisters in front of God and help them know Him, but I led them to treat me as if I were so high up, so great…. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that my actions disgusted God, that I was sickening, undeserving, and that I had let my brothers and sisters down. At that time I felt ashamed beyond measure. I saw that the price I had paid for my own ambitious desires was worth nothing. My desperate pursuit of status and being looked up to by others was absurd. I was rushing around day and night; I endured hardships, worked hard, and went to prison. I was persecuted and tortured, and was half dead. It did not make me have an understanding of God; on the contrary, my arrogant nature swelled up more and more, I kept God in my sight less and less to the point that I delusionally thought that I could reign as a king when the kingdom of God is realized. At the same time, I also realized that when I had been persecuted by the Communist Party in my former church, God was using that to make me better able to accept His work in the last days. Otherwise, based on my prestige and status in my former church, based on the fact that I didn’t keep God within my sight and my overbearingly arrogant disposition, I absolutely would not have been able to easily let go of my position and accept Almighty God. I definitely would have become an evil servant who hindered others’ return to God, who opposed God and in the end would suffer His punishment! I couldn’t help but thank God from the bottom of my heart for His salvation, and His great forgiveness of me. So I became much more low-key because of what was revealed through God’s words, and I no longer dared to be so impudent and unreasonable with my brothers and sisters.