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Faith & Religion

Man’s relationship with God rests on faith not religion.

On the journey of faith, the worldliness is the first line of resistance by Satan. Many are trapped in the worldliness, which chokes faith (Matthew 13:8).

But once a person starts to transcend the worldliness, he faces religion as the second line of resistance by Satan.

Once I saw a report that Italy was spending tons of money to rebuild (more than just remodeling) a famous basilica (a type of Cathedral). The basilica is gorgeous, inside out. Standing inside the basilica, a woman was interviewed by a reporter. The woman, in all her sincerity, was describing her feeling of being “purified, illuminated, and spiritualized.” She was clearly sincere. She was probably transcending from the worldliness (the first line of resistance deployed by Satan), thank God for that if it was true, but I pray that she was not stopped at Satan’s second line of resistance, which is religion.

Within man, working along with the second line of Satan’s resistance is pride, the top spy the enemy has planted in man.

Man’s pride is Satan’s most faithful agent, because it is born from him and is of his very nature.

It takes a real experience with the Cross (dying with Christ and living again with Him) for any of us to pass the second line of resistance. Clear spiritual statements and teachings in this regard may help, but don’t have the final say. I have experienced and observed enough failures of pseudo spirituality to painfully realize this.

T. Austin-Sparks once said: “…’The Christian Faith’ embraced as a religion, a philosophy, or as a system of truth and a moral or ethical doctrine, may carry the temporary stimulus of a great ideal; but this will not result in the regeneration of the life, or the new birth of the spirit.”

Brother Sparks describes religion as soul’s self-satisfaction, either in the form of asceticism or aestheticism, but Satan’s best deception.

In this world which has abundant religion but rarely has true faith, the words of our brother demand us to take heed.

What I’ve learned is that distinguishing true faith and religion is necessary (as brother Sparks did here), but a mere theoretical distinction itself doesn’t solve the problem.

In my Christian life, it is to my astonishment to realize that one can make perfect statements (can even form a systematic teaching) on distinguishing faith and religion, yet still live in a religion, because perfect spiritual teaching without spiritual reality can itself become a religion, the very thing that the teaching criticizes.

To the end, the only thing that truly matters is the spiritual reality that comes along with our actual experiences of dying with Christ and living with Christ again. Once we have that, the Holy Spirit sanctifies it as a testimony in our heart, proclaim it to the heavens and earth as a witness; and it doesn’t matter what theory or category the experience fits in, whether it is a pure spiritual experience in spirit only, or an experience starts from the spirit and penetrates through the soul as well.

I say this because sometimes we may experience something in the Lord, but later on develop a doubt of the experience, especially when someone tells you that your experience is soulish, not spiritual. This can be an extremely confusing matter. Failing to distinguish the spirit and the soul is bad enough, but failing to recognize the anointing of the Holy Spirit by mistaking it as a soulish experience is just as bad. The former allows fake spiritual experiences to pretend to be spiritual experiences, but the latter is an enemy’s attempt to slander the work of the Holy Spirit.

We must respect the work of the Holy Spirit done in us. The criteria to distinguish the soulish and the spiritual are in the test of the Cross, not in any theory nor some kind of teaching.

But saying all this I do not mean to boast. One’s realization of certain truth doesn’t mean that he has attained the result intended by the truth. Not at all, because such realization, if without spiritual reality, becomes religion as well. It’s the spiritual reality, lived out in real experiences with the Cross, that actually matters.

Only the Cross stops the futility and vanity of human knowledge. Our entire salvation rests upon what the Lord has accomplished on the Cross. Everything of the old creation stops at the Cross, which is the only and the final solution provided by God. That is why Apostle Paul emphasized “justification by faith, not by works” so much. But everything of the new creation starts from the Cross.

For us, the Cross must become our own cross in real life experiences.