Christian Common Sense: Believing in God Not in Religion
One day, Lijie and I were chatting something about believing in the Lord at home when we heard someone knocking at the door. I went to open it and found it was Sister Gaomin who returned from the co-workers’ meeting. She always had her unique insights into the passages of the Bible, so I liked to listen to her sermons very much. I was very glad to see her and let her in warmly. Once she sat down, we both asked her impatiently, “Did you gain any new light from this meeting? Be quick to tell us.” Gaomin smiled, saying “Yes. I did. I benefited so much from this co-workers’ meeting. We discussed together a topic I’d never heard before — what are the differences between belief in religion and belief in God?” Lijie and I looked at each other, feeling it was very fresh too.
I asked her eagerly, “In what way is belief in religion different from belief in God? Aren’t they the same thing?” Lijie also said, “Right. The unbelievers often call us believers in religion, but indeed we regard ourselves as believers in God, it’s just a different way of saying it. So what is the difference between belief in religion and belief in God?”
Gaomin answered us calmly, “In the beginning, I also thought like this: Belief in religion and belief in God are the same thing. What are the differences between them? In the co-workers’ meeting, through communion and fellowship with brothers and sisters, I came to understand that there are really great differences between the two, and that this aspect of truth is relevant to whether our belief can receive the praise of God. Listening to their fellowship, I reflected on whether what I had done, since I believed in the Lord, was approved by Him. Looking back, it was because I had illness and faced many difficulties in life that I came into the presence of the Lord. Afterward, the Lord resolved all my difficulties and then I started to take the Lord Jesus as my reliance in my life and my spiritual sustenance, no longer afraid of any difficulties I met. I’ve received a lot of grace from the Lord — my illnesses were cured and my family life got better, which made me have more faith in Him. And so I was more diligent in pursuit: I read the Bible and prayed every day, attended meetings regularly, abided by the Lord’s commandments, spread the gospel, established churches, and sustained brothers and sister. In this way, I thought that I was a most devout Christian, as well as a sincere believer in the Lord.”
I listened and then said, “Yes, as believers in the Lord, we persist in praying and reading the Bible every day regardless of what happens; we keep gathering regardless of the wind or rain; and we also help brothers and sisters with love whenever their families have difficulties. The Lord also said, ‘Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me’ (Matthew 25:40). Aren’t we the people who truly believe in the Lord in doing so? Is it wrong in doing so?” Lijie also agreed and said, “Since we believe in the Lord, all that we do is read the Bible, attend meetings, and pray to the Lord Jesus, isn’t it? And we do more good or kind things, rather than entrap or harm others. We pursue to become a good person according to the Lord’s teachings. Isn’t it belief in the Lord?”
Gaomin said again, “Praying, reading the Bible, gathering and helping brothers and sisters are all that we believers ought to do, and they are also the minimum standards demanded by God of us. However, anyone of us who follows the Lord not only has our own ways and practice of believing in God, but we still think our own belief is most sincere and correct, as well as is pleased by God. We may not know that because the ways of our belief in God and the price we pay are different, the harvest we reap and the outcome we get will be different accordingly. How to practice believing in God determines whether our belief can be approved by God. In this co-workers’ meeting, Brother Li took a book, of which the contents benefited us so much and made me know my pursuit of belief in God was not approved by God. I recorded a passage of word in the book. Let me read it to you, ‘So today, what do you believe the difference is between belief in God and belief in religion, and religiousness? When someone believes in religion, what do people think in their conceptions? That person believes in religion because they have no path to living. They might have difficulties at home, or else want to find something to rely on, to find spiritual sustenance. Belief in religion is often nothing more than making people do good deeds, be benevolent, help others, be kind to others, do more good deeds to accumulate virtues, not kill people or commit arson, not do the things that bad people do, not hit people or curse them, not steal or rob, not swindle others — this is the concept of “belief in religion” in all people’s heads. So today, how much of the concept of belief in religion exists in your hearts? Can you tell, when you have these thoughts, whether they are belief in religion? Is there a difference in the state in this? What is the difference between belief in religion and belief in God? When you first started believing in God, you may feel, ‘I believe in religion, and I believe in God — they’re the same thing.’ But today, after believing in God for more than five years, just what do you think belief in God is? Is there any difference with belief in religion? (There is.) Is it a big difference? (Yes.) What makes it a big difference? Belief in religion means following a certain ritual, and it’s in order to bring happiness and comfort to one’s spirit. It doesn’t relate to questions of what path people walk, or by what means people live. It doesn’t concern their way of living. Which is to say, there is no change in your mental world, or inner world; you are still you, for you have not accepted the external things that change your humanity and your heart. You have merely done some good deeds or followed ceremony and dogma, you have merely engaged in some religion-related activities — just this, that’s all’ (‘Just What People Have Been Living By’).
This word differentiates the belief in religion from belief in God and makes us know: Although believing in religion is believing in God in name, yet it usually follows ceremony such as gathering, praying, reading the Bible, keeping commandments and fasting, and so on. We follow such ceremony and dogma just in order to seek peace, find spiritual sustenance, and fill the emptiness in our hearts, and nothing more. Moreover, in our life or in the church, we often preach that we believers should practice humbleness and patience, forgive others seventy times seven, forsake everything for the Lord, and pursue loving the Lord with all our heart and mind, and so on. So we zealously help anyone who has difficulties; and in ordinary life, we don’t hit or curse people, or do things which offend God apparently; at the same time, we can give alms to others, make donations; we can pray to the Lord when faced with difficulties so as to get spiritual sustenance; and when we attend meetings and read the Bible, we can feel at ease and comforted. For this reason, we believe we have kept what we ought to keep and that we will then be approved by God. Little do we know that, in God’s eyes, such kind of practice of believing in God belongs to belief in religion instead of real belief in God. The Lord doesn’t approve of the faith as such. If we continue to believe in the Lord along this path, and even to the end, we will only achieve change in outward behaviors rather than alter our outlook on life and values, much less resolve our corrupt disposition. So we can still often tell lies and reveal corrupt disposition of being arrogant, selfish and greedy, and even if we are reluctant to control ourselves externally, we cannot get rid of the corrupt thoughts and things revealed in our hearts, and these states cannot be resolved. So we still live in the repeated cycle of sinning during the day and confessing at night, unable to free ourselves from the bondage of sin. This type of belief doesn’t belong to belief in God but belief in religion.
Hearing this, Lijie and I stayed silent for quite a while. Then Lijie nodded slightly and said, “If you say like this, I understand a bit clearly. Even though we’ve believed in God and had some change outwardly, yet such a bit of change will in no way fulfill God’s requirements or reach the standard for real belief in God. Is it right?” Gaomin smiled and nodded. I took the thread, “According to you words, our present way of belief doesn’t belong to the real belief in God. It is only a type of spiritual sustenance, which belongs to religious faith. That is to say, it is belief in religion, that’s all. Since such kind of belief cannot obtain God’s approval, then how should we believe in God to be praised by God? Please tell us more.”
Gaomin nodded and continued, “What is belief in God? The truth of this aspect is too critical. Only by believing in God in accordance with His will and requirements can our belief gain praise from God. This is the way I accept it. Let’s take a look at the word in the book. It says, ‘Though many people believe in God, few understand what faith in God means, and what they must do to be after God’s heart. This is because, though people are familiar with the word “God” and phrases such as “the work of God,” they do not know God, much less do they know His work. No wonder, then, that all those who do not know God are possessed of a muddled belief. People do not take belief in God seriously because believing in God is too unfamiliar, too strange for them. In this way, they fall short of the demands of God. In other words, if people do not know God, do not know His work, then they are not fit for God’s use, much less can they fulfill the desire of God. “Belief in God” means believing that there is a God; this is the simplest concept of faith in God. What’s more, believing that there is a God is not the same as truly believing in God; rather, it is a kind of simple faith with strong religious overtones. True faith in God means experiencing the words and work of God based on a belief that God holds sovereignty over all things. So you shall be freed of your corrupt disposition, shall fulfill the desire of God, and shall come to know God. Only through such a journey can you be said to believe in God’ (‘Preface’).
‘So what does belief in God refer to? It means a change in how you live in this world, it means that there has already been a change in the value of your existence and the aims of your life. Originally, you lived for things such as honoring your ancestors, being successful, having a good life, and achieving fame and fortune. Today, you have abandoned those things. You wish to follow God, not Satan. You wish to forsake Satan, to forsake this evil trend, going against the current, and sailing against the wind. You follow God, and when you follow God what you accept is the truth, and the path you walk is the path of pursuing the truth. Your life’s direction has completely changed. So, in simple terms, can it be said that belief in God means your way of living is different — that you have changed your way of living? You follow the Creator, you submit to the Creator’s arrangements, you accept the rule of the Creator, you accept the Creator’s salvation, and ultimately you achieve being a true created being. Does this mean your way of living changed? It is the complete opposite of your previous way of life, what you used to pursue, and the previous motivations and meaning behind all you did — they’re two different things’ (‘Just What People Have Been Living By’). These two passages explained clearly what is real belief in God. From the words we can understand the truth of belief in God, that is, the truth of how to believe in God to satisfy God’s will. The God’s word says, ‘True faith in God means experiencing the words and work of God based on a belief that God holds sovereignty over all things. So you shall be freed of your corrupt disposition, shall fulfill the desire of God, and shall come to know God. Only through such a journey can you be said to believe in God.’ It means that since we believe in God, we must first believe that all things are ruled by God and that everything of us are also orchestrated and arranged in His hands. Only by believing God’s sovereignty can we experience His work. No matter what things, good or bad, we encounter in each day, we can accept them from God, do not complain against God or misunderstand Him; but rather, we focus on knowing ourselves, seeking the truth to resolve our own corrupt disposition so as to obey God’s orchestration and arrangement and know God’s righteous disposition. Only when we achieve these aspects of results, can our belief be the real belief. Just like Job, he not only prayed to God, worshiped God, and gave offerings to Him, but often gave heed to God’s deeds in all things and experienced God’s work in his daily life, observing what kind of people received God’s blessings and what kind of people were subjected to God’s punishment. He realized that all the wealth he had possessed was bestowed upon him by God. So when God deprived him of all his possessions, he could speak out such word that praised God — ‘the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ At that time Job didn’t understand why God did that, yet he didn’t complain God and still stood witness to satisfy Him. He had the heart of fearing God and believed all things are in God’s hands, and therefore he stood testimony for God and attained God’s praise. Today, in our belief in God, we should follow Job’s example in pursuit and take God’s word into our everyday life to experience and practice it. When confronted with difficulties, we should seek God’s will, let go of our own conceptions and imaginations, and obey God’s sovereignty and arrangement. If we can experience the particulars of God’s work in our life, we will make real entry in God’s word and achieve an understanding of the truth and entry into the reality. This is truly believing in God. Whereas, if we only pray at the proper times every day, attend meetings on Sundays, say some words to thank and praise God orally, and, in addition, go to spread the gospel in our spare time, then belief in this way is not pursuing the truth or experiencing God’s work. It basically cannot help us with attaining the results of knowing God and casting off our corrupt disposition, even less attaining a state of fearing God and shunning evil. Only believing in God with some good deeds on the outside is belief in religion, not belief in God.”
I said, “Hearing these words and your fellowship, I understand that the real belief is not merely following a certain ritual. The most important thing is, through experiencing God’s work and His word, to know our own corrupt disposition and understand God’s work and His disposition, so that we can get rid of our corrupt disposition, live according to God’s words, and thereby we can obey God and worship Him sincerely. In retrospect, though I’ve believed in the Lord so many years, I’m still controlled by the intention of receiving blessings, and in my belief in God, I only desire to get grace and blessings and the peace of flesh. Sometimes I even pursue fame and status and cling to fleshly enjoyments, and hold the same views on pursuing as the worldly people do. Doesn’t that go against God’s will? How can our believing in God in this way be approved by God?”
Gaomin continued, “Yes, you’re right. If we often reflect ourselves and genuinely experience God’s word and His work, the ultimate effect to be accomplished on us is that our corrupt disposition and viewpoints will be changed — not just a change in our external behaviors, but in the outlook of life and values. That is to say, we originally lived for flesh and pursued the fame and status and money, with the same viewpoints like the worldly people. But now we can rely on God’s word to see through these things and know that they are the negative things or something that belongs to Satan. And thus we can give up the fame and status from our hearts, seek and practice the truth, fulfill our duties faithfully, and focus on pursuing to be a qualified creature to satisfy God. Before, our belief in God was just to conduct transactions with God, for the sake of having a peaceful family, obtaining rewards, and entering the heavenly kingdom. But now, our belief in God is in order to gain the truth and life, to fulfill our duties as creatures to be considerate of God’s will and obey His orchestrations and arrangements, rather than conduct the transaction with God. We used to control our outward behaviors, and once something concerning our own interests happened, we couldn’t practice the Lord’s word and still told lies or toyed with different means, living by Satan’s corrupt disposition. But now we can use God’s word to resolve our own corrupt disposition and become a person, who is honest and upright, and who fears God and obeys Him. When we experience God’s work and His word in this way step by step, rid ourselves of corrupt disposition and accept the truth, and live by the truth, we will be ultimately after God’s intentions and live out the real life. This is the real belief in God.”
Lijie said, “Now I know what is the real belief in God. It means experiencing the work and word of God on the basis of believing that God dominates all things, seeking to gain the truth, and being free from our corrupt disposition, and coming to know God. Only by believing in this way can we be said to truly believe in God. It seems that belief in God is really not as simple as we imagined. We must change our previous dogma and ceremony and pay attention to practicing God’s word. Only then can we gain God’s praise.”
I said, “Today’s fellowship has light. It greatly benefits and edifies us, making us understand the differences between belief in God and belief in religion. Thank God for His guidance.”