Brother 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 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 is criticizing upon.
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 witnesses; and it doesn’t matter what theory or category the experience fits in, whether it is a pure 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 the 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, just like Brother Sparks describes here; but the latter is an enemy’s attempt to slander about or kill 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.
The worldliness is the first line of defense by Satan. Many are trapped in the worldliness, even ending up unsaved. But once a person starts to transcend the worldliness, he faces religion as the second line of defense by Satan. (And within man, resisting along with the second line of Satan’s defense 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 his very nature.)
Just yesterday, I saw a report that Italy is spending tons of money to rebuild (more than just remodeling) a famous basilica (a type of Cathedral). The basilica is gorgeous, inside out. A woman standing inside the basilica was interviewed by a reporter. The woman, in all her sincerity, was describing her feeling of being “purified, illuminated, and spiritualized.” The woman was clearly sincere. She is probably transcending from the worldliness (the first defense line of Satan), thank God for that if true, but I pray that she is not stopped at the second defense line, which is religion.
It takes a real experience with the Cross (dying with Christ and living again with Him) for any of us to pass the second defense line. 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.
But I have absolutely nothing to boast in saying what I have said here. One’s realization of certain truth doesn’t mean that one has received 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 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 for us, the Cross must become our own cross in real life experiences.