The Holy Spirit and Reality, by Watchman Nee


We must remember that in God’s eyes, there is something called reality. The problem with many Christians is that they try to do something to make things real. However, what is expressed is, in fact, not reality. Many Christians try to manufacture a kind of “reality” before the Lord. They try to imitate and copy. But God does not require us to imitate; He only wants the reality, the real thing, to be manifested through us. What we generate by ourselves is artificial and fabricated; it is not the reality. We must see the vanity of acting according to doctrines. At the most, a man who does this has outward conduct; he does not have the real thing, and what he has is not the reality.

Therefore, we have to learn to live before the Lord in what we are. We must ask God to help us so that we would touch the reality behind all spiritual things. Many times, we are very close to falsehood because we know too much doctrine; we walk according to doctrines instead of walking according to the leading of the Spirit of God. Anytime we walk according to doctrines, we cannot touch reality.

A brother said the following when relating his experience: “Once a brother offended me very much. He came to me and said something to me. I responded, ‘Brother, it does not matter. It is all right.’ But within me I said, ‘This is not right. He does this kind of thing all the time. He does it not only to me, but to many people as well.’ I had the thought of saying something harsh to him. But if I said something harsh, he would think that I was an unforgiving person, and he might be hurt. Of course, if I shook his hand and invited him for a meal, I would be seen as practicing brotherly love. While I was thinking about this, a strong urge within me said, ‘You have to tell him the truth today, and you have to show him that he is wrong.’ I struggled for a quarter of an hour. In the end I spoke the truth to him.” Sometimes rebukes are more valuable than handshakes. We can have an outward gentleness and win the praises of others, but this kind of thing has no spiritual value at all before God. The question is whether our conduct issues from dead doctrines or from the leading of the Spirit. Our brother truly loved his brother from his heart. But the question is not merely one of the heart, but whether or not there is the spiritual reality.

A Christian once argued with his family. One member in the family was very fierce and slapped him on the face. At that instant, he remembered the words of Matthew 5, which say, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 39). He thought that since he was a Christian, he should behave like a Christian. Therefore, he turned his other cheek. After he did this, he could not sleep well for two nights. As far as his conduct was concerned, he had acted according to the Scripture. But he was so furious that he could not sleep well for two nights. This means that he had not touched the spiritual reality. His conduct was not life; it was not the real thing.

Many Christians feel that they have one shortcoming: they cannot differentiate between the real thing and the false thing; they cannot tell what is of God and what is not of God. As far as their spiritual experience is concerned, they cannot tell the difference because they have not touched the spiritual reality. If they have touched reality, their eyes will discern what is not reality right away. The power of discernment comes from what one sees. If you have touched the spiritual reality in one matter, no one will be able to deceive you in that matter anymore. A genuinely saved Christian has touched spiritual reality at least in the matter of salvation. It is not that easy for anyone to deceive him in the matter of salvation. In the same way, if he has touched the reality in any other matter, he will spontaneously feel the difference whenever there is the absence of reality in that particular matter. Once he touches something unreal, an inexplicable power within will repel the unreal thing; something within will tell him immediately that this is not the real thing.

We are easily deceived because we often deceive ourselves. Those who deceive themselves are easily deceived by others. If one is blind about himself, he will be blind about others. Whenever we know ourselves, we know others. We cannot know others if we do not know ourselves. If we have passed through God’s dealings and if we know ourselves, we will spontaneously know others. Once we are touched and dealt with by God in a certain matter, once we touch something real, and once we know the way God’s Spirit moves within, we will know immediately when we touch a person whether he acts by himself or by the Spirit of God. Spiritual discernment comes only after one has touched spiritual reality. Those who have not touched reality can only deceive two kinds of people—themselves and those whose spiritual condition is the same as theirs. They cannot deceive those who know what is of the Spirit and what living in the Spirit is. Even more, they cannot deceive the church. They may think that they are spiritual, but the strange thing is that the church will never say amen to them. We must realize that whenever the church cannot say amen, we have to confess our sins. If the brothers and sisters cannot respond with an amen, it means that there is falsehood and the absence of reality.

Many brothers and sisters are vexing and burdening the church not only by their sins, but by their “good” conduct. Sin can easily be detected, but it is not that easy to detect the many kinds of “good” conduct that originate from man himself; it is not that easy to detect that they are far from God and far from spiritual reality. Many Christians have not touched any spiritual reality. What they do has nothing to do with reality. Yet they still think that they have the reality. This is truly a vexation and a burden. We believe that whenever one touches reality, the result is life, and whenever one does not touch reality, the result is death. Some people do certain things, touch life, and cause others to touch life also. Some people do certain things and feel quite happy about what they have done, yet others do not touch life, and they are not edified. Those who touch life do not appreciate these kinds of works; rather, they dislike them. These works originate from the self and do not bring in life; rather, they bring in death.

We must learn to live in the Spirit. Otherwise, we may accomplish many “good” works without touching any spiritual reality at all. What does it mean to live in the Spirit? It means that we do not do things by ourselves. Doing things by ourselves is being of the flesh, and being of the flesh is surely far from spiritual reality. Spiritual reality is something spiritual; it is not fleshly. Simply put, spiritual reality is what one touches through the Holy Spirit. Only what we touch through the Holy Spirit is living and real. Any work that a Christian has apart from the Holy Spirit is not real. His work can never replace the real thing in God’s eyes. His work cannot help others and cannot edify himself. May the Lord be merciful to us and may He show us that those who live in the Spirit are the only ones who live in spiritual reality.

(The Holy Spirit and Reality, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)