THE LORD DESIRING THAT MAN GAIN HIM INSTEAD OF RELIGION
The third portion of Scriptures is in John chapter six. The Lord Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Thousands of people saw that miracle. The next day the crowd came to look for the Lord Jesus and found Him on the other side of the sea. Then the Lord said to them, “You seek Me...because you ate of the bread and were filled” (v. 26). The Lord told them not to seek the food which perishes but to seek the food which abides unto eternal life, which He could give them. When they heard this, they did not quite understand, but within they knew that there is a kind of food which is eternal and which lasts forever. Therefore, they asked the Lord to give them this food. Then the Lord immediately said to them, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35). This meant that this food was the Lord; it also meant that aside from the Lord there was nothing else to be given to them. The Lord is the bread of life. He who comes to the Lord shall by no means hunger, and he who believes into the Lord shall by no means ever thirst. If they truly wanted to be satisfied in their human life, they needed to gain the Lord. Material blessings could not satisfy them; only the Lord could satisfy them. The Lord came to the earth not to give people blessings; He did not come to feed people with bread or to heal people of their sicknesses. The Lord came to the earth to dispense Himself into people so that they may gain Him instead of religion.
SALVATION NOT BEING PROSPERITY BUT THE LORD HIMSELF
The Lord came to the earth for man to gain Him; everything outside of Him is just religion. We should not consider prosperity as a small thing; to be prosperous is a very personal matter. Many have believed in the Lord for prosperity, but little do they know that prosperity is a matter of religion. The Lord’s salvation is not a matter of prosperity; rather, the Lord’s salvation is altogether apart from prosperity. In the first century, because of their faith in the Lord, countless Christians suffered the loss of their homes, their loved ones, and even their precious lives. Were they for their own prosperity? Of course not! The more faith they had in the Lord, the less prosperity they had in their human life. In the end they even sacrificed themselves and were martyred. Not prosperity, but martyrdom—this is the Lord’s salvation. Prosperity belongs to religion. The Lord’s salvation is the Lord Himself.
THE IMPROVEMENT OF BEHAVIOR NOT BEING SALVATION BUT RELIGION
Now let us go on to the matter of the improvement of behavior. Many people believe in the Lord because they find it difficult to conduct themselves properly in a human society which is so dark and fallen. Not knowing what to do, they want to find a better environment and seek better protection so that they may enjoy peace and stability both physically and spiritually. From the viewpoint of society, Christianity is the best place to have such an environment. People who go to church are very proper. During the week they work hard on their jobs and study diligently in school, and then on the Lord’s Day they go and sit in the church to worship. This lifestyle is quite refined and quiet. The unbelievers think that they can benefit greatly by being with such a group of people, so they accept the Christian religion. Afterward, they go to listen to sermons regularly. They may not understand what they hear, but they feel quite good and seem to profit just by sitting there. Then one day when the pastor announces that the church is ready to receive new members, they feel that since they have been coming to worship services regularly, they ought to join the church as members. Therefore, they become church members. However, they are totally ignorant of where God is and who Christ is. So why do they believe in Jesus? It is simply because they want to be good persons. Each one of us more or less has this kind of concept, the concept of behavior improvement.
Even in our prayers we often say, “O Lord, my temper is so bad; I really have no way to deal with it. I cannot change it; I cannot improve myself. But, Lord, as the almighty One, You are omnipotent; nothing is impossible with You. Please help me.” It is so strange that the more we pray this way, the worse our temper is. This is because when we ask God to change our temper, we are not being Christians but religious people. Christ is different from religion. Whereas in religion there is behavior improvement, in Christ there is no such thing. In Christ there is only Christ, and there is only salvation.
Paradoxically, when we preach the gospel, we often begin with personal prosperity, saying, “Oh, it is so good to believe in Jesus! If you believe in Jesus, you will have peace and joy.” This is the first step. What is the second step? Very naturally it is the improvement of behavior. We may tell those who have believed in Jesus, “Since you have believed in Jesus, you have to be proper in your conduct and walk. After believing in Jesus, your temper has to be changed, and you have to start a new life.” When we preach the gospel to others, we often cannot avoid the concept of being prosperous and the idea of improving our conduct, as if it is hard to preach the gospel unless we attract people with these two things. The gospel seems to have become a bitter medicine, requiring it to be sugar-coated not only with prosperity but also with behavior improvement. Therefore, up to the present time many Christians still have not escaped from the concept of self-improvement.
(Dead to Law but Living to God, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)