Catholic Reading for Today: Free Yourself From Religious Rituals for a Closer Relationship With God
By Gengxin, Australia
Editor’s Note: For two thousand years, everyone who believes in God has been adhering to certain religious practices such as liturgy, confession, attending Mass, saying prayers, and observing certain holidays. They have believed that observing these religious rites is the only way to please God. Gengxin, a fellow believer, never questioned whether this was in line with God’s will or not until he accepted God’s work of the last days. Only then did he gain a new understanding of these religious rituals. Let’s take a look at his experience.
My Fervor for Religious Rituals Cools
I come from a family of Catholics, and I grew up reciting the prayers with my parents. The Chinese Communist government was clamping down on Catholicism at the time, so we were always faced with the danger of being reported and then arrested. But even so, we would always think of a way to get there whenever a priest was giving Mass at someone’s house. We also never failed to recite the prayers every day, and we read whatever prayer was prescribed by the Catholic Church for each holiday. We fasted on Good Friday and we did the Way of the Cross; we observed the various holidays, like the Feast of the Baptism, Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. The priest told us that by observing all these religious rituals, we were worshiping God and that made us pious believers, that it was something that God would celebrate, and that when the Lord returned, He would take us up into heaven.
When I first started observing these rites, I was overflowing with faith and I was really ardent about it. I could also feel the work of the Holy Spirit—whenever I performed a ritual, I felt really moved. But after a number of years, I realized that the priest’s sermons always seemed dry, like he was recycling the same old things over and over. Nothing felt fresh or new, and I wasn’t enjoying them at all. And I wasn’t moved while observing all those rituals, either, but instead it felt tiring and troublesome. Sometimes, when I was reciting scriptures or doing the Way of the Cross, I had a really hard time finding internal peace, and I’d be thinking about my business at the same time, wanting to hurry up and finish so I could do something else. Sometimes I simply wouldn’t observe these rites when I was busy with work, thinking I’d make up for it later—I was entirely going through the motions. But then I would think about the priest saying we were doing these things for God, and we had to be steadfast in them or else we weren’t true believers. So in an effort to be a good Catholic and get into heaven, I just forced myself to keep doing them.
Welcoming the Lord’s Return
One day my older sister called me and said there was a cleric who had just come back from studying abroad, who delivered great sermons. She invited my wife and me to attend one of his sermons, saying this was a really rare opportunity. I knew my sister was enthusiastic in her faith, and if she said his sermons were really good, it was a chance I couldn’t miss. I told her we’d go.
My wife and I went to my sister’s house the next day, where the cleric greeted us really warmly and introduced himself as Zhang. He also talked about the fact that lots of churches all over the world were feeling bleak and desolate—I really sympathized with that. Then Cleric Zhang read some of God’s word and linked that with biblical prophecies, telling us about God’s 6,000-year management plan. He also said that in the Age of Grace, the Lord Jesus was crucified to become a sin offering to redeem mankind of our sins, but our sinful nature is still deeply rooted. If we want to be completely free of sin, we’ll need to accept another step of work God does in the last days, the step of judgment, chastisement, and purification. That will be the only way to cast off the shackles of sin and come before God. His fellowship was really exciting for me, and I’d never heard such a practical sermon through all my years of faith. I genuinely enjoyed it.
Then he told us about the mysteries of God’s names and the incarnation, and other aspects of the truth like mankind’s final destination and outcome. He also said that the Lord Jesus, who we’ve been waiting for, has already returned, that He isin the flesh. All of these mysteries were things he learned from the truths expressed by Almighty God. And he told us that God has already expressed all of the truths we need in order to be cleansed, and all we need to do is read God’s words and put them into practice, then we can be fully saved. Cleric Zhang’s sermon was really a pleasant surprise for me. It all made sense. If it weren’t for these things coming straight from the mouth of God, no one could unlock these mysteries. I knew for certain within my heart that Almighty God is the Lord returned. My wife had the same feeling, so we joyfully accepted Almighty God’s work of the last days and began living a life of the church.
Learning God’s Work Is New and Alive
One day Brother Zhang came to visit us at our home around dinnertime. Seeing that my wife and I were still doing the sign of the cross and saying grace before eating, he told us that these were God’s requirements for people in the Age of Grace, but now that we’re in the Age of Kingdom, we don’t need to keep following these rules. He told us we just need to read God’s words and put them into practice. I had my own ideas about what he said, and I told him, “For 2,000 years, all believers have been doing the liturgy, confessing, attending Mass, saying prayers, and observing the holidays. These are things we have to do—how could we give them up? If we stopped, wouldn’t that be apostasy?”
He heard me out and then said, “It’s very normal for you to think this way. I thought the same thing as you when I’d just accepted God’s work of the last days. I thought that all of these Catholic rituals had a biblical basis, and that since generation after generation of Catholics had been doing them, this was what God would approve of. But then I read Almighty God’s words and realized that God’s requirements of mankind are different for every age, for every step of work—we can’t make sweeping generalizations. We can’t try to force God’s requirements for the Age of Grace into the framework of His work in the last days. Let’s take a look at what God’s words say about this. God says, ‘What is asked of man this day is unlike that in the past and even more unlike that asked of man in the Age of Law. Now, what was asked of man under the law when God was doing His work in Israel? It was no more than that man should keep the Sabbath and the laws of Jehovah. No one was to labor on the Sabbath or transgress the laws of Jehovah. But it is not so now. On the Sabbath, man works, gathers, and prays as usual, and no restrictions are imposed on him. Those in the Age of Grace had to be baptized, and they were further asked to fast, break bread, drink wine, cover their heads and wash the feet of others for them. Now, these rules have been abolished, but greater demands are made of man, for the work of God grows ever deeper and the entry of man reaches ever higher. … The Holy Spirit works in accordance with the age, neither at random nor in conformity to set rules. The age has changed, and a new age necessarily brings with it new work. This is true of every stage of work, and so His work is never repeated.’ ‘God’s intention has always been for His work to be new and alive, not old and dead, and what He has man adhere to varies with the age and period, and is not everlasting and immutable. This is because He is a God who causes man to live and be new, rather than a devil who causes man to die and be old. Do you still not understand this?’
“From God’s words, we can see that He is a true and living God, and His work is new and living. It is not old, stale, and unchanging. God does not cling to the old and He does not repeat His work. God has different requirements of man in each age that people must abide by. When an old age has passed and a new age arrives, people don’t need to keep following old practices, but they need to live by the new requirements put forward by God for the new age. If they cling to the old practices, they won’t experience the work of the Holy Spirit and they’ll stagnate in their lives. Just think of the Age of Law—Yahweh required people to observe the Sabbath and to make sacrifices. Those who did these things were blessed by God. Then in the Age of Grace, the Lord Jesus performed new work and made new requirements of humanity, telling us we should be baptized, we should fast, and we should take Holy Communion. When the Lord Jesus’ followers put His new requirements into practice, they gained the work of the Holy Spirit, and they knew peace and joy in their hearts. But those who continued the old practices of the Age of Law were in dire circumstances—they would be condemned and cast out by God. Today, we are in the Age of Kingdom, and God has returned to do new work. He has uttered words to judge and cleanse mankind, while also dispensing with all those rules and rites. All He requires of us is to read His words and put His current requirements into practice, and to seek to achieve dispositional change. Only this is in line with God’s will. If we continue to abide by those old practices, no matter how many of them we perform and how well we follow them, we won’t gain the Holy Spirit’s work or God’s approval. Think back to before God came to do the work of the last days—when we did all those things, we’d have an internal sense of peace and joy; we’d have the work of the Holy Spirit. Why is it that that disappeared later on? It’s because the Holy Spirit’s work shifted, because God came back to do new work. So when people continue to practice those rituals and rules, they don’t get any enjoyment out of it, and sometimes even feel tired and annoyed. This is a fact that most pious believers know in their souls. But those who keep up with Almighty God’s work of the last days, who are freed from the shackles of religious rites and focus on reading God’s words, are able to regain the work of the Holy Spirit and live freely. So when we accept God’s new work and start practicing God’s requirements for the new age, this isn’t remotely a betrayal of God, but it is obeying God’s current work. It is what He approves of.”
After listening to God’s words and Brother Zhang’s fellowship, I could see that God does make different requirements of people for different ages, and those who accept God’s new work shouldn’t keep sticking to the same old rules, but they should follow God’s requirements for the current age. Only that brings joy to God. Before I understood God’s will, I was always concerned that failing to observe those rules would mean I was rebelling against God, but at that point I realized that God’s work is new and alive, and since God has begun the Age of Kingdom, His requirements for mankind have changed with the age. I had to let go of all those practices from the past, read more of God’s words, and put them into practice. That was the only way to do God’s will. I was finally able to let go of all my worries and concerns once I understood these things.
Realizing Religious Rites Hide Satan’s Tricks
Then Brother Zhang went on: “In fact, a lot of these holidays and rituals that we observe were never things that God required of man, but were made up and handed down by multiple generations of people—they are things that came from human minds. We need to learn how to discern this. We can take a look at what God says. Almighty God says, ‘Even the Spring Festival and Christmas Day, which are known to everyone, are not decreed by God, let alone the toys and decorations for these festive holidays such as couplets, firecrackers, lanterns, Holy Communion, Christmas gifts, and Christmas festivities—are they not idols in the minds of men? The breaking of bread on the Sabbath, wine, and fine linen are even more emphatically idols. All the traditional festival days popular in China, such as the Dragon Heads-raising Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Laba Festival, and New Year’s Day, and the festivals in the religious world, such as Easter, Baptism Day, and Christmas Day, all of these unjustifiable festivals have been arranged and handed down from olden times to today by many people. It is humanity’s rich imagination and ingenious conception that have allowed them to be passed down to today. They appear to be free of flaws, but are in fact tricks Satan plays on humanity. The more a place is thronged with Satans, and the more obsolete and backward that place is, the more deeply entrenched are its feudal customs. These things bind people tight, allowing absolutely no room for movement. Many of the festivals in the religious world seem to display great originality and to create a bridge to the work of God, but they are actually the invisible ties with which Satan binds people and prevents people from coming to know God—they are all Satan’s cunning stratagems. In fact, when a stage of God’s work is finished, He has already destroyed the tools and the style of that time, without leaving any trace. However, “devout believers” continue to worship those tangible material objects; meanwhile they consign what God has to the back of their minds, studying it no further, seeming to be full of thewhen they actually pushed Him out of the house long ago and placed Satan on the table to worship. Portraits of Jesus, the Cross, Mary, Jesus’ Baptism and the Last Supper—people venerate these as the Lord of Heaven, all the while repeatedly crying out “Lord, heavenly Father.” Is this not all a joke? To this day, many similar sayings and practices that have been passed down amongst humanity are hateful to God; they seriously obstruct the way ahead for God and, furthermore, create huge setbacks to humanity’s entry.’
“Almighty God’s words very clearly tell us that many holidays observed by the religious world, such as Easter and Christmas, and all those religious symbols like images of Jesus and the Last Supper, did not come from God’s own work and were never something God required man to observe. Instead, it was humans that invented these things and had others abide by them, and Satan’s tricks are hiding within them. They’re one of Satan’s tactics for keeping people from really knowing God. God is faithful, and He wants us to worship Him honestly and from the heart, not for us to be constrained by formulaic modes of worship. When we’re focused on formalities or certain activities, all we do is get together and have some fun, and worship all those religious symbols as if they were God. God doesn’t have a place in our hearts, and as a result, when we follow too many rites, we can’t understand His will. Instead, we’re constrained, there is darkness in our souls, and we become exhausted. God is the way, the truth, and the life, and what His work brings us is nothing but freedom and release. Those rules and rites, however, just bind us and control us. They absolutely can’t guide us to know God, but instead they just take us farther and farther from God, and can even cause us to resist God. Think of the Pharisees in the Age of Law. They adamantly clung to the law, thinking that God could only be worshiped in the temple and that observing the Sabbath was being devout. When the Lord Jesus came to work, they saw that He never went to preach in the temple, and even on the Sabbath He cured the sick and allowed His disciples to pick some heads of wheat to eat. They denied that the Lord Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for on the grounds that He didn’t observe the law. Clearly, rigidly clinging to religious rituals and refusing to let them go makes us prone to rebelling against and resisting God. Now we are following God’s new work, so if we keep observing the rules of the past instead of focusing on seeking God’s will and reading His words, we’ll never receive the sustenance of God’s living waters and our spiritual lives will never develop. This is Satan doing us harm. So we need to understand that these religious rites are just a game Satan uses to toy with us—this is Satan imprisoning our minds and keeping us from knowing God. We have to give them up and no longer be bound by them. That’s the only way we can live freely before God.”
At this point, I felt like my eyes had really been opened. I said, “Brother, your fellowship has really helped me understand this. I’ve been observing these things for decades, but I’d never considered there might be anything wrong with doing this. Now, I can see from Almighty God’s words, that following these rules and performing these rituals is a practice that comes from Satan, that Satan is using these things to control and hurt us. And in fact, when we do the Way of the Cross, we’re actually just worshiping those images, and this kind of worship doesn’t help us understand God’s disposition or His new work. It doesn’t help to resolve our corrupt dispositions, either. Our words and behavior toward God are still really dishonest and perfunctory, and none of it brings us even a tiny bit closer to God. Just as the Lord Jesus said, ‘Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips glorify me, but their heart is far from me, and they have feared me with the commandment and doctrines of men’ (Isaiah 29:13). I can see that none of our notions and imaginings are in line with God’s will, but are condemned by God. If we continue to uphold these rules and rituals, we’ll be modern-day Pharisees, and this is going against God.” My wife nodded her head in agreement.
Beginning a Brand-New Life of the Church
Later on, I read this in God’s words: “necessitates a normal spiritual life, which is the foundation for experiencing God’s words and entering into reality. Does all your current practice of prayers, of drawing near to God, of hymn-singing, praise, meditation, and pondering the words of God amount to a ‘normal spiritual life’? None of you seems to know. A normal spiritual life is not limited to such practices as praying, singing hymns, participating in church life, and eating and drinking of God’s words. Rather, it involves living a new and vibrant spiritual life. What matters is not how you practice, but what fruit your practice bears. Most people believe that a normal spiritual life necessarily involves praying, singing hymns, eating and drinking the words of God or pondering His words, regardless of whether such practices actually have any effect or lead to true understanding. These people focus on following superficial procedures without any thought to their results; they are people who live in religious rituals, not people who live within the church, and much less are they people of the kingdom.”
“A normal spiritual life is a life lived before God. When praying, one can quiet one’s heart before God, and through prayer, one can seek the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, know God’s words, and understand God’s will. By eating and drinking of His words, people can gain a clearer and more thorough understanding of God’s current work. They can also gain a new path of practice, and will not cling to the old; what they practice will all be to achieve growth in life.”
I saw from God’s words that a true spiritual life doesn’t remotely involve superficial actions. Whether it’s reading God’s words, praying, singing hymns, or praising God, it should all be to establish a normal relationship with God and grow closer to Him. If we want our spiritual lives to be fruitful, we can’t just go through the motions, but we have to quiet ourselves before God, earnestly ponder His words, and then learn His will and requirements for people. Once we have considered and come to understand how we should practice and enter in, we need to let go of these outmoded practices and act according to God’s new requirements. This is the only way to gain the work of the Holy Spirit, and then our relationship with God will continue to improve. We’ll also see more and more development in our personal lives. After I understood all of this, I no longer felt so held back, so constrained by all those rules and rites, but I began to regularly ponder God’s words, praying and growing closer to Him. Now I engage in church life with brothers and sisters every week, where everyone discusses their own understanding of God’s words with each other, and we fellowship on how we seek and practice the truth in our own lives. This kind of gathering and fellowship has felt really liberating for me, and now I know how to lead a normal spiritual life, how to speak to God from the heart, andin the right way. Now I have a normal relationship with God and I’m growing in life day by day. I’m so grateful to God! It was the truths expressed by God in the last days that led me away from those religious rites, allowing me to lead a brand-new life of the church.