II. One Must Bear Witness to Truths Concerning the Three Stages of God’s Work of Salvation
4. How do God’s three stages of work gradually deepen so that people may be saved and perfected?
Relevant Words of God:
The entire management of God is divided into three stages, and in each stage, fitting requirements are made of man. Furthermore, as the ages pass and progress, God’s requirements of all mankind become ever higher. Thus, step-by-step, this work of God’s management reaches its climax, until man beholds the fact of the “appearance of the Word in the flesh,” and in this way the requirements of man become even higher, and requirements of man to bear testimony become even higher. The more that man is capable of truly cooperating with God, the more that he glorifies God. Man’s cooperation is the testimony that he is required to bear, and the testimony that he bears is the practice of man. And so, whether or not God’s work can have the due effect, and whether or not there can be true testimony, are inextricably linked to the cooperation and testimony of man. When the work is finished, which is to say, when all of God’s management has reached its end, man will be required to bear higher testimony, and when the work of God reaches its end, the practice and entry of man will reach their zenith. In the past, man was required to comply with the law and the commandments, and was required to be patient and humble. Today, man is required to obey all of God’s arrangements and possess a supreme love of God, and is ultimately required to still love God amid the tribulation. These three stages are requirements that God makes of man, step-by-step, throughout His entire management. Each stage of God’s work goes deeper than the last, and in each stage the requirements of man are more profound than the last, and in this way, God’s entire management gradually takes shape. It is precisely because the requirements of man are ever higher that man’s disposition comes ever closer to the standards required by God, and it is only then that the whole of mankind gradually departs from the influence of Satan until, when God’s work comes to a complete end, the whole of mankind will have been saved from the influence of Satan.
from “God’s Work and Man’s Practice” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
The work of God’s management began at the creation of the world, and man is at the core of this work. God’s creation of all things, it can be said, is for the sake of man. Because the work of His management stretches over thousands of years, and is not carried out in the space of mere minutes or seconds, or a blink of an eye, or over one or two years, He had to create more things necessary for the survival of man, such as the sun, moon, all sorts of living creatures, and food and a living environment for mankind. This was the start of God’s management.
After that, God handed mankind over to Satan, man lived under the domain of Satan, and this gradually led to God’s work of the first age: the story of the Age of Law…. During several thousand years of the Age of Law, mankind became accustomed to the guidance of the Age of Law, and they began to take it lightly, and gradually left the care of God. And so, at the same time as sticking to the law, they also worshiped idols and committed evil acts. They were without the protection of Jehovah, and merely lived their lives before the altar in the temple. In fact, the work of God had left them long ago, and even though the Israelites still stuck to the law, and spoke the name of Jehovah, and even proudly believed that only they were the people of Jehovah and were the chosen ones of Jehovah, the glory of God quietly abandoned them …
As has always been the case, after the work of Jehovah in the Age of Law, God began His new work of the second stage: assuming the flesh—being incarnated as man for ten, twenty years—and speaking and doing His work among believers. Yet without exception, no one knew, and only a small number of people acknowledged that He was God become flesh after the Lord Jesus was nailed to the cross and resurrected. … As soon as the second stage of God’s work was completed—after the crucifixion—God’s work of recovering man from sin (which is to say, recovering man from the hands of Satan) was accomplished. And so, from that moment onward, mankind had only to accept the Lord Jesus as the Savior for his sins to be forgiven. Nominally speaking, the sins of man were no longer a barrier to his achieving salvation and coming before God and were no longer the leverage by which Satan accused man. That is because God Himself had done real work, had become in the likeness and foretaste of sinful flesh, and God Himself was the sin offering. In this way, man descended from the cross, being redeemed and saved thanks to the flesh of God, the likeness of this sinful flesh. And so, after being taken captive by Satan, man came one step closer to accepting salvation before God. Of course, this stage of work was the management of God that was one step on from the Age of Law, and of a deeper level than the Age of Law.
And then came the Age of Kingdom, which is a more practical stage of work and yet is also the hardest for man to accept. That is because the closer that man comes to God, the nearer God’s rod approaches man, and the more clearly God’s face appears before man. Following the redemption of mankind, man officially returns to the family of God. Man thought that now was the time for enjoyment, yet he is subjected to a full-frontal assault by God, the likes of which no one has foreseen: As it turns out, this is a baptism that the people of God have to “enjoy.” Under such treatment, people have no choice but to stop and think to themselves, I am the lamb, lost for many years, that God spent so much to buy back, so why does God treat me like this? Is it God’s way of laughing at me, and revealing me? … After years have passed, man has become weather-beaten, having experienced the hardship of refinement and chastisement. Although man has lost the “glory” and “romance” of times past, he has unconsciously come to understand the truth of being a man, and has come to appreciate God’s years of devotion to saving mankind. Man slowly begins to loathe his own barbarousness. He begins to hate how feral he is, and all the misunderstandings toward God, and the unreasonable demands he has made of Him. Time cannot be reversed; past events become the regretful memories of man, and the words and love of God become the driving force in man’s new life. Man’s wounds heal day by day, his strength returns, and he stands up and looks upon the face of the Almighty … only to discover that He has always been at my side, and that His smile and His beautiful countenance are still so stirring. His heart still holds concern for the mankind He created, and His hands are still as warm and powerful as they were at the beginning. It is as if man returned to the Garden of Eden, yet this time man no longer listens to the enticements of the serpent, no longer turns away from the face of Jehovah. Man kneels before God, looks up at God’s smiling face, and offers his most precious sacrifice—Oh! My Lord, my God!
from “Man Can Only Be Saved Amidst the Management of God” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
The work done by Jesus was merely a stage higher than the Old Testament; it was used to begin an age, and to lead that age. Why did He say, “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill”? Yet in His work there was much which differed from the laws practiced and the commandments followed by the Israelites of the Old Testament, for He did not come to obey the law, but to fulfill it. The process of fulfilling it included many actual things: His work was more practical and real, and, furthermore, it was alive, and not the blind adherence to doctrine. Did the Israelites not keep the Sabbath? When Jesus came He did not observe the Sabbath, for He said that the Son of man was the Lord of the Sabbath, and when the Lord of the Sabbath arrived, He would do as He wished. He had come to fulfill the laws of the Old Testament and to change the laws. All that is done today is based upon the present, yet it still rests upon the foundation of the work of Jehovah in the Age of Law, and does not transgress this scope. To watch your tongue, and not commit adultery, for example—are these not the laws of the Old Testament? Today, what is required of you is not only limited to the Ten Commandments, but consists of commandments and laws of a higher order than those that came before, yet this does not mean that what came before has been abolished, for each stage of God’s work is carried out upon the foundation of the stage that came before. As for that which Jehovah introduced to Israel, such as requiring people to offer up sacrifices, honor their parents, not to worship idols, not to assault or curse others, not to commit adultery, not to smoke or drink, and not to eat dead things or drink blood: does this not form the foundation for your practice even today? It is upon the foundation of the past that the work has been carried out up until today. Though the laws of the past are no longer mentioned and new demands have been made of you, these laws, far from being abolished, have instead been elevated to higher status. To say that they have been abolished means that the previous age is outdated, whereas there are some commandments that you must honor for all eternity. The commandments of the past have already been put into practice, have already become the being of man, and there is no need to reiterate commandments to not smoke, not drink, and so on. Upon this foundation, new commandments are laid down according to your needs today, according to your stature, and according to the work of today. Decreeing commandments for the new age does not mean abolishing the commandments of the old age, but lifting them higher upon this foundation, to make the actions of man more complete, and more in line with reality. If, today, you were only required to follow the commandments and abide by the laws of the Old Testament, in the same way as the Israelites, and if, even, you were required to memorize the laws laid down by Jehovah, there would be no possibility that you could change. If you were only to abide by those few limited commandments or memorize innumerable laws, your old nature would remain deeply embedded, and there would be no way to uproot it. Thus you would become increasingly depraved, and not one of you would become obedient. Which is to say that a few simple commandments or countless laws are incapable of helping you know the deeds of Jehovah. You are not the same as the Israelites: By following the laws and memorizing the commandments they were able to witness the deeds of Jehovah, and give their devotion to Him alone, but you are unable to achieve this, and a few commandments of the Old Testament age are not only incapable of making you give over your heart, or of protecting you, but will instead make you lax, and will lower you to Hades. For My work is the work of conquest, and is aimed at your disobedience and old nature. The kind words of Jehovah and Jesus fall far short of the severe words of judgment today. Without such severe words, it would be impossible to conquer you “experts,” who have been disobedient for thousands of years. The laws of the Old Testament lost their power on you long ago, and the judgment of today is far more formidable than the old laws. Most suitable for you is judgment, and not the trifling restrictions of laws, for you are not the mankind of the very beginning, but a mankind that has been corrupt for thousands of years. What man must achieve now is according to the real state of man today, according to the caliber and actual stature of present-day man, and it does not require that you follow doctrine. This is so that changes may be achieved in your old nature, and in order that you may cast aside your conceptions.
from “The Vision of God’s Work (1)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
Even though the path that man walks today is also the path of the cross and the path of suffering, what man practices, and what he eats, drinks and enjoys today are greatly different from that which fell to man under the law and in the Age of Grace. 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 He 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 incessantly deepens and the entry of man reaches ever higher. In the past, Jesus laid His hands upon man and prayed, but now that everything has been said, what is the use of the laying on of hands? Words alone can achieve results. When He laid His hands upon man in the past, it was to bless man and also to heal him of his diseases. This was how the Holy Spirit worked at that time, but it is not so now. Now the Holy Spirit uses words in order to work and achieve results. His words have been made clear to you, and you should put them into practice just as you have been told. His words are His will; they are the work He wishes to do. Through His words, you will understand His will and that which He asks you to attain, and you just put His words into practice directly without any need for the laying on of hands. Some may say, “Lay Your hands upon me! Lay Your hands upon me that I may receive Your blessing and that I may partake of You.” All these are outdated practices from the past, now obsolete, for the age has changed. 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. In the Age of Grace, Jesus did a fair amount of that kind of work, such as healing sickness, casting out demons, laying His hands upon man to pray for him, and blessing man. However, to do so again would be meaningless in the present day. The Holy Spirit worked in that way at the time, for it was the Age of Grace, and there was sufficient grace for man to enjoy. No payment of any kind was asked of him, and so long as he had faith he would receive grace. All were treated very graciously. Now the age has changed, and the work of God has progressed further; it is through chastisement and judgment that the rebelliousness of man and the unclean things within man will be purged away. That stage being the stage of redemption, it behooved God to work in that way, showing enough grace for man to enjoy, so that man might be redeemed from sin and by means of grace be forgiven his sins. This present stage is to expose the unrighteousness within man by means of chastisement, judgment, the smiting of words, as well as the discipline and revelation of words, so that humanity may afterward be saved. This is work more in-depth than redemption. The grace in the Age of Grace was sufficient for man’s enjoyment; now that man has already experienced this grace, he is no longer to enjoy it. This work is now past its time and is no longer to be done. Now man is to be saved through the judgment of the word. After man is judged, chastised, and refined, his disposition is thereby changed. Is this not all because of the words I have spoken? Each stage of work is done in line with the progress of the whole human race and with the age. The work is all significant, and it is all done for the sake of the final salvation, that mankind may have a good destination in the future, and that humanity may be divided according to their kind in the end.
from “The Mystery of the Incarnation (4)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
During the Age of Law, Jehovah led Moses out of Egypt with His words, and spoke some words to the Israelites; at that time, part of the deeds of God were made plain, but because the caliber of man was limited and nothing could make his knowledge complete, God continued to speak and work. In the Age of Grace, man once more saw part of the deeds of God. Jesus was able to show signs and wonders, to heal the sick and cast out demons, and be crucified, three days after which He was resurrected and appeared in the flesh before man. Of God, man knew no more than this. Man knows as much as is shown to him by God, and if God were to show nothing more to man, then such would be the extent of man’s delimitation of God. Thus, God continues to work, so that man’s knowledge of Him may become deeper, and so that he may gradually come to know the substance of God. In the last days, God uses His words to make man perfect. Your corrupt disposition is disclosed by the words of God, and your religious conceptions are replaced by the reality of God. God incarnate of the last days has chiefly come to fulfill the words that “the Word becomes flesh, the Word comes into the flesh, and the Word appears in the flesh,” and if you do not have a thorough knowledge of this, then you will still be unable to stand fast. During the last days, God primarily intends to accomplish a stage of work in which the Word appears in the flesh, and this is one part of God’s management plan. Thus, your knowledge must be clear; regardless of how God works, God does not allow man to delimit Him. If God did not do this work during the last days, then man’s knowledge of Him could go no further. You would only know that God can be crucified and can destroy Sodom, and that Jesus can be raised from the dead and appear to Peter…. But you would never say that God’s words can accomplish all, and can conquer man. Only through experiencing God’s words can you speak of such knowledge, and the more of God’s work that you experience, the more thorough your knowledge of Him will become. Only then will you cease to delimit God within your own conceptions.
from “Knowing God’s Work Today” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
In the work of the last days, the word is mightier than the manifestation of signs and wonders, and the authority of the word surpasses that of signs and wonders. The word exposes all the corrupt dispositions buried deep in the heart of man. You have no way of recognizing them on your own. When they are laid bare before you through the word, you will naturally come to discover them; you will not be able to deny them, and you will be utterly convinced. Is this not the authority of the word? This is the result achieved by the work of the word today. Therefore, it is not through the healing of sickness and casting out of demons that man can be fully saved from his sins, nor can he be fully made complete by the manifestation of signs and wonders. The authority to heal sickness and cast out demons only gives man grace, but the flesh of man still belongs to Satan and the corrupt satanic disposition still remains within man. In other words, that which has not been made clean still belongs to sin and to filth. Only after he has been made clean through the agency of the word can he be gained by God and become a sanctified man. When the demons were cast out of man and he was redeemed, this meant only that he was wrested out of Satan’s hands and returned to God. However, without being made clean or changed by God, he remains a corrupt man. Within man still exist filth, opposition, and rebelliousness; man has only returned to God through His redemption, but he has not the slightest knowledge of God and still resists and rebels against Him. Before man was redeemed, many of Satan’s poisons had already been planted within him and, after thousands of years of being corrupted by Satan, he has within him an established nature that resists God. Therefore, when man has been redeemed, it is nothing more than a case of redemption in which man is bought at a high price, but the poisonous nature within him has not been eliminated. Man that is so defiled must undergo a change before becoming worthy to serve God. By means of this work of judgment and chastisement, man will fully come to know the filthy and corrupt substance within his own self, and he will be able to change completely and become clean. Only in this way can man become worthy to return before the throne of God. All the work done this day is so that man can be made clean and be changed; through judgment and chastisement by the word, as well as through refinement, man can purge away his corruption and be made pure. Rather than deeming this stage of work to be that of salvation, it would be more apt to say it is the work of purification. In truth, this stage is that of conquest as well as the second stage in the work of salvation. It is through judgment and chastisement by the word that man arrives at being gained by God; and it is through the use of the word to refine, judge, and disclose that all of the impurities, notions, motives, and individual aspirations within man’s heart are completely revealed. For all that man may have been redeemed and forgiven of his sins, it can only be considered as God not remembering the transgressions of man and not treating man in accordance with his transgressions. However, when man, who lives in a body of flesh, has not been set free from sin, he can only continue to sin, endlessly revealing his corrupt satanic disposition. This is the life that man leads, an endless cycle of sinning and being forgiven. The majority of men sin in the day only to confess in the evening. This way, even if the sin offering is forever effective for man, it will not be able to save man from sin. Only half the work of salvation has been completed, for man still has a corrupt disposition. For instance, when people realized that they were descended from Moab, they brought forth words of complaint, ceased to pursue life, and became utterly passive. Does this not show that humanity is still unable to fully submit under the dominion of God? Is this not precisely their corrupt satanic disposition? When you were not being subjected to chastisement, your hands were raised higher than all others, even that of Jesus. And you cried out in a loud voice: “Be a beloved son of God! Be an intimate of God! We would rather die than bow down to Satan! Revolt against the old Satan! Revolt against the great red dragon! May the great red dragon fall abjectly from power! May God make us complete!” Your cries were louder than all others. But then came the times of chastisement and, once again, the corrupt disposition of humanity was revealed. Then, their cries ceased, and their resolution failed. This is the corruption of man; running deeper than sin, it is something planted by Satan and deeply rooted within man. It is not easy for man to become aware of his sins; he has no way of recognizing his own deeply rooted nature, and must rely on judgment by the word in order to achieve this result. Only thus can man gradually be changed from this point onward. Man shouted thus in the past because he had no understanding of his original corrupt disposition. These are the impurities that exist within man. Throughout such a long period of judgment and chastisement, man lived in an atmosphere of tension. Was this not all achieved through the agency of the word? Did you not also cry out with a very loud voice prior to the trial of[a] service-doers? “Enter the kingdom! All those who accept this name shall enter into the kingdom! All shall partake of God!” When the trial of service-doers came, you no longer cried out. At the very beginning, all cried out, “Oh God! Wherever You place me, I shall submit to being steered by You.” Upon reading the words of God, “Who will be My Paul?” man said, “I am willing!” Then he saw the words, “And what of the faith of Job?” and said, “I am willing to take upon myself the faith of Job. God, please put me to the test!” When the trial of service-doers came, he collapsed at once and almost could not stand up again. After that, little by little, the impurities in man’s heart gradually diminished. Was this not achieved through the word? So, what you have experienced today are results achieved through the word, even greater than those achieved through Jesus’ working of signs and wonders. The glory of God that you see and the authority of God Himself that you see are not merely seen by means of the crucifixion, by means of the healing of sickness and the casting out of demons, but even more so by means of the judgment by His word. This shows you that the authority and power of God do not consist only of the working of signs, the healing of sickness, and the casting out of demons, but judgment by the word is better able to represent the authority of God and to reveal His almightiness.
from “The Mystery of the Incarnation (4)” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
In the work of man’s salvation, three stages have been carried out, which is to say that the battle with Satan has been split into three stages prior to the complete defeat of Satan. Yet the inner truth of the entire work of the battle with Satan is that its effects are achieved through bestowing grace upon man, and becoming a sin offering of man, forgiving the sins of man, conquering man, and making man perfect. As a matter of fact, the battle with Satan is not the taking up of arms against Satan, but the salvation of man, the working of the life of man, and the changing of man’s disposition so that he may bear testimony to God. This is how Satan is defeated. Satan is defeated through changing the corrupt disposition of man. When Satan has been defeated, that is, when man has been completely saved, then the ashamed Satan will be completely bound, and in this way, man will have been completely saved. And so, the substance of man’s salvation is the battle with Satan, and the war with Satan is primarily reflected in the salvation of man. The stage of the last days, in which man is to be conquered, is the last stage in the battle with Satan, and also the work of man’s complete salvation from the domain of Satan. The inner meaning of man’s conquest is the return of the embodiment of Satan, man who has been corrupted by Satan, to the Creator following his conquest, through which he will forsake Satan and completely return to God. In this way, man will have been completely saved. And so, the work of conquest is the last work in the battle against Satan, and the final stage in God’s management for the sake of Satan’s defeat. Without this work, the full salvation of man would ultimately be impossible, the utter defeat of Satan would also be impossible, and mankind would never be able to enter the wonderful destination, or get free from Satan’s influence. Consequently, the work of salvation of man cannot be concluded before the battle with Satan is concluded, for the core of the work of God’s management is for the sake of mankind’s salvation. Earliest mankind was in the hands of God, but because of Satan’s temptation and corruption, man was bound up by Satan and fell in the hands of the evil one. Thus, Satan became the object to be defeated in the work of God’s management. Because Satan took possession of man, and because man is the stock of all God’s management, if man is to be saved, then he must be snatched back from the hands of Satan, which is to say that man must be taken back after having been held captive by Satan. Thus, Satan must be defeated through changes in man’s old disposition, changes which restore his original sense, and in this way, man, who has been taken captive, can be snatched back from the hands of Satan. If man is freed from the influence and bondage of Satan, Satan will be shamed, man will ultimately be taken back, and Satan will be defeated. And because man has been freed from the dark influence of Satan, man will become the spoils of all of this battle, and Satan will become the object that will be punished once this battle has finished, after which the entire work of mankind’s salvation will have been completed.
from “Restoring the Normal Life of Man and Taking Him to a Wonderful Destination” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
a. The original text does not contain the phrase “trial of.”