Why The Bible Will Always Lead Us Underground: An Excerpt from Living in the Underground Church


One day there came into one of the mission stations a sturdy Christian from the north. After the usual greetings, he was asked the purpose of his visit. His reply was, “I have been memorizing some verses in the Bible, and have come to recite them for you.” He lived a hundred miles away, and had walked all that distance, traveling four nights—a long stroll to recite some verses of Scripture to his pastor, but he was listened to as he recited in Korean, without a verbal error, the entire Sermon on the Mount. He was told that if he simply memorized it, it would be a feat of memory and nothing more; he must practice its teachings. His face lit up with a smile as he promptly replied: “That is the way I learned it. I tried to memorize it, but it wouldn’t stick, so I hit on this plan. I would memorize a verse and then find a heathen neighbor of mine and practice the verse on him. Then I found it would stick.”[1]

What is the Christian life? What is the simplest way we may accurately and completely describe its purpose, nature, and course?

The Christian life is the hearing and doing of the word.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock,” says Jesus.[2] When Jesus says “these words of mine” he is referring most immediately to his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Indeed, it was these specific words that arrested so many early Korean Christians—not only the “sturdy Christian from the north” noted above, but also another sturdy Christian from the north, the great Kim Kyo Shin, who, upon hearing the words of the sermon, concluded that in learning to do them he could become a righteous man ten years sooner than if he followed the teachings of Confucius.[3]

But, like Kim Kyo Shin, whoever seeks to hear and do the words of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 will soon understand that those words—and Jesus—are inseparable from the Bible as a whole. “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life,” Jesus says. “But the Scriptures point to me!”[4] “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”[5]

In Revelation chapter 5, the Apostle John sees a scroll—the word of God. A strong angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But John says, “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.” The Bible is completely closed to the understanding of the children of Adam. And so, John weeps.

The Bible thus possesses an indissoluble relationship to Christ, and likewise Christ possesses an indissoluble relationship to the Bible. So, to say that the Christian life is the hearing and doing of the word is not to say that Christianity is a life of Bible study. The Bible may not be studied, searched, or mastered as if it could be forced to yield up anything. The Bible may only be revealed, and the only one who can reveal it is Christ. He reveals it only on his terms, for his purpose. His revelation of the Bible is a revealing of the Triune God, for there is no revelation of anything in the Bible that is other than this.

God reveals himself to all who diligently seek him[6], and he must transform us in order to receive him. That transformation must take place in both our hearing and our doing.

Many Christians accept that transformation must take place in our hearing. This is why they undertake Bible study, which they conceive of as an interior, or spiritual, discipline. They set aside time each day to read the Bible and pray. They use phrases like “hearing from the Lord.” Some people call this QT, or quiet time.

But Jesus has a different name for such a practice. He calls it FT, or foolish time:

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.[7]

Or as James writes:

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.[8]

Jesus and James are not simply urging Christians to try harder to apply what they read in QT. They are testifying that the hearing and the doing of the word are inseparable; God is revealed only through their conjoining.

This is the lesson of the sturdy Christian from the north. When he sought only to hear the word, it would not “stick,” even though he tried to memorize it. But when he practiced each verse on a heathen neighbor, it “stuck.”

What is it that “stuck”? The words? The meaning? The behavior change? What does this sticky thing stick to? Our memory? Our spirit? Our will? How does the sticky thing stick to that to which it is stuck? And can it stay stuck, or will it soon fall away?

Such questions are crucial to understanding the Bible and the Christian life, and why both inevitably lead us underground. In order to answer these questions, we must understand the world and ourselves and that to which the word is sticking, or not sticking, and why.

The world is fallen, and we are fallen along with it. Our bodies are captive to sin. Our minds, wills, and emotions are darkened, unable to comprehend or act upon the things of God or even hear his voice. However, because God originally created humans in his image[9], and because he is not far from each one of us and it is in him that we live and move and have our being[10], there arises in us, even in the midst of our complete captivity to sin, an inchoate awareness that something in us is not right. When this awareness is followed by a seeking for righteousness, or what the Apostle Paul calls a groping for God[11], or what Jesus calls a “hunger and thirst for righteousness”[12], then God accounts this as a diligent seeking of him, and he gives his reward.[13] As Jesus says, he fills them.[14]

But what is the reward? With what are they filled? The answer is consciousness and conviction of sin, which is one of God’s greatest and most miraculous gifts to sinners, given through the Holy Spirit.[15] It is a gift that should never be despised. For there are only two possible responses to consciousness and conviction of sin. One is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. God will not despise this and will in fact accept it as a sacrifice.[16] It is an act of purity of heart to agree with God that we deserve death. To the one who so agrees, Christ reveals himself through his word; as he promises in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”[17]  The only other possible response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin is self-deception. This is what Jesus calls loving and practicing a lie. Those who do this are eternally excluded from his presence.[18]

When the Holy Spirit’s consciousness and conviction of sin are met in us with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then Christ appears: we see God. In what form do we see God? In the form of his word, the Bible, which he reveals to us. The word, quickened by Christ, enters us and becomes incorporated into us. This is more than us receiving a moment of insight or being able to understand or memorize a text; as James notes, we would soon forget such things. When the word is revealed by him, rather than simply read off the page by us in an effort to memorize, study, or master it, “it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”[19] The word is God’s sanctifying agent. Sanctification is the name of the process by which the word binds itself to our fallen mind, will, and emotions, The word infuses our darkness with light, repairs our breaches, rebuilds the ancient ruins that once were the image of God in us.[20] This process happens as the word revealed by Christ is enabled to dwell richly in us.[21] As we will see in a moment, this whole process is initiated through baptism and dependent upon our regular remembrance of our baptism, which is why Ephesians 5:26 calls this “washing with water through the word”.[22]

With this framework in mind, we are able to return to our question about stickiness.

What is the sticky thing? It is the word revealed and quickened by Christ. To what does it stick? It sticks to our broken and contrite heart, which includes our mind, will, and emotions. How does it stick? Through baptism and regular remembrance of our baptism, a rich place is created for the word to dwell. Does it stay stuck or does it soon fall away? It stays stuck when, as James says, we continue in it, not forgetting the word we have heard, but doing it. Just as the word infuses the darkness inside us with light, Christ intends us to be the light of the world. Just as the word repairs the breaches and rebuilds the ancient ruins inside us, he intends us to be repairs of the world’s breaches and rebuilders of the world’s ruins. In this way, humans restored in the image of God, indwelt by God, fulfill their original purpose of exercising dominion over the earth.

This is the reason why the Bible and the Christian life of hearing and doing the word inevitably lead us underground. God created humans to have dominion not only over their own minds, wills, and emotions, but over the whole earth. Just as his word sticks to the broken places in us, he makes us to stick to the broken places in the world. Like the sturdy Christian from the north, Christ sends us to our heathen neighbors and commands us to practice our verses on them. This is not QT. In fact, there is nothing quiet about it at all. As noted in the previous volume, the underground church is not a church in hiding. It is a church unplugged from the systems of this world, so that its practice of verses on the world for the sake of the world is in no way constrained by the world’s systems.[23] As noted in the final chapter of this present volume, and as experienced by the earliest Korean Christians and Christians of every age and place, we can and should expect that our practice will meet with persecutions.

This is a very sobering thought, and one that every Christian should take seriously:

The more Christ blesses our practice of hearing and doing the word, the greater the likelihood that we will suffer in the flesh.

The way that he prepares us for this suffering in the flesh is through the spiritual process of dying to self.

[1] G.H. Jones, Korea: The Land, People, and Customs. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1907, pp. 99-100.

[2] Matthew 7:24, ESV.

[3] “Recollection of Kyo-shin Kim,” p. 1. Accessed June 29, 2017 at http://www.biblekorea.net/articles/Recollection_of_Kyo-shin_Kim.doc.

[4] John 5:39, NLT.

[5] Luke 24:27.

[6] Cf. Hebrews 11:6.

[7] Matthew 7:26-27, ESV.

[8] James 1:23-25, NIV.

[9] Cf. Genesis 5:1-3, where Adam and Eve are created in the image of God but their offspring are created in the form and image of fallen Adam.

[10] Cf. Acts 17:28.

[11] Acts 17:27.

[12] Matthew 5:6, NKJV.

[13] Cf. Hebrews 11:6.

[14] Cf. Matthew 5:6.

[15] Cf. John 16:8.

[16] Psalm 51:17.

[17] Matthew 5:10, NKJV.

[18] Cf. Rev. 22:15.

[19] Isaiah 55:11, NIV.

[20] Cf. Isaiah 58:12.

[21] Cf. Colossians 3:16.

[22] Ephesians 5:26, BSB.

[23] Cf. E. Foley, Planting the Underground Church. Seoul: Voice of the Martyrs Korea, 2017, pp. 68-81.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
This entry was posted in Early Korean Christianity, Kim Kyo Shin, Korean Christianity, Living in the Underground Church, Reading the Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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