Challenged to Change
Effective Service to God
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Living in the Spirit not in the Soul
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I think it’s a bit like the subject of the spirit and the soul. The breaking of the soulish powers has something in common with an experience we used to have when we rode bicycles in Belfast. In Belfast when my wife was young, which was much earlier than me, but when she was young there were trams – we had trams and they ran in lines. There were ordinary tramlines on the road. They weren’t – well you can guess what they’re like they’re not raised up above the road but they’re set into the road, but they are steel rails.
Of course the trams run on those and then they get the electricity through the aerial from the overhead wires. From time-to-time, we would in riding our bicycles, especially on wet Irish days, you would be chugging along happily and then you’d get your wheel caught in one of those tram lines because the thin wheels would catch in the tram lines. It was disaster. All you could do was try to stay in the tram line until you could get the bike stopped because of course if you tried to yank it out – it was very difficult to yank it out. You usually tried to turn and then you just fell over because the wheel kept stuck in the tramlines.
In fact, in riding a motorcycle we had a saying that if you came into a bad corner with a telescopic forks, as you brake on a motorcycle the telescopic forks go down like that and all your weight comes on the front wheel and that’s good because that’s the stopping wheel. But, if your wheel is turned a little you go skidding off the motorbike. So we had a saying, “Carrying on to depot.” Which we took from the tramlines. You know, the idea was you kept on the tramline right to the depot, to where the tram stopped. And on a motorbike if you came to a tight corner if you were wise you kept her upright and you braked like that, you didn’t turn her down. I never told my wife about the time a girl and I fell off the bike because I didn’t do that. Well, I tried to keep it straight to depot but I hit the hedge before I got her stopped.
But anyway, what came to me was this business of the spirit and the soul is a bit like getting caught in a tramline. Your spirit is given to Jesus and you want to do what he wants you to do but the tram line of your soul, your mind, or your emotions, or at times your body, have been used to going in a certain direction for years. You want to yank the thing out of the tramline. You want the mind to do what Jesus’ Spirit wants it to do but it’s like trying to wrench it out of a habit or a way of thinking that it has had for years.
And I think often we feel, “Well, it’s just a matter of exercising more and more will power, isn’t it?” But you know after years we are all horrified at the way in which our minds have got used to a certain way of operating and they just operate that way. I mean we’ve all used the illustration, you’re going at it through the week and you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t care what the sales are, I know Jesus will fulfill all my needs or God will meet all my needs from his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I know that. I know it, I know it, I know it.” Yet as you come to the end of the week and the sales are not there you find the mind just automatically getting depressed. That’s part of it.
Your spirit is with Jesus and wants to do the things but your mind just keeps on going down, down the way it’s been trained for years because it’s been trained to be governed by either what people think or what other people do. So that’s what we’re talking about, we’re talking about the need for God to break us of those soulish powers. Not so we’ll have no soulish powers, not so we’ll have
no mind, or no emotions, but so that they will be moldable and will be submissive to the Spirit of Jesus within us.
And I think probably all of us, even this past week, have had moments when we just are horrified at our own impotence. It’s not the old impotence, it’s not the old rebellion where we were kind of born of God but we didn’t really want what God wanted. We do want what God wants but we’re horrified at our own expression of that in the outward life. Often we think it’s just a lack of wisdom but often it’s just the mind is working the wrong way and we’re horrified at it. That’s what we’re talking about.
There are a couple of verses that I thought express it very clearly, Matthew 9:17 is one of them. Matthew 9:17, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins,” and that’s a bit what it is like. “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.” It’s like the new wine of Jesus’ Spirit going into the old wineskin of the old soul, the mind, and emotions. “If it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Well in fact, that’s what happens, the spirit comes in and into the old soul and actually bursts it and breaks it.
I would say that to each of us — we need to take courage and to be satisfied that God is working and that it is going to be sore, and it is going to be painful. At times Satan will jump in and say, “You aren’t born of God. You’re not filled with the spirit, you don’t want what God wants.” And you’ll have to stand and examine yourself before the Holy Spirit and allow yourself to look in and see, “But I do really want it, I do. But I do admit that my mind and emotions are not submissive.” See that you’ll have to go through breaking experiences like that.
Another verse, it’s not great in the RSV translation but I’ll give you the translation of the Greek for Luke 21:19. This verse of all verses certainly persuades you that the RSV needs checking at times. Of course, it’s legitimate to translate it that way. Luke 21:19, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Because of course the word “psuche” can be translated life but it also of course can be translated soul. You can see that gain, the Greek word can also mean possess and of course that’s the King James Version, you will possess your souls, “In patience possess your souls.”
I think what’s maddening is often we find we’re not in possession of our own souls. We’re not in possession of our minds, or our emotions. I think you’ll catch it so easily because you know how especially at school, especially in the early weeks and the early months, everyone is new so everybody is trying to find their way and it’s very hard not to do what everybody else is doing. You know, “Okay, they’re all telling jokes or taking this attitude so of course I take that attitude too.”
I remember when I started university feeling just almost embarrassed with myself. I felt, “Oh you idiot why did you go with them just because it was the easy way to go?” But it was almost impossible not to. The soul so wants to identify itself with the crowd’s soul. It’s not that you’re evil or something and it’s not even that at times I wanted to please them or get along. It just goes Ok, the old jokes are going that way, so, of course, you go that way too. I think we find the same with temptation. It’s just there for us in storage the same way. The whole conversation is going one direction and it’s so easy for us. The mind and emotions are so connected with the rest of the world’s soul that they’re kind of pulled along.
Actually we’re not in possession of our own souls and that’s why God says, “In patience possess your
souls.” In patience gain possession of your souls — take possession of them. Get to the place, and it will take patience — it will be breaking experiences. It will be things that come down, and down, and down until you get so fed up with that miserable soul that you want rid of it completely and then you begin to see that’s exactly what God is doing with you, breaking it, breaking it, breaking it.
Sometimes we come to each other and we say, “Oh, I just can’t believe myself. I think I’ll never come to the end of this.” That’s what God has to do; he has to bring us into a realization that only he can break the power of the soul. Only he can break the power of the mind to want to go with the crowd, with the world’s soul you know. So that’s what Watchman Nee is saying anyway. I don’t think we’ll get more than maybe a bit of a paragraph.
“Thus it is that God must crush our outward man. He breaks our will by taking away the things in our will’s hand so that it cannot act independently. He breaks our will by taking away the things in our will’s hand so that it cannot act independently.” We find our will kind of goes on its own. And I mean it’s good of God. I mean he does his best to get us to voluntarily lay the thing down but if he sees our heart is truly after him he will actually take stronger measures. He will part us from the thing and separate us from it.
Sometimes it may come through your body — through things like caffeine and food. God has his own way of showing us that there is a way of peace and gentleness and there are certain things that he just has to break us of by letting us see the horror of the alternative. It’s not that caffeine is so horrifying but after you’ve worn yourself out in hyper mental activity night after night, bit-by-bit, God breaks you.
Well that’s just in that realm but it seems that he often does the same – I don’t know how often you’ve got into the worry business where there’s just one temptation by Satan, “Where’s the money coming from?” Just one little temptation and you know as sure as anything, you’ve been down that line before. You know that that’s why Jesus gave the example, “Get thee behind me Satan.” You know, he didn’t even look at him twice.
You’ve been down that, “Bring every thought into captivity of Christ Jesus.” But you just let your mind go one step, “Well, that’s true where is the money going to come from?” Then just another step, “Well, I could get it from here. No, I couldn’t get it from there. Well, I could – well, no, no I couldn’t get it. Well, I could –” and before you know it you’re right down into the depths of despair, and depression, and anxiety over the money. It’s as if God has to let you get right down that way to break the power of that miserable mind that insists on following that way.
So that’s what he means by saying sometimes he takes the thing out of the will’s hand. Sometimes he wrenches it out of you and sometimes it’s the only way. And if he knows we’re really serious he does it. “Not that we have no mind, but that we do not think after the flesh according to our wandering imaginations. Not that we are devoid of emotion, but that all our emotions are under the control and restraint of the inward man. This gives the inner man a will, a mind, and emotions that are useable. God wants our spirit to use our outward man in loving, and thinking, and in deciding. While it is not his thoughts to annihilate our outward man, we must receive this basic experience of being broken if we aspire to effectually serve God.”
It’s funny when you think of it but in a way if Jesus doesn’t control through your will, your mind, and emotions he doesn’t have a mind and emotions to use. Often that’s the situation. Our mind and
emotions, what song was it that said, “My heart belongs to daddy.” Often our mind and emotions belong to everybody else. Belong to the school that we were brought up in, belong to the home we were brought up in, belong to the way of thinking that we embed from other people, belong to the environment in which we operate, belong to the media.
I really think – boy, I would almost say 50% anyway of America’s population belongs to the media because everybody thinks the way that the media thinks. You can see that if your mind is under control of those things or of yourself — it isn’t available to Jesus. So, what Nee is saying is there is a need to break the power of the way your mind, and emotions operate so that Jesus has a mind and emotions to express himself through. We’ve said several times that it’s often we have an idealistic way of the way we think Jesus will work in our friends. We kind of think, “Oh yeah well, I’ll pray and Jesus’ Spirit will somehow come down upon them directly.” And it never works that way.
If his spirit doesn’t come through us to them it doesn’t get to them. His spirit has to come through us and it’s not going to do it by some circular route or fiber optic system. It’s going to come through our mind and emotions. And if our mind and emotions don’t express what Jesus’ Spirit expresses there’s going to be nothing that they touch. I think it’s good the things we go through. I think it’s good that God is determined. He’s taking us at our word and he’s determined to break the independent working of our minds and emotions so that they come under him.
I think we’ve all developed ways when we were children of getting our own way. And I think we all developed ways of taking it out on people who didn’t give us our own way. And those operations and activities of our minds and emotions are just ground into us. It’s our natural way of working — it’s the natural way we operate.
That has to be broken, and broken, and broken. I used to think, “Well, God maybe deals with you by kind of passing over those things, or leaving them aside.” But he doesn’t. He’s so good. He wants us to see all that Christ has delivered us from and he wants us to see every inch of it. He wants us to see all that Christ has suffered for us and that’s why he allows us to come through those things.
I don’t know that there’s any easy away around. I think it’s just God’s plan. And I think in a way every time you feel, “I messed it up again,” or, “I fell again,” or, “I stumbled again,” really there’s need to look up and say, “Lord, I see how strong this thing is. And Father, whatever breaking it takes I ask you to bring it to me because I want these powers broken.” The truth probably is you are only freed from them when you just hate them to pieces. And finally you’re only freed from them when you are broken of your trust in them. I suppose the truth is not only are our minds strong but our trust in them and our trust in the way our minds operate is strong.
Of course part of the reason is it doesn’t matter how good or bad our dads or our mums were, we got from them a strong set of soulish equipment that operates not according to Jesus’ Spirit but according to their spirits and according to our human spirits. So it is a very basic inherited part of us that we are dealing with. But God is faithful and he says, “If you really want to be free I will free you.” And that’s what he’s in the business of doing.
Let us pray.