Communion: The Cost of Freedom
Sermon Transcript by Ernest O’Neill
Romans 6:1-11 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
To tell you the truth, I thought again as I read the book, “The Shack” — well there a lot of good things in it. One of the difficulties in it is that it’s eclectic. It takes truth from all kinds of places. Therefore it hasn’t great academic background. Colleen [who read it] would agree. There is one guy, [Eugene Peterson] Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology in Regent College in Vancouver and Packer, the InterVarsity guy. It’s a mixture of good guys and others. That was the one academic reference and the rest non which doesn’t suggest it’s bad, but it tends to be a non-theological book in that way. [Someone in the congregation said, “The Shack” is a novel.] Yes, I apologize. I should have explained. I was thinking of the write-ups. You normally read the write-ups to give you a feel for the book, “What kind of book is this?” I was just making a point that there weren’t a lot of scholars who backed it.
But it seemed to me that it touches a lot of the things that we have talked about over the years. In that way, there were some good insights. But I thought, “Now alright, but faced with this, what IS the heart of the gospel? What is the heart of it that keeps me together?” I was reluctant to come back to, because it’s so easy to be labelled, “Ah, you are a holiness guy.” But I thought again, “What saves ME?”
We all have variations in our life, whether they’re the old up and down or not. There are cycles in our life and there are experiences. John Wesley said, “Often you’re in heaviness through manifold temptations.” He meant not just tempting for evil, but temptations in the old-fashioned sense of trials. I think all of us have experienced that. We go through different trials so there is some degree, of let’s say, strain or opposition at times. I thought all the time, separating myself VERY CLEARLY on the basis of an event in history – even it was history in the sense of the earthly event, but in the sense of the heavenly event in eternity, but an event. That event was the death
of the character that’s known as Ernest O’Neill – always back to that. There are tears in my eyes because it’s the only thing that saves. The only thing that has constantly saved – always to separate yourself from the old self that WAS crucified by our Father in his Son before the world was.
What a relief! What a relief that you don’t have to train it or tame it or struggle as best you can with it. What a relief that it’s no longer alive for you to have to suppress or oppress. What a relief! It’s God! It’s God and all I have to do is to yield where God is showing me. He destroyed it.
It’s a dynamic living, a hopeful salvation. It’s never hopeless. It’s always, “Lord, there is something here that I have not let go – and I have not ever seen before or have not let go completely. Lord, will you show me what it is?” Even that very act helps to part your bit from yourself, your own managing of your own experience and your own introspection and your own thinking through it, therefore, your own creation of a self-made salvation.
It’s so good always, to be able to look out, “Holy Spirit, you alone know what this is. You alone know and can show me what I am not seeing. Only you can show me my blindness. Only you can reveal to me what I am missing here, that God has completely done away with in his Son and that he has completely made new in me today.”
I would say that has for me been the heart of the gospel — this old business that you can actually die to self. You can accept the death that God has brought about and has completed before he even put you on this earth and that that is done away with. He can show you what part of it you are still clinging to and what part you are therefore, living in deception under.
I’d have to say, that’s it. That’s been the heart of the gospel for me, been no one that has saved me, or continued to save me, or it seems to me to have kept me alive, and kept me wanting more, and kept me feeling that there was more and that God could show it to me — and yet, delivered you from the whole business from, “You have to somehow deal with this thing. You actually have to overcome it.” It’s the whole realization, God has done this. If I’m not living in the strength of that, then I don’t really believe that.
The issue has been, I know that my old self was crucified with him. Therefore now, my only task is to reckon my self therefore to be dead indeed unto sin. I just settled in my own mind that sin – sure, you can say there are sinful acts and words that are immoral and don’t fit society’s ideas – but the heart of sin is living without God. The heart of sin is living apart from God. (I think that it’s segment 50 or 49 in my “Living Daily in Reality” recordings that I just finished.) It’s living as if you are a self-existent being – as if you have made yourself and living as if YOU have to do everything yourself. Sin is just “apartness” from God, living separate from him.
My job is to reckon myself dead indeed unto sin. “Logizo” is the Greek word, “consider” yourself as actually separated from sin; as it having no place in your life at all. In other words, you look upon yourself as someone who lives constantly dependent upon God and never thinking of God as being absent. You reckon yourself dead indeed unto sin. THAT you cannot do. You cannot. You are not alive to do it. You’re not alive to sin, to live as if there is no God. You’re dead to that. You can only live as if God is there.
For me, it’s been the event that actually took place in Christ, that God actually took time to look
upon this silly little creature – of all the billions of people that he has made, he looked upon this little creature — and he took me into his Son and he had destroyed what I had become, and he made me new. That’s an event that’s done. Now my job is to simply think of my life as being in that situation.
When the Holy Spirit had seen that I was honest about seeing what he showed me – there may be ten thousand other things that he hasn’t shown me yet — but when he sees that I am being honest with what he showed me and that I had said, “yes”, deep in my heart to that, then he flows in. Then peace and joy comes again.
For me, that’s been the gospel. So even though when I read a book that has many good things in it, or read all kinds of different books like Boyd’s, “The Kingdom of God” – in the midst of all these different views and books, what is the heart? I think that’s the heart: Christ’s death. I think that’s why Paul said, “I determine to know nothing among you save Christ and him crucified.” That’s why I said, “For me to live is Christ.” That’s everything! That’s everything. St. Patrick’s poem, Christ before you. Christ behind you. Christ above you. Christ below you. Christ beside you, etc. It’s Christ. When I lose myself in that, then life is great, just great.
It does tie up a little with the idea that came up at brunch this morning. You for sure have found the same as me. It is easy to think of yourself. Sure, you do it when you are sick, but I think you do it a lot of other times. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I am tired today. I have done this thing so often. It’s easy to think, just a little relaxation. It all just seems so reasonable. It just seems good sense. But it is so easy, not just to think that because there is no great harm in just thinking that for a moment, but then allowing it to become important to you until suddenly, you realize, “Man from Galilee, do you think the same?” Then you realize, it’s YOU you’re thinking of. It’s not him. You forgot that he was there.
It is easy to slip back into self. It is easy to slip back into trying to make everything manageable and suitable for yourself. Actually, it doesn’t start that way, “Let’s make things manageable. That’s not bad. That’s what we’re called to. We’re called to authority. We’re called to bring the earth into submission to God’s will.” So that itself isn’t bad, but it becomes, “So that I can manage it, so that I can manage it.” Then it’s very easy for self to swell out and expand and fill all the space that’s available.
I certainly see that it does take, in that way, eternal vigilance, but not in a worried, anxious way, but just a “live-ness”, an awareness, constantly having this dear Word each day so that you are living in IT not just in your own thoughts. Then, all the time, or from time to time, looking up, “Lord? Is it ok? How are you feeling today?” It’s not bad to ask him that. In other words, really walk with a living Master, not with your own thoughts all the time, and not with just introspection, and not just with making sure that YOU feel ok.
Of course, that what leads you to – you know yourself – walking into some interesting things that you wouldn’t walk into normally, doing some things that you would not do normally because they are not comfortable. They are not what you, yourself, has thought of. You end up walking into some situations that you wouldn’t have chosen. Lo and behold, it becomes just a blessing to you. You move into a whole mass of new light that you never had before. Then, this crucified life becomes a very active and enjoyable adventure. It seems to me a glorious, dynamic salvation that God has given us. It’s different completely from this, “settling down in Zion”.
It’s different completely from sinking back into self. That’s why I rose to what [Karl] Barth says – I never thought of it that way – “sloth”. If I ever thought of sloth, I thought of that basic youth conference guy. Sloth is laziness, that kind of thing. Barth says, “What’s the heart of sin?” He answers, “Sloth.” So Barth is on this kick as well. But what is sloth to him? The dear fellow: “Sloth is not allowing Christ to lift you up into his position at the right hand of his Father.”
Sloth is sinking back into yourself, preoccupied with your own inabilities and your own inadequacies, and with your own comforts instead of accepting that God has made you alive together with Christ and raised you up with him, and made you sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It’s refusal to do that. It’s a slothfulness that says, “I’m not going to go into that. I’m not going to get out of myself. I’m comfortable inside myself. Lord, you can fly up there with all your ideas. I’ll stay down here inside myself.”
So, it is an active life. It is an adventurous life and a life that is interesting! That’s it. It’s interesting. Finally, the life of sinking into yourself is boring, boring, boring because there is nothing in us. There is no good thing in us. The only good thing in us is Christ. There is no good thing in us apart from that. When we sink into ourselves, we sink into nothingness. That’s what we’re getting a glimpse of. We’re getting a glimpse of nothingness when we sink down into ourselves.
That’s why for me, the life of Romans 6:6 has been an active, adventurous one and continues to be. That’s why I would always urge us to go forward. The issue is not, “Will this whole thing [CCI] die?” Of course it will die. The issue is, will it die with you if you are still alive marching forward onto the next thing, the next new idea that you have? That’s the issue. Will it die with you living, and it goes down while you are going up? That’s the key. I think that’s the Father’s plan.