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Normal Christian Life

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Transcending Self

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Transcending Self

Romans 7:15

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

I doubt if there was one of us last week who didn’t identify with what we were talking about; “I do not understand my own actions because I don’t do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.” And probably there isn’t one of us here that cannot say, “Yeah, that’s where I either am or have been” and we’ve found that the great enemy of mankind is not knowing what is right. All of us know what’s right, although we may differ on what we think is right, but we all have ideas on what is right.

But the great enemy of mankind is not that; the great enemy of mankind is this inability to do what is right. There probably isn’t one of us here this morning that has not struggled with that either with some big thing like marijuana or heroine, or some obvious thing like alcohol, or fornication, or adultery, or some subtle and shrewd thing like depression, and worry, and anxiety. We know it’s not right to worry and be anxious and fret but we do. We do; we waken up in the morning with knots in our stomach about what’s going to happen that day. We know it’s wrong but we can’t control it. So it isn’t only sexual things like masturbation, or adultery, or fornication but it’s very ordinary things that a lot of us, who look like very respectable moral people, have trouble with. Even if it’s just little hatreds, or little resentments against other people or little critical attitudes that destroy good friendships that you have.

Many of us know that experience, “I can will what is right. I can will it and I want to do it. I not only desire to do it, I try with all my will to do it. I can will what is right but I cannot do it.” I think many of us have been in the same position that I was in, I really thought I was becoming insane with the whole thing. I felt like I was becoming a schizophrenic. I could think all kinds of good things about God, I could make all kinds of high and moral resolutions, but in my own mind, where nobody else can see, I would have the most monstrous, evil, unclean thoughts rising from the depths of my being that I could not control and I didn’t know what to do with them. Many of us would say, “That’s it; everybody faces that. Romans 7 is what we’re all facing, that’s where life is. That’s why Paul said, ‘Wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” That’s why there’s the cry of defeat not only in Buddhism and Islam, not only in spiritualism and TM but there’s the cry of defeat here in Christianity. There’s no way out of that. The only way out is to get your God to forgive it as often as you commit it. But there’s no way to stop doing it.”

And last Sunday we pointed out that Chapter 7 doesn’t end there. Chapter 7 answers that cry of despondence, “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” By the statement, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And then the summarizing statement, “Left to myself,” that is on my own without Jesus Christ, without this miracle in my life, “I will serve the law of God with my mind but with my flesh I’ll serve the law of sin.” Then Paul goes on in Romans 8 to say, “Now I want to get on with what I was telling you about in Romans 6 because Romans 7 is a parenthesis where I explain to the Jews that that’s the best that we could under the law. That’s all we could do; we could know what was right but we weren’t able to do it. Now it wasn’t because the law was bad, the law did many things for me but it brought me to this point of despair at the end of Romans 7. Now Romans 6 is what is true. The fact is there was a miracle done on Calvary that enables us to live above self.”

Because isn’t that what you and I have identified it as being: self? When you want to jump into bed with somebody that isn’t your wife, it’s self that wants it. Self wants it own way. When somebody criticizes you and you rise up in indignation, it’s self that’s rising up, isn’t it? Have you worked out yet when you get depressed? It’s always the same time; thinking about yourself, thinking about how you’re going to survive financially, thinking about how you’re going to succeed in your career, thinking about what other people are thinking of you, thinking about whether you’re enjoying yourself or not. And the moment you’re able to burst out of that cage of self you are able to burst out of depression and anxiety and worry.

That’s really what all the great religious leaders have identified as being man’s problem: self. And of course they’ve taken all kinds of ways to find an answer to it. Buddha said, “What makes life unpleasant is suffering and what causes suffering is pain, and what registers and feels pain is the self so if you can negate the self, if you can eliminate the self, you can eliminate pain, and you can eliminate suffering, and eliminate unhappiness.” You remember it was Buddha that originated the whole system of meditation whereby we always think of him sitting under the tree in that famous yoga position of meditation and he simply annihilates or attempts to annihilate self.

The problem is of course that when you annihilate self and its feelings and its consciousness, it seems that you annihilate everything that makes us human. Buddhists are remarkable for their lack of compassion and empathy with other people, and that runs through all the systems of transcendental meditation that attempt to get rid of self by annihilating it. You try to eliminate self itself and you find that you’re ceasing to be a human being because you’re annihilating the personality.

That’s why we’re always so unhappy with the person who is a crusader for some cause. That’s why so many parents are put off by their over enthusiastic offspring when they first discover the truth at university; because they seem to bring the truth home as a crusade, as a principle, as a set of techniques and the older person realizes you lose your humanity when you get preoccupied with an it. You only find your humanity while you’re preoccupied with an I- thou relationship, not an I-it relationship. Many of us have tried all kinds of eastern religions and even the occult and spiritualism to eliminate the problem of self, but all we succeed in doing is annihilating self and pretending it isn’t there and we find that we become less than human.

Indeed many of us find that that kind of self-managed annihilation of self is often the most egotistical experience of all. Its popular today to suggest another solution “let it all hang out. Don’t fight it. That’s you. You are really an ugly, angry, selfish, lustful monster; let it all hang out express it and you’ll get rid of it. Be angry. If you feel angry be angry. If you lose your temper, lose your temper. Do whatever you do. Be what you are.” The tragedy is, nobody else wants to live with you, nobody else wants to have anything to do with you and sooner or later even those of us who have passed through that kind of thing have had, sooner or later, to modify that solution because actually it just tears everybody apart if you’re angry when you want to be angry. It tears the whole place apart.

There’s no way in which you can have relationships if you act what you are because you’re rotten, you’re miserable, you’re wretched, you’re the most antisocial monster, and you’re not a beautiful wonderful person that has come straight from heaven. You are a miserable monster that has been molded so often not by only your family and your hereditary, but your environment and by your own wishes and your own will. And so many of us who have tried that self-expression stuff know that it’s alright for the psychiatrist couch and it’s all right for an odd little experiment at school, but it doesn’t make a marriage stick together and it doesn’t make businesses stick together because

they require some degree of restraining of the selfish impulse.

There is of course another popular answer and that is religion’s answer; hold the self-down, do your best; will yourself to build up that which is good in you and to hold down that which is bad. That’s what the guy said who played Eric Liddell in the movie Chariots of Fire. Because the actor is somebody who has no respect for God or religion they asked him how he played the part. He said, “Well, I read the Bible a lot, and then I suppressed all the bad parts of my nature, and I expressed and encouraged the good parts.” Too many of us have sympathy with that because we realize that is exactly what we do and think that’s the way to be a Christian. So there is an approach that is based on will power that attempts to repress the selfish things and encourage the good things. Except that you never seem to get rid of self that way, it always seems to be rising up.

Loved ones, the problem is not self. The problem is not your personality. We don’t need to annihilate our personalities. We don’t need to destroy the self, that’s the very real part of you. But the problem is that it’s working the wrong way. Our personalities are working the wrong way round; a perversion has crept into us human beings down through the centuries that has been bred into each generation as it passed and that personality, perverted though it is, has become the norm for us. That’s why we find ourselves in the same position as Paul, “I can will what is right but I can’t do it because there seems another law at work in my members.”

In other words he says, “I know its right and I can will what is right and I want to do it with all my heart but it seems I have some monkey in here that is operating the other way. I want to do it one way and this monster inside me wants to do it the other.” In other words, “I can will what is right but the equipment is bad.” And despite all the attempts of the Buddhist’s, the TM’ers, and the positive thinkers, all those are attempts to try and control, reroute, rerun and reprogram that equipment. Loved ones the fact is human beings can’t reprogram it. That’s why all those solutions are only partial.

There’s only one way to reprogram something that has gone badly off and that’s to send it back to the manufacturer and have him do it, and that’s what happened. I’d like to share with you very quickly what this dear book says about the solution. There’s a verse in here that outlines our personality, our psychology. It runs like this, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you holy and may he make your spirit and your soul and your body blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” That’s what this book outlines as a working basis for understanding our personality.

Now, any of you who have studied psychology know you can’t open up a person in an operation and pop out the soul, “Ah, there’s your soul.” You can’t whip in there, pop out your spirit and say, “There’s your spirit.” And it is three levels on which our personality works. Spirit is the inner most part of us, the real me, I, as I really am deep down; I myself, the thing that makes me unique and different from all of you. That’s spirit that’s the inner most part. Then it wears like a coat my soul, and then it wears like a coat my body. And then it so happens that if you go through this book and look up all the times that the word spirit occurs, you find that it means the ability to commune with a higher being than yourself and the ability to know from that higher being, by intuition, what he wants you to do in this present life. And that ties up with what I suggested: that each one of us here is unique — not just to make a very diverse world, but because you can do something for your Maker that none of the rest of us here in this room can do. And it’s through intuition that he can tell you what that is.

It’s through intuition that Einstein sensed, “I’m not supposed to be sitting on this stool of this

patent office year after year after year. I’ve to be doing something else.” It’s that that got into a John Milton caused him to say, “I’ve to do something else.” It’s that that gets into somebody ordinary like you or me and begins to indicate to us what the Maker put you here to do, and then your conscience judges you and constrains your will on the basis of that. That’s your spirit.

The word “soul” comes from the Greek word “psuche” which becomes our word psyche and “psuche logos” is the knowledge of the soul which is psychology. That refers to the mental part of us; our will, our mind that is able to reason and to judge things, our emotions that are able to feel emotions. Then the body has its own kind of trinity. So the way God intended that to work loved ones is he intended to let you know, “I want you to paint certain kinds of paintings.” Or “I put you here to write certain things.” Or “I’ve put you here to do a certain job in engineering or in plumbing.” Or “I put you here to bring a certain order into the trees of this land.” Or “I’ve put you here to do certain things with finances that only you can do.” Or “I’ve put you here to type in such a way that you bring order into a certain business.”

In other words, he puts something into your mind that he wants you to do and then he wants to work that out through your whole personality so that you live from within so you’d operate from within. You’d do things because you knew the Maker wanted you to do them. Now if you say to me, “Oh, I’d think the Maker was sitting on my shoulder,” no at times you wouldn’t be very conscious. Einstein wasn’t very conscious that the Maker was putting thoughts into his mind, but when anybody asked him to explain where he got his ideas he said, “All ideas come from God.” He was in no doubt that the intuition that you have, your best thoughts, come from beyond and our Maker wanted us to operate like, that so that we would not operate according to the Gallop Polls, we would not buy Alberto VO5 because “they” told us to do it, we would buy Tylenol or not buy Tylenol because “they” told us to do it. We would live our own lives from within, being our own people and beginning to make the world as infinitely diverse and exciting as the Maker intended it to be.

You can see in that way our will would obey our conscious and our mind would understand what our will wanted done and would express it in thoughts. Our emotions would express the joy of our relationship with our Maker and then that would begin to fill the world with order so that probably we’d have discovered the oil field that Standard Oil proclaimed they’ve now discovered off the coast of California, a giant oil field, we’d have discovered that without all the seagulls that have died in the messes that we had on the Santa Barbara coast. And we would not have gotten into this wild OPEC recession that we have been involved in these past years, but we would operate as the Maker wanted us to operate.

Well the fact was, we decided, “Forget it; we’re going to do it our own way. We’re going to deal with this world the way we want. We’re not going to be dependent on this Manager that has made the world. We’re going to do what we want.” And we began to operate the other way; we began to look to the world for the love that our Maker was ready to give us and when the Maker gives you love; you have a great sense of security. You suddenly believe, “Boy, the Maker of the world is looking after me, why do I need to worry about where the next meal is coming from because he’ll take care of it. He’s put me here so he has a job for me to do. He’ll take care and provide for me.”

So you have a great sense of security and a great sense of significance because you know that although, “All the other people may be brighter than me, they may be more intelligent, they may be richer, they may be healthier, they may be older, they may be younger, but they’re not me. They’re not me. Father, I thank you that you put me here. I’m unique in the world and I have something to do that only I can do.” It’ll give you a great sense of meaning, a great sense of value and a great

sense of worth. A great sense that you were important to the one person with whom it matters. And you’d have a great sense of happiness because you simply enjoyed walking through his world with him.

Loved ones, when we turned against him and decided to live our own way we had to get all those things from somewhere, so we started to try to get it from each other and we started to try and get security from the world. That’s why we end up spending so much of our time trying to earn a bit of money to get more food, to get more shelter, to get more clothing. And that’s why we spend so much time in this hunt for significance; we’re always looking for somebody to approve of us. Wouldn’t you agree that so often the good grade is not so vital because it means we have a great knowledge of our subject, but the grade puts us higher in everybody’s estimation and seems to make us feel important.

How many things do we buy because other people will like them or because it’s supposed to be the in thing to have one of these, because we desperately have to try to get this significance from somebody else? It’s the same with the happiness thing; we so often hate bad circumstances because it means unhappiness and we are so often preoccupied with trying to make circumstances good because it makes us happy. So really, we’ve become slaves. Rather than depending on our Maker, we try to take all of our security, significance and happiness from the world and in the process we’ve perverted our own functions.

Our will no longer obeys our conscience; our will sometimes just obeys our minds or emotions and sometimes there’s hardly any will there at all. The mind no longer understands; it spends its time manipulating, “How do I manipulate these stocks to make myself secure? How do I manipulate this car into a bigger car or a better car to make me more secure?” The emotions are preoccupied with getting joy. It’s not so much, unfortunately, in marriage about what joy can I give the other person, but how much joy can I get from the other person.

Do you see what we’re talking about when we talk about the perversion of the self? That’s what’s wrong. That’s why I can will what is right because even though we’ve almost died, and that’s what happens; the spirit dies completely when you stop dealing with God, so even though we’ve almost died, yet the conscience is still in some sense alive and it still wriggles inside and says, “Yeah, but you ought to do this.” And sometimes the will says, “Yeah, I want to do it. I want to do it” but it’s impossible because the whole personality operates the other way. So you have built in ruts that are absolutely invincible, and those are the ruts that we try to deal with when we deal with TM, or we deal with the power of positive thinking, or we deal with those techniques for controlling your personality or controlling your temperament.

It’s a foolish enterprise because it’s you with your perverted self and your perverted personality trying to cure your perverted self and your perverted personality. The whole meaning of Jesus dying on the cross is that God knew that that would happen and that in eternity, which is above time and above space, and in some sense is taking place even at this very moment as it took place 2,000 years ago, our old self was crucified with Christ. That’s what the death of Jesus means; that God actually destroyed that perverted personality of yours. He destroyed that old self of yours and that’s finally the only way to be liberated from it; to believe that and then to begin to submit again to this Holy Spirit so that once more you begin to come alive from inside.

That’s it loved ones; you reckon yourself to be dead, indeed unto sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus and you yield your members to the Holy Spirit, it’s the only way. I would speak especially to

those of you who are in agony as to how to get free from self and in agony as to how to transcend self, there is only one way and that is through what God has done to your old self in Jesus on the cross. And the only way for that to be real in you is to believe it first, and to be willing to believe it. You have to be willing no longer to get security from things, no longer to get significance from what other people think of you, but to be satisfied with one person only, and that’s the One who made you. So loved ones, will you start today? Will you look to the only one who’s opinion of you matters? And he will guide you into all the truth.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and evermore. Amen.

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