Description: Ever been addicted? No? Not to food ,caffeine or money? Still no? What about praise -- do you crave praise so you can feel good about yourself?
God’s Love and Death
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Have you ever been addicted to anything? I think a lot of us here have been addicted to alcohol,
and to drugs, and to nicotine. But I’d just ask you, who maybe haven’t been involved in those
addictions, have you ever even been addicted to something like Coke or caffeine? It seems to me
probably all of us here have had some experience of addiction even though society may not normally
regard it as addiction. I remember I went with a group, years ago, to do missionary work in the
mountains of Mexico. It was then that I realized that Coca-Cola, for me, tasted like water and it
was then I decided, “Okay, that’s when I have to stop.”
I think most of us probably have some experience of addiction. Now, you know loved ones that the
first difficulty you face is that you have to reach the point where you really want to quit. That’s
the first difficulty, I think; you have to reach that point where you really want to quit. And
probably that, at the end of the day, is the greatest difficulty. But you have to come to a point
where you decide, “Yes, I am going to quit. That’s it.”
Now the second difficulty is, in a way, more serious than that, and yet it’s something someone else
has to do something about. Because I’ve found that even when I decided to quit, my body, and my
mind, and my emotions had got used to the addiction. My personality had gotten used to this
particular crutch that I was using, so I discovered that I wasn’t facing simply the resistance of my
own will to quitting, but I found that I was facing the resistance of my personality that had got
used to this for years, and years, and years. It was like being in a car; you wanted to turn it to
the right — but the wheels were caught in ruts and it kept going straight ahead. You really did
want to turn it, but the car was in these ruts and you could not turn the wheels.
I think that’s what a number of us have discovered with this whole business of addiction. That
you’re facing two problems: one, you have to decide to quit yourself; and two, you find that when
you do decide to quit your whole personality has gotten used to this crutch or this addiction, and
you feel that it’s almost impossible to change it. We’re all addicts, in a way, even if we’re not
addicted to specific chemicals such as we mentioned, we’re all addicts in that we’ve drugged
ourselves into trying to find fulfillment from the presents that we’ve been given, rather than from
the one who gave us the presents.
We’re a bit like the wife of the millionaire who says, “Things, things, things — you’re always
giving me things but it’s your own love that I need, not the things.” Except that many of us here,
I think, have not come to that point; we’ve tried to satisfy ourselves with the things, things,
things, not realizing that what alone would satisfy us is the personal love of this dear One who
gave us these things.
So many of us here this morning probably still are addicted to a bright sunny day for our happiness;
probably there are many of us here that still don’t realize how dependent we are on a bright sunny
day for our feeling of happiness, or how dependent we are on the encouraging words of our peers for
a feeling of recognition and importance. How dependent we are on our living or our working
situations for our sense of security. And yet loved ones, all those things are just the presents
that our Creator gave us. They’re really there to express his personal love for us, and to get us
to begin to depend on him alone and not his gifts.
Now I think some of us here have realized that; I think some of us here are aware of that. We’ve
listened to this for several Sundays, and maybe several years, and we realize, “I know I’m depending
on the gifts that he’s given me instead of him, himself. I know that, and I do want to change, but
I’ve tried to change. I have tried to think he approves of me; what does it matter whether this
friend of mine approves of me or not? I’ve tried to think that way but my mind seems in such a rut;
I seem to have gotten so used to depending on other people’s opinions for self respect or a sense of
self worth that I have, that when they don’t approve of me I find myself in depression, or in
anxiety, or worry.”
I think many of us are in that spot. We say, “Yes, what you’ve said is right; we know that we’ve
been given all these things only for the expression of the Creator’s love to us, and we know we’re
meant to depend on him himself and not the things he gives, but we find we cannot do it.” And many
of us come to the point where we feel, “My mind, and emotions and my body have become so used to
depending on things, and people, and situations for all that I need that I think I cannot change. I
just cannot change.” And it seems to many of us here that we just cannot change.
And yet we all know people who have changed. We know that even though it seems we could never change
ourselves, yet it is a fact that many people have changed and they’ve become different people; they
have begun to depend on the Creator for their worth and their importance. And loved ones, it’s
because our old self was crucified with Christ — that’s why it’s possible.
Our old personality that has got into those ruts — you are dead right we are in ruts — you’ve got
so used to being a “yes man” or a “yes woman” when it paid you that you are in a rut. You’ve been
so brain washed by the idea that if you had a good bank account or a good insurance policy you’d be
safe that you’re right — it seems impossible to change that personality that has got into those
ruts. Except for the fact that God did change it loved ones, you’re not responsible for changing it;
our old self was crucified with Christ.
What you used to be was destroyed by God in Jesus. That’s so important that I think it would be
good for us to pause a little this morning and look at some of the clear statements in God’s word
about these things. So will you turn Colossians 3:3, “For you have died,” — the “you” that used to
be — “have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
Now loved ones, your personality that is addicted to alcohol or that is addicted to comfort, or
laying in bed, or that is addicted to jealousy, or that is addicted continually to the evaluating of
your friends — that personality was crucified with Christ and you can have a new nature if you
really want it. Now loved ones, that’s it honestly. It’s just a lie for you to sit there and say,
“Brother I cannot. I have tried.” Loved ones, God’s word is stronger than any personal experience
that you have had, and God’s word says that your personality as it used to be, that dear old body
that is used to alcohol pumping into the blood, that dear old mind that is used to everybody
approving of you, those emotions that are used to having the love of other people constantly feeding
them and being offended when you don’t get that love — loved ones, all that was crucified with
Christ.” And it is possible for you to have a new nature this morning because God has already given
it to you if you really want it, and if you are willing to step out in that faith.
I’d press you on it because for years I felt, “No, I can’t, I can’t.” And don’t you see dear
brothers and sisters that that’s the game Satan is playing and all society is playing? Don’t you
see that is where psychology at times has gone astray? “We are what we are and we cannot change.”
No, you can change — that’s what God is saying here, “All that you used to be was crucified in my
son. That’s why I said, ‘I made him to be sin who knew no sin.’” Sin is depending on things, and
people, and circumstances for the security, the significance, and happiness that you’re meant to get
from your Father-Creator.
God made Jesus what you were like, and destroyed that on Calvary. In other words the little ruts
that we have equipment to measure that occur in the cortex of your brain that are made by your
thought patterns, were put into Christ and destroyed in him. It is a lie to believe that you have
to keep on thinking a certain way simply because our instruments can measure the ruts in the cortex
of the brain. God took that and destroyed it in his Son. And even though the physical symptoms may
still be there for us to measure with our equipment, yet the effect of those in the cortex of your
brain — the thought patterns that you’ve established for years — the unclean thought patterns —
were put into Jesus and destroyed there.
Loved ones, it’s the same with everything else that you’re addicted to. That slavish habit of man
fear that you have over the years developed into a monstrous paranoia; that was put into Jesus and
destroyed in him and you can be free of it. I know it’s incredible, but you, by accepting that all
that you were was crucified with Jesus and being willing, of course, to be crucified with Jesus, and
being willing to undergo whatever he wanted you to undergo — you by accepting that this morning can
be freed in an instant. Truly, you can be freed in an instant. That’s what God means when he did
And it’s the same with everything; any overwhelming addiction to nicotine, or caffeine that causes
you headaches when you don’t feed it, that was put into Jesus and destroyed in him. That dependence
you have on the opinion of your peers that keeps tripping you up every time you try and be an
individualist — that was crucified in Christ and you can be free.
Loved ones, I’d press you on that because I know there are dozens of you sitting there this morning
and do you know — we all have little things. Some of us are sitting here with an alcohol problem.
Some of us are here with some drug problem that looks more respectable; it’s aspirin, or codeine or
something else. Do you see that we’re all in the same boat — you are no worse than the rest of us.
If any of us are addicted to anything — if it’s addiction to men’s praise, addiction to anything
but to God, dependence on anything but our dear Father in heaven — we’re addicts and we’re all in
the same boat.
And loved ones, it’s to all of us here, not just those dear souls that have so often felt inferior
because they’re addicted to something that’s more obvious or that we’ve been able to give a label to
— but loved ones, to all of us — you can be free in a moment if you really want to be, because God
has taken that personality of yours and destroyed it in Jesus. But it requires you to believe that;
you can’t be freed just by your own effort. It takes you to live in that day-by-day-by-day.
Now loved ones, that’s what God is saying to us. And the only reason God has done that is because
he is our dear Father and he wants us to depend on him, and to trust him, and to love him back
instead of trying to substitute all these other things for him. He’s like a dear Father that sees
his children living on cookies and Coke and he knows that what they need is the good protein and
carbohydrates that will make them healthy. He wants us to be healthy, and he wants us to get off
these things that are purely temporary and are not lasting and do not do the job, finally.
He’s like a Father who sees his children trying to hit all kinds of emotional highs through cheap
thrills of every kind and he says, “You were made to have the peace and exhilaration of an intimate
relationship of love with me — that’s why I made you. That’s why I’m inviting you into the death
that my Son experienced to all these temporary things that do not actually satisfy you. I’m
inviting you to die with him to significance from things, or security from things, or importance
from the people that think certain things about you, or the feelings that certain situations give
you. I’m asking you to die with my Son to these things and if you’ll do that, I will give you all
the satisfaction of an intimate relationship with myself. But I cannot, unless you’ll give up all
these other substitute pearls that you have. You will not receive this pearl of great price —
you’ll have no reality in your relationship with me — until you accept that these things are wrong
and that you are finished with them and that I have destroyed the old personality that was addicted
Now loved ones, that’s really what God has done. And that’s what it means when the Bible talks
about God’s love in Christ. God’s love in Christ is his desire to have us as dependent on himself as
Jesus was, and therefore he invites us into Jesus’ death to all the temporary things and situations
that are a substitute for him, himself. That’s God’s love in Christ.
Now loved ones, you’ll be able to see then, why Paul says what he says in this verse that we’re
studying today. It’s Romans 8:38, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor
principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor
anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our
Lord.” And that’s such a massive verse that I would just like to talk about death — for I am sure
that death will not be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You can
see why; because death is just the removal of the things that we have already ceased to depend on
through our crucifixion and resurrection in Christ. It’s just the removal of those things.
Death cannot separate you from the love of Christ Jesus if you have already ceased to depend on
those things. Death is just the removal of the sunny day, it’s just the removal of friends and
colleagues whose opinion is important to you, it’s just the removal of exciting little vacation
experiences that give you a feeling of happiness and satisfaction. Death is just the removal of
those things, so if you’ve already accepted your death with Jesus to those things, and come alive to
the real person, the dear Person, that is behind all these things and whose fellowship and
relationship you were created for, then death is nothing; it is just the removal of things that you
have already ceased to depend on. And that’s why Paul is saying, “Death is just exposing us to the
full light and love of this person without the immediate circumstances or gifts that were used to
first express his love to us.” And so death for someone who has come to depend on the Creator alone
That’s really important to see — that that’s the way someone who has a loving, intimate
relationship with God, and who depends on him alone, feels about death. That’s why when I went,
years ago, to a little house in North Minneapolis where the dear guy was having one of the most
painful cancer deaths that I have seen and I found him writhing on the bed, the day before his
death. We talked and then I prayed, and as I was going out of the room I said, “God bless you.” He
stopped all the writhing, his eyes lit up and he smiled and said, “No, not God bless you but say to
me ‘God make you a blessing.’” He died the next day, and I did his funeral about three days later.
And you know, just the thought of that dear fellow saying that in circumstances like that brought
home to me that death is nothing for a person who has already begun a close, intimate relationship
with the Father. I remember my Dad in a hospital in Belfast. I remember sitting with him through
the night and I remember he died at eight o’clock that morning. I remember him saying, “I’ve come
in this time to be really healed.” And I sensed the certainty in his own heart that this time it
was a real healing; it was a completely new body — it wasn’t a patching up of the old one. And
there was a complete peace because death for people who have already begun an intimate relationship
with the Creator is nothing but a passing from one room into another, and that’s all it is.
It’s no separating you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Because for you the love of God in
Christ Jesus has meant dying to all the temporary things that you’re going to lose when death comes,
and a coming alive to the real person that is behind all these things. And that’s what Jesus says;
“Whoever believes in me will never die.” Do you remember when some of them said, “Oh, this man’s
daughter is dead?” He said, “No, no she’s not dead, she only sleeps.” You remember he proved it by
just wakening her again.
And Jesus explained to us, “For those of you who already have a close relationship to my Father and
know him as your Father, death for you is just a going to sleep. And you’ll go to sleep so
beautifully that those who watch you will say, “What a beautiful morning it will be tomorrow.” It’s
nothing but a sleeping and a wakening up, and then seeing face-to-face the Person whom you have
glimpsed all these years through his gifts.
So really, it’s a difficult thing for a person who is in that close relationship with the Father to
know whether to stay here or to leave. That’s what Paul put so clearly in Philippians 1:21. “For
to me to live is Christ.” It’s not my job, it’s not the things that I own, it’s not the people I
know, it’s Christ. “and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful
labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My
desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
Do you see loved ones, that for those of us who are in that relationship to the Creator, you’re just
looking forward to meeting the real Person whom you have glimpsed so often in the brightness of the
sunlight? You’re going to actually meet and live with the dear Person whose gentleness made little
lambs and soft snow. You’re actually going to meet the Person whom you have glimpsed through his
gifts, and whom you already have begun to know personally and to depend on in a personal way. And
for those of us who are in that situation, death is a gain — it’s not something that separates us
from the love of God; it’s something that brings us into the fullness of that love. It’s like
meeting the dear person that you’ve been looking forward to meeting for years.
In other words, death is only a fearful thing for those of us who are still junkies. Death is only
a fearful thing for those of us who are still junkies on materialistic security — our security
comes from the number of things we possess, those of us who are addicted to pleasure and happiness;
whose happiness comes from the more pleasure we can get, the more exciting experiences that we get,
whose sense of worth comes from other people’s opinions. For us, death is a vast expansive
emptiness, a loss of all the things that we’ve depended on, and that are life to us. Death for us
is a frustrating experience of constant deprivation. Death for us is a great lonely darkness,
because we have lost all the things that make life bearable to us.
Now where do you, yourself, stand? Here’s a good way to find out: if you were dead at this moment,
what would the inner state of your own personal experience be? If you can imagine being dead at
this moment, what things or what people or what situations would you miss most or do you think you
could not do without? Really, where does your enjoyment of life come from truly?
Loved ones, that will help you to know to what extent you’ve begun to live life the way your Creator
really wanted you to. Let’s just imagine what you would die to. Let’s imagine that just after this
service you died. So you’d be dead to your possessions; you would not take the car with you or the
house, or the money, so those things would not be with you. Now how much do you get from those —
because you’re not going to have them with you. So whatever you’re getting from those, you’re going
to be without when you die and one thing certain is, we are all going to die.
You wouldn’t have your friends or your husband, or wife, or your relatives so you won’t have their
smile, and you won’t have their comfort. Now to what extent do you depend on them? You won’t have
a future, that’s certain; you’ll have no future. Now, to what extent do you spend your life
thinking of your future, or comforting yourself with what you’re going to do when things get better?
So loved ones, death would mean dying, at least, to those things.
God’s will is for you this very morning, to take that position — that’s God’s will — for you this
very moment, to take a position in regard to those things as if you’re dead, and then to think of
yourself as lying here on this floor. We all go home and during the night Jesus comes and sees your
body that you’ve now vacated. He comes in and in his Spirit he gets into that body and he stands up
in it and walks out of this room. It is he that meets your friends tomorrow at work. And when they
say, “You’re looking well” you say, “Well, no this isn’t me, I died and this life I’m living — it’s
not I that live it, it’s Christ that’s living it in me. And I am living this life by the faith of
the son of God.” Now that’s what can happen to you this morning, and that’s what happened to me one
day many years ago. It can happen to you, and you can change completely.
You have to take a step, loved ones. You do have to take a stand, because all of you have struggled
with these things. I know you’ve tried to make a change and it hasn’t worked, so you do have to
take a stand. I’d encourage you that you could take it this morning by saying “Lord, I am finished
with this dependence on everything that I am going to lose anyway, instead of being dependent on
you. Lord, I’m going to take a step of faith this morning and begin to depend on you.”
Loved ones, you do have to take that step if you want to make a change. Because if you go home this
morning and say, “I agree with all that, and I am going to try to change” you know it won’t work.
You have to make a covenant with God that you’re going to change. So I’d encourage you this morning
to do that, really.
I think we should pray with our heads bowed. You should just raise your hand if you determined, “I
want to make a change.” I’ll see it, and will pray for you. And that’s all; it’s a covenant
between you, and God, and me. I’d encourage you loved ones to make a definite stand.
I was against that whole thing. I was what I thought was a kind of smooth, sophisticated
intellectual, and thought all this decision stuff was mad. But loved ones, I know now that
confession with the mouth is made unto salvation, and you do have to, sometime, tell someone, “I am
beginning to live my life this way.” So I’d encourage you to take a stand even as we pray this
morning. And then by all means after, if you do raise your hand, if you want to come to the prayer
room afterwards that’s good — if you don’t, that’s alright.
Dear Father, I would trust you now for my dear brothers and sisters here — many of whom have
listened to this for a long time and have wanted to change. Father I would trust you now to give
them the grace to raise their hands and say, “I’m going to start living this way and I just want you
to know and I know that God sees my hand going up.” Father I just trust you. Amen.