Description: Watchman Nee says for service to be effective our will must be broken by taking away the things in our will's hand so that it cannot act independently.
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
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,
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
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
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.