How to Be Saved
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I think we, as a group, are beginning slowly to be dear friends. I think we’re beginning to have
some concern about each other and some love for each other — at least, I hope that you feel that
way and I certainly feel it about all of you. One of the things that concerns me is if any of you
ever die this week, I want you to be in the right place with God. I think probably we feel that more
and more about each other — that’s what real love is. So I’m going to try to break from the study
this morning because I do want to be sure that you’re ready. I’d just like to explain as simply as
possible the gospel so that if there’s anybody here that has never made a decision for Jesus that
they’ll be able to make it at the end of this service.
God tells us all that there’s no distinction between any of us here in this room because every one
of us have sinned and we fall short of the glory of God. That’s what he says. There’s no
distinction for all of you, that’s you and me — we’ve all sinned and we even now, fall short of the
glory of God. That is all of us are less than what he meant us to be and every one of us have
sinned here. It doesn’t mean we have all committed crimes — we haven’t. It doesn’t mean we’re all
involved in vices — maybe we’re not. Sin is something different from crimes or vices. It’s not
that God looks down with his telescope and makes an empirical observation, “He sinned. She sinned.
He sinned.” No, no — he says that because he knows it’s true in himself. He states that as
absolute truth, that all of us here have sinned.
Now, what does sin mean? Well, James 4:17 says, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do
it for him it is sin.” So that’s maybe the simplest definition of sin loved ones. Any of us who
know what is right to do and fail to do it, for us that is sin. You can see then sin is something
you know you shouldn’t do and you do it. God listed some of those things so that we would
understand it in the plainest terms. He said, “Look, if you really trust me and you love me then
you won’t have any other gods before me. If you do have any other gods before me then you’re
sinning. Look, if you trust me and you love me, you won’t covet. You won’t spend nights thinking,
‘I wish I had that thing,’ or, ‘Why can’t I have it?’ You won’t covet. If you do covet, that is
sin. You won’t commit adultery.” Then Jesus said, “Now committing adultery is not just doing an
outward act of adultery but anybody who looks on a woman to lust after her in his heart he has
already committed adultery.” So committing adultery either inside or outside, that’s a sin.
God said, “If you trust me for all that you need then you won’t steal. You won’t steal things from
people. You won’t steal little things from your employer. You won’t steal big things. You won’t
steal other people’s reputation by bearing false witness against them. You won’t do these things if
you trust me and if you do those things, you’re stealing. You won’t kill.” And you remember, Jesus
said, “Well it was said of old time, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ but I say unto you if you’re angry with
your brother, you’re guilty of the judgment. So killing a person or wishing they were dead, that’s
a sin, or wishing ill against them, or hoping that something bad will fall upon them — that’s sin.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. If you swear, that’s sin.” It’s not just
a silly little thing that our Sunday school teacher tells us we shouldn’t do. It’s not just a
little bit of bad manners that our mums and dads told us to stop. It’s not just a swinging thing to
do or a sophisticated thing. In God’s eyes it’s a sin. If you say, “My God”, or “Christ,” that’s a
sin. That’s mocking him. That’s pretending that he is not God in the universe. That is just a
thing like that, that’s sin.
So loved ones, when you do any of those things you’re sinning. If you disobey God in any way that
you know you’re disobeying him, that’s a sin. In fact, you remember, God outlined it in greater
detail. He said, actually there are inward things that other people don’t see at all and they are
sin. Envy is a sin. Jealous is a sin. Pride is a sin. Selfishness is a sin. That’s why God,
seems to me, is on pretty firm ground when he says all of us here, in this room at least, have
sinned at some time in our life and we probably, at present, in some way fall short of God’s glory.
Loved ones, the incredible thing is that we sin because we actually can’t help it. We sin, in a
way, because we can’t help it — that is, we sin because we are sinners. We’re not sinners because
we sin. We sin because we’re sinners. An apple tree bears apples because it’s an apple tree. It
isn’t an apple tree because you’ve observed it bears apples. It’s the STATE that comes first. God
says, “Yes, you’ve sinned in that you’ve disobeyed me outwardly in act, and thought and word — but
also, you have the attitude of a sinner inside in your heart.” Actually, if you think of it, it is
true isn’t it? It’s the reason we bear false witness against our neighbor, which after all if you
think of it, is a very simple little thing that probably most of us have done. We say about
somebody, “Oh yeah, you know, he’s like that.” And you say, “Oh well, it’s the truth.” But so often
we’re exaggerating it a bit because we want them to think a certain way about another person — so
we bear false witness against them, or we criticize them behind their back, which actually, all of
us have been brought up to know is wrong. We know it’s wrong but we say something about somebody
behind their back when they aren’t there to defend themselves.
Now, why do we do that? Well you know why we do it. We do it because we think if we can bring them
down a little we can raise ourselves up a little. We do it often to establish a confidence with the
other person, “Oh you know, I feel a way about that creature as you do.” It makes you feel together
on it. Really, you don’t tear anybody down for the sheer joy of tearing them down. You’re usually
tearing them down to show how clever, or insightful or how righteous you yourself are. Of course,
you’re doing that because you want other people to think well of you. You want them to respect you
and to look up to you.
Now why do you do that? Because you don’t really think anybody else looks up to you or thinks a lot
of you — especially, the One that matters. You have a feeling, “Yeah well, my God doesn’t think
much of me. He doesn’t think a lot of me and boy, I’m determined that somebody will think a lot of
me.” Why do we steal? I mean, very few of us here steal — we just steal time, or we steal an
eraser, or a pen, or something stupid or we steal money. We fiddle it so that the money comes into
our pocket or we get out of paying something that we should really pay. Nobody knows very much —
but WE know. Why do we do it? Because we have a desperate feeling that we have to gather in the
nuts somehow. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to look after ourselves. We have to
watch out for ourselves. We do that because we don’t really believe there’s a dear God who watches
out for us. We don’t really believe that stuff that Jesus said, “Look at the lilies of the field,
they toil not, neither do they root and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of
these. Will he not much more clothe you, oh you of little faith?” We don’t really believe that.
We feel, “No, no — he probably won’t.” That’s why we steal or why we manipulate things.
Now do you see loved ones, that the outward acts of sin are unimportant? It’s the inward ATTITUDE
of sin that is the killer. That’s why we sin. We sin outwardly. We disobey God outwardly in act,
and thought and words because inside we really are running a kind of a little world of our own. We
are really gods ourselves. You remember, that’s what the serpent said to Eve at the beginning,
“Surely, when you eat of this tree you’ll be like God.” That’s our real problem, loved ones. It’s
not so much the outward sins. They’re just an outflow of this inward attitude we have that we are
really a god on our own and we want to do things our own way. We have to take care of ourselves
because he sure isn’t going to. That’s what this dear book says. It says that sin is lawlessness.
It’s not just doing things that are wrong. It’s not just saying things that are wrong. It’s a
lawless attitude inside us — we don’t care. We’ll kick over the traces. We’ll have our own way.
We’ll manipulate our own way somehow. We’ll appear to be pleasing him — but we’ll get our own way.
All the time we feel we’re laughing behind our hand at God and everybody else because we feel we’re
responsible for our own selves. We feel he won’t take of us and we better look after ourselves. It
doesn’t matter who we trample over to do it. So we have a whole attitude in our heart of sin.
“Sin” is “S”, and the big “I” in the middle, “N”. It is, I, I myself, I am my god, I have the right
to things the way I want them. Isn’t that why we get impatient with each other? It is. It’s
stupid getting impatient with each other. There’s no sense in it — but you know why we do it? We
do it because we feel we want things to go at our pace and we know the way they should go, and, “Why
can’t they do it our way?” It’s because we have this feeling that the whole world revolves around
us. Brothers and sisters, do you see we’re all like that?
I mean, there’s no shame in admitting it. We’re all like that. We’re like that in our attitude to
each other. We have an attitude of sin, of ME first: “I want my way. I want to defend my rights. I
want to assert myself over everybody else.” Loved ones, that has turned us into monsters, into
absolute perversions of the beautiful relaxed free unselfish princes and princesses that God made us
at the very beginning — really. I don’t know if you’ve looked in the mirror at times and seen old
wrinkles or seen worry, or seen anxiety in you, but do you realize we’ve fallen far short of those
liberated men and woman that God made at the beginning who rested in him in absolute trust, and
confidence, and peace and wouldn’t hurt a thing because they had everything they needed in him?
What God says of course, is that we have created something dangerous that he didn’t create. We have
created inside ourselves a hostile nature that not only hates him but that really, in a subtle way,
hates everybody else and sees everybody else as competing with us. So we have created inside
ourselves a kind of “parasite nature” that lives off everybody else and wants to use everybody else
for our benefit, He says that is built into us. We have not created that. We’ve passed it down
from generation to generation until you and I have what he calls “sinful natures”. We have
attitudes and natures and personalities that have become utterly perverted and that we cannot any
longer control. Actually, you must admit isn’t it what we feel? I mean, when Paul said those words
in Romans 7, that’s what we feel. He said, “I don’t understand my own actions anymore. I don’t do
the good that I want, I do the very thing that I hate. Now, if I do what I do not want, then it
shows that I know that the law is good and I want to obey it but I find another law at work in my
personality that makes me obey the law of evil.” And isn’t that what we find?
All of us here want to do what is right — but we find that we have developed some other personality
that doesn’t want to do what is right, and in fact, works on the basis of self and of opposing
everybody else and trampling over everybody else. That’s what God says, “You loved ones have
created billions, and billions now of little evil personalities that are more dangerous to my
universe than any nuclear bomb could be because if you are allowed to go free with that forever,
you’ll fill the world with your own garbage and you’ll fill the world with your own hate. You’ll
make us all bow down and obey you.” Loved ones, I know you feel as I did, “Oh no, no, no! That’s
not what I’m like.” But honestly loved ones, it’s only lack of opportunity that has prevented you
making us all your slaves. We’re all the same. It’s only harmless looking because we don’t have
the opportunity, or the conventions of society to hold us back or the rest won’t let us. But
really, we have something inside us that is so evil that God said, “Look, there’s only one thing
that I can do with that.” And he put it this way, “The wages of sin is death. In other words, I’ve
built a self-destruct mechanism into your personalities that when you begin to develop them like
this, they will be destroyed. I had to do it. To protect my own universe, I had to do it.” And
actually, of course, that’s what you and I fear.
I mean death itself is not a fearful thing. Even those who have died in great pain say death itself
is not a fearful thing — but it’s what Hamlet said, you remember, “It’s the fear of that unknown
country beyond the grave.” It’s that fear that troubles us. You know, all of us have that fear in
us. That’s the testimony, that we are under sentence of death because we often wonder, “Now, what
is beyond the grave?” And of course, many of us also have a sense of a condemnation of death in our
consciences. When you do sin isn’t it true you come into a kind of darkness? You come into a kind
of depression? That’s the human witness that God has condemned everyone to death who has ever
sinned. I think all of us have that awareness –you realize, “Yeah, when I do something wrong I
feel something dark inside me. I feel somebody does not approve of me.” That’s proof that we are
under condemnation of death and that the wages of sin is death, that God has so created us all that
he will destroy automatically all of us that have lived for ourselves and have developed a
personality that would dictate to the world. That’s our present situation, loved ones. Do you see
that’s why it’s kind of stupid stuff where we kind of say, “Oh well, yes I’m not good so I’ll try to
be better and please God.” That isn’t the issue. That isn’t the issue at all.
The issue with God is you have now become such a dangerous, selfish and self-centered personality
that there’s nothing to do but destroy you for the sake of the rest of the universe. Being good,
trying to be good is simply a selfish personality bluffing the rest of us That’s why he says, “The
wages of sin is death.” That’s the only answer. Loved ones, that’s it you know. If we go on the
way we are, we’ll come to the end of this life, and then that evil nature will be destroyed
completely, and we will be cast into a nothingness kind of atmosphere where we’ll go on existing —
but existing in our own emptiness and our own frustration. The gospel is of course, that God took
your evil nature and he put it in his Son and he destroyed it there.
That’s why he says, “God commands his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died
for us.” That’s why John Donne, the English poet says, “Christ became the sewer for the world’s
sin” because the rottenest part of you, the most selfish part, the dirtiest part, the most proud
part, the most cruel part Jesus took into himself and allowed his Father to destroy it and burn it
out into nothingness with his wrath. And that’s why Jesus died. And God says, “Therefore repent
and believe the gospel.” Repent and believe that.
That’s what he asks us to do. “Repent” means that you turn from your sin — not only your outward
sins so that if you’re fornicating or you’re committing adultery, you stop it. That’s what “repent”
means. It means you stop doing that — but not only that, but your inward attitude of building
yourself up as the great important person among all the rest of us, putting yourself first all the
time, you repent of that — you turn from that and you put God first in your life. That’s what
“repent” means — you believe the gospel, you believe that your old miserable sinful personality,
with all its unmanageability and it’s incorrigibility, was crucified with Christ in time and space
on Calvary. But that’s really, only the outward show — in eternity from before the foundation of
the world, God destroyed what you and I have created by our sin. He says this morning to us,
“Repent and believe the gospel.”
That’s what a Christian is. A Christian is someone who believes that and then acts in accordance
with their belief. You believe that Christ’s death was brought about by your sin, and that he cried
out, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me,” when YOU should have cried that out. You believe
that he cried that out for every sin that you ever committed, for every cruel word that you ever
spoke to anybody — you should have cried that out when you met God at the end of his life — but he
cried it out for you. If you really believe that, you can see that you won’t want to have anything
to do with that stuff again. I mean, this Savior has gone to hell for those things, so if you
really believe that, you’ll turn from those things. That’s what repentance means. And that’s loved
ones, why it’s so stupid for us to say, “Oh, I believe it. I believe it. But I just can’t stop
doing these things.”
You know how I’ve suggested to you that it is as if your sin put Jesus on the cross, as if every
unclean thought that you have ever had was a nail in his hands? Do you see when you say, “I believe
that,” and you think another unclean thought, it’s another nail into his hands? You speak another
cruel word to somebody, it’s another nail in his hands. The whole cross shudders. The whole body
of the Savior falls apart as you pin him with the sins that you continue to commit in your life.
You see why to become a child of God or a Christian, you believe the gospel — but because you
believe it, you STOP crucifying the Savior. You repent. You turn from not only those things, you
stop doing them, but you also change your attitude inside and you put God first in your life instead
of yourself first. When you do that of course, a miraculous thing happens — God gives you a gift.
He gives you the gift of his Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit comes into your life and gives you the
strength and grace to live like that. To live above sin. As you struggle even with inward sin,
later on as the months pass, the Holy Spirit leads you into absolute deliverance even from that by
showing you exactly what Christ did on the cross for you. But at this stage loved ones, I would ask
you, do you believe that?
Now, you all have sat here for many weeks, and days and months. I have explained and justified and
you have read books. So I ask you, do you believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, and died, and
actually experienced the hell of separation from his own God and his own Father because he had your
sin, your whole attitude of sin, your whole personality inside himself, and that he who knew no sin
was made to be sin for you? Now, do you believe that?
Now do you see that if you DO see, you don’t have any alternative. I mean, if you believe that if
you’re not a monster you must stop doing those things in your life. You must because, you’re wise
enough to know that eternity is one great eternal moment and that Christ is still enduring the agony
and the pain each time you put a nail into his hands. So, if you believe it then you must change
today. I put it to you loved ones, if you don’t change you are more cruel than Hitler ever was —
aren’t you? I mean, you are more ruthless than the worse person we can think of — this fella that
we think killed all of the little guys in Atlanta. He killed little guys, but you’re killing again
the purist man that ever lived — but also the man that gave his life for you.
That’s why, loved ones, I urge you this morning, repent and believe the gospel. Turn from the
things that are wrong in your life, begin to turn even from the attitude that is wrong where you’re
treating yourself as if you’re just the great important person in the whole place and turn to God —
and put him first in your life. If you do that, this very morning God will give you the Holy
Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will give you grace so that tomorrow morning, when you get
up to pray, the Spirit will be there and will give you a sense of God’s presence. When you open
your Bible on the gospel of John, the Spirit will make the words live for you.
That’s what happens when a person becomes a child of God, when a person becomes a Christian, or is
“born of God”. You know, if you say to me again, “What do I have to do?” You can do it right now
where you’re sitting. I would encourage you to make a stand somewhere. Don’t say, “Well, I will,”
or, “I’ll think about it.” There’s a power of evil that works in you at this moment that says, “I
will think of it in a more convenient season,” and you’ll never get back to it. No, make a stand.
Many of you have been coming for years here and you’ve been moving, as you know, nearer and nearer
— but loved ones, you’ll move nearer and nearer forever unless you QUIT your sin and you receive
Christ’s Spirit into your life and you commit yourself to listening to that Spirit. That’s it!
That’s why they talk about it as being “born”. There can be nine months there [in the womb] but
there’s a moment when the little child comes out, and he’s born into a new world and sees sights
that he could never see in his mother’s womb. So are you if you have not been born of God. You
have been dwelling here in what is a very dark world compared with the brightness of the world that
surrounds God’s own presence.
So loved ones, it does take a definite stand and a definite act of faith. I would encourage you to
do it, especially if you’ve never done it. In the Methodist church, they did encourage us. I made
a decision when I was 13, and then it became real when I was 17. So, a lot of us in the Methodist
church went through confirmation like you Lutherans, and we went through the form. In fact, some of
you who are Baptist say, “Oh I was immersed and yet, I didn’t know what it was about.”
So loved ones, again, we’re all kind of in the same boat. We’ve all gone through all kinds of hoops
— ecclesiastical and otherwise — and really, what we need to do this morning is we need to say,
“Have I ever made a decision for Jesus whatever you call it? Have I ever committed my life to him?
Have I ever repented and believed the gospel? Have I ever taken a stand and said, ‘I’m no longer a
spectator. I’m no longer observing. I’m no longer watching. I no longer go to campus, but I am a
child of God this morning. Lord God, I want to align myself with those who lifted your Son off the
cross — and I want to take myself out of the crowd who put him on that cross.” That’s it, loved
So really, it’s up to you. As a man, all you could do for me is what I’m trying to do for you. All
we can do for each other is explain it — but YOU have to act for yourself. What if you don’t act?
The killer is that it’s a “beautiful” situation we have: you can keep on coming Sunday after Sunday,
and who knows the difference — except that some week, you won’t be here. Some week you won’t be
here anymore. Maybe somebody will notice you’re not here. Wouldn’t it be tragic if you were to be
in hell and nobody knows, least of all you, that you should have done something about it?
So loved ones, will you think seriously where you stand? I would urge you, especially those who
have listened to this old voice for so long, be clear where you stand. Be clear where you stand
with God. Have you ever repented and believed the gospel and begun to read your Bible, and to pray
each day, and to get to know your maker? Have you? Have you ever quit your sin? I would encourage
you because I love you and think we’re beginning to take care and concern for each other. I’d
encourage you to do something now, today — I would.
You can do it as you sit there. We’re all different, do you realize that? I thought it would be
good to do it in an open way if some of us need that — mind you, it’s the cerebral ones often that
need it. I used to think, “Oh well, I’ll just change my way of thinking.” Often it’s those of us
who pride ourselves on our ability to think, we’re the ones who need to walk up and say we’ve done
it. Of course, the Bible does say, “You ought to confess before men.” In your “heart belief”, you
believe in your heart but you confess with your mouth onto salvation. Confessing with your mouth is
not just speaking it out to the people that you work with tomorrow, but it’s proclaiming before
others. It’s witnessing, “Yes, I have chosen Christ and I will give my life to him as he has given
his life for me.” So some of us need to do that.
Some of us can do it sitting in our seat, or we can do it while we’re standing — it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter at all which way you do it, but do it in a way that’s necessary for you. So, if
you need to come up here during the last hymn, then do that. If God says to you, “It’s time you
stopped sitting on the fence. It’s time you testified to some other human being, ‘Look I’m moving.
I’m changing my spot. I’m no longer going to sit in this maybe/maybe not situation’” — then you
should come up. If you have been a child of God before, and you’ve lost it all, or you’ve just
backslid, then you should make a stand.
I would encourage you to do it — either to come up during the last hymn or to do it quietly in your
own place and then to make a change tomorrow in your life, to begin to read the Bible, to begin to
pray and to testify to somebody tomorrow that you yourself became a Christian yesterday, or you
became a child of God. I’d avoid “born again” because everybody is “born again” — but something
definite that makes something real to you and means what you mean it to mean.
So loved ones, we’ll stand and sing this great hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. If you
feel you should make a stand then loved ones, just come up. You can kneel here and we’ll pray at
the end. “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. My riches gain I
count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” [Singing time on video is 36:08 – 39:07]
Let us pray. Dear Lord, we thank you for your death for us and we know we owe everything to you
Lord Jesus, this life and the next. And so Lord, we would in our own hearts, with the loved ones
who are kneeling here, we would give our hearts and our lives to you. Thank you, Lord, that
everything has depended on you all along and depends on you this day. Lord, we would give our lives
to you and trust you now to put your Holy Spirit into our hearts and into the hearts of those who
kneel here that you will live your life again through us from this day forward.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with
each one of us now and evermore. Amen.