How to Recognize a Christian
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I’d like to break, brothers and sisters, this morning from the normal study in Romans and we would
get back to it next Sunday. And so I’d just like to share something that Jesus told me I should
share this morning. You know that we’ve been talking about what a real Christian is and that a real
Christian is not one who simply believes that God is the Creator of the world and that Jesus died
for our sins because you remember, that in James it says that even the demons believe and shudder.
So obviously, a Christian is not just a believer and that’s where we go astray when we lay the
emphasis so much on intellectual belief in Jesus alone because there are many people who stand up in
church Sunday after Sunday and repeat the apostles’ creed and they really believe it. They really
believe it with all of their heart, with all of their mind and emotions. And some of them can
become very emotional about their beliefs but they’re not Christians because all they do is believe
and even the demons believe and shudder.
And being a Christian is not just believing. It is not just holding the right intellectual tenants
about Jesus and about God. And being a Christian is not just being a moral person. It seems clear
to us that there are many moral people who are not Christian. There are very good people who live
very unselfish lives and they aren’t Christian at all nor would they even dream of saying that they
were interested in Christianity. So being a Christian is not just being a moral person. And we
know clearly, I think without any difficulty, that being a Christian is not simply going to church,
or being baptized, or being a member of a church.
But being a Christian is receiving. It is receiving the Spirit of Jesus inside you. And you
remember, Jesus really states that through his servant in John there if you look at it for a moment.
John 1:12 is a verse that many of us know by heart. It reads like this, “But to all who received
him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” To all who received him
and becoming a Christian is receiving the Spirit of Jesus inside you. It’s a miraculous work that
God does in your spirit at a level deeper than your mind, and emotions, and will. It’s a work that
God does inside you and makes you alive inside so that there was a time when maybe you didn’t
appreciate old Bach and then you came into an understanding of Bach and you could sit at concerts
and enjoy him completely.
So it is, God brings a piece of you alive that had never been alive before and you see things that
you never saw before, and you come into a spiritual world that we’re all trying to hit at when we
attempt to raise psychic experience to the nth degree through heroine, or when we try to experience
some transcendence over this present pedestrian world in which we live. But it’s that spiritual
world that God miraculously brings you into life in through his Holy Spirit and that’s what it is to
be a Christian.
And it’s easy, you know, God does that when you’re willing to do what the man who owned the inn in
Bethlehem was not willing to do. Jesus can only come in if you make room, if you say there’s no
room he doesn’t come in. And that’s why very few people really are Christians. There are many
Christian believers. There are many who hold a Christian consensus worldview but there are
relatively few Christians who actually are prepared to get out of their lives what prevents Jesus
coming in. And there are many of us that have a great deal of intellectual pride and we’re not
willing to die to that pride to let Jesus come in so actually, we never experience Jesus.
We experience an intellectual kind of concept of Jesus but we never experience Jesus. Many of us
are holding so much onto our jobs and our futures that we will not get that out of our room and
Jesus will not come into our room to be a prisoner so we’re actually saying to him, “There is no
room at the inn.” It’s just that we’re more subtle being western sophisticates, we’re nicer about
it. We say, “Oh yeah, come in, come in.” But he knows that we’re only letting him into the porch
and so he doesn’t come in at all and we just hold him in that position and we keep calling ourselves
Now how do you tell a real Christian from a pseudo Christian, or a Christian receiver from a
Christian believer? How do you tell one who has been born of the Spirit from one who simply goes to
church and agrees with Christianity because he lives in America? Well, 1 John 3:9, you remember,
makes it very clear. It’s a miserable verse but it does make it clear. 1 John 3:9, “No one born of
God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” And
I demythologized that verse out when I was at seminary. I went to liberal seminary and so I have no
trouble demythologizing that bit out.
I hadn’t very good intellectual reason for it but had good moral reason so I demythologized it
anyway. And then I found that it was getting hard going because the fella had repeated it again in
verse 6, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” So I
demythologized that verse out and said it was sort of exceptional exaggeration in the fact of
Gnosticism. The boy kept repeating it. In verse 7 he hit it again, “Little children, let no one
deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous.” And I argued, “Well now, it’s
alright to commit an odd sin,” and then he came right in in verse 8, “He who commits sin is of the
devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to
destroy the works of the devil.” And slowly it dawned on me that it might be true that one who is
born of God does not commit sin and I decided it would be better to agree with him and try to find
out what he meant than to try demythologizing the whole of John.
And then it gets hard work because you have to go onto the rest of the Bible because Jesus keeps
telling those silly little stories about the man who builds his house in sand and the man who builds
his house on rocks and says, the people who build their house on sand are people who hear his word
and do not do it. And so it is true brothers and sisters, that when the Spirit of Jesus comes into
us and we’re born of him, then he remains himself inside us. He does not change and he does not
begin to crucify his Father just because he’s inside us. He still obeys his Father. In fact, he
does not sin and we do not sin.
Not that we don’t make any mistakes. Of course, we make mistakes. Not, we conform absolutely to
some ideal form of perfection. No, but we do not sin in the sense that James 4:17 says, “Sin is
anybody who knows what is right and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” In that sense, we do not
sin. We walk in perfect obedience, we don’ walk in sinless perfection. We often make mistakes, we
often will find our emotions unbalanced and the old temper will go, we didn’t really mean to but it
will go. But when we know what is right to do we’ll always be able to do it and that’s what a
Christian is. A Christian is just one who is in control of himself through the Spirit of Jesus.
And he may make many mistakes, he may often fall and slip but when he knows what is right to do for
him, it is a sin if he doesn’t do that. And so a Christian is one who is in control, you see and
who can obey God.
That’s what it means a Christian doesn’t sin. A Christian obeys God. He offers God conscious
obedience. There may be many things that he does wrong that he doesn’t know about but that isn’t
sin. Sin is whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. Sin is known
conscious disobedience of God and a Christian is one who doesn’t involve himself in that.
Now, that’s where most of us come into our problems you see, because most of us, after we’ve
received the Spirit of Jesus into us, find we have troubles in two areas of our lives. Now here’s
one of the areas if you’d like to look at a verse in Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore,
putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor.” And we miss an
assignment, and we have to face the professor, and we know that we’ve to put away falsehood and
we’ve to speak the truth. And after a mighty struggle, we speak the truth. Or, we miss an
appointment with a friend and we really don’t like them to think that we just forgot the appointment
and so there’s a real struggle inside, but we do speak the truth.
But there’s a struggle. There seems to be something inside us that doesn’t want to speak the truth
in spite of the fact that the Spirit of Jesus inside us does want to speak the truth. And so even
though often we walk in outward obedience, yet often inside we have a spirit that is vying against
that desire to obey God and that we can’t deal with. And often it brings real strain into our
lives. I mean, we may be walking in obedience to God, but boy we are walking with a heavy weight on
our backs. There seems to be a spirit striving inside us against the Spirit of Jesus that came into
us when we were born of God. So many of us have that problem, we walk in obedience but we have
inside another force that is trying to pull us out of God’s way.
We have another problem. If you look at it, it is in Hebrews 12:1. Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since
we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin
which clings so closely.” And you remember the King James Version is the besetting sins, or a
besetting sin. And many of us have this trouble in our Christian lives. We can obey on number one
area, two area, three area, four area, and five area but sixth area there is a besetting sin that we
just cannot overcome. And so we have trouble at times obeying. But we manage to obey, yet there is
a strain inside us. But on this besetting sin we cannot obey. And we find every time we come up to
this particular sin we just cannot do it. And we fought it and fought it and we’ve confessed and
repented a thousand times until we’re tired of it. And we have no doubt in our minds that God will
forgive us until 70 times seven as long as our heart is penitent and soft enough to repent, God will
forgive us obviously.
But the tragedy is we have begun to see inside ourselves a tendency to rationalize the sin so that
our hearts are becoming harder about it and we find now that we don’t feel such a desire to repent
of it. We’ve almost come to a place where we say, “Ah, no this is part of my particular human
shortcoming. I’m an artistic, poetic type of person this is just kind the way my chemistry works.”
And we begin gradually to rationalize and justify this besetting sin.
Now brothers and sisters, that’s where the danger is because it’s there in Hebrews if you look at
it. Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been
enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and
have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit
apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.” Now,
it is not impossible for God to forgive us but do you see what the Bibles said, “It is impossible to
restore again to repentance.” And many of us have found in our own lives a growing tendency to
rationalize and justify these besetting sins.
Now that’s the danger point dear ones. See, that’s where it becomes dangerous. The danger actually
is not in falling and picking yourself up every day, and confessing the sin to God and really
repenting of it. God will forgive you as often as you can do that in honesty. But the danger is
when you stop picking yourself up and you stop repenting and you say, “No, no, it used to be a sin
for me but now it’s just part of my personality. I just have to walk with this on my back
throughout my life. I’m just a critical kind of person, I’m just a lustful kind of person, I’m just
a person that has a mind that wanders and it can’t be clean. That’s my type of person. I’m just
that. God I know accepts me as I am.”
Now loved ones, do you see that is an impenitent attitude and that is the attitude that cannot be
renewed again to repentance. And so really the first thing this morning if you’re in that position
is to get away from it. Say the thing is a sin. Stop arguing with God. Step back from it and say,
“No, I am not like this because my pet dog rebuffed me when I was a child.” Or, “I am not like this
because my mother was very domineering and she just made me paranoid and I just have to criticize
everybody else to avoid my paranoia.” No, don’t excuse it you see, get away from the
rationalization. Say, “Okay, it is a sin I grant you that. Now, what’s the answer?”
Brothers and sisters do you see that what God forgives you when you first come to him is your sins?
He forgives you the things that you’ve done against him, the words that you’ve spoken against him,
the thoughts that you’ve thought against him. But do you see that those sins in the plural come
from an attitude inside and there is a clear distinction in Romans between the word sins for which
Jesus shed is blood, in fact, Jesus died so that God could remain just and forgive us for our sins.
But those sins come from another word that you find in Romans that has no s on the end and it’s the
word sin. And sin is the attitude or the disease that produces the symptoms.
Now the problem with those of us who are walking in the way that I’ve described is that we allowed
God to deal with our sins but we never allowed him to touch the sin inside us. And inside us, even
though the Spirit of Jesus is there, there is still an attitude of s-i-n. There is still an
attitude of I and I still feel I am god of my own life and I have a right to my own way, and I ought
to insist on my own rights, and people ought not to walk over me. It’s that attitude that produces
the defeat and the strain in our Christian lives and God dealt with that attitude you see.
Some of us like to say, “Oh yeah, you mean that’s the old nature fighting against the new nature.”
No loved ones, if you say, “He has a lovely nature.” He either has a lovely nature or he hasn’t.
If you say he’s of a generous nature, he’s a generation nature or he’s a miserly nature but it’s one
or the other, you can’t have two natures inside you. The Bible never talks about us as if there are
two natures inside us. The Bible only says, “This is what the nature of Satan does and this is what
the nature of God does.” And do you see our problem is we’ve never really allowed God to deal with
that old nature?
We’ve never really allowed him to deal with that in a way that is once for all. Now, God dealt with
it in Jesus. See, when Jesus died, God took that attitude of yours and put it into Jesus and
destroyed it. That’s it. It’s a miracle, but that’s what God did. If you say: “Well, pastor if
it’s gone, if it’s dead, if God crucified it in Jesus why do I have such trouble with it here in my
own life?” Well, I ask you about your sins. Did you have trouble with your sins? Didn’t you have
trouble with the guilt of your sins until you let go of them? In spite of the fact that you knew it
was a historical fact that Jesus has born your sins on Calvary, yet you had no release from them or
from their guilt until you let go of them yourself from your own life.
Now, do you see it’s the same with this old self? God destroyed it on Calvary but you can have no
freedom from it unless you’re willing to let it go yourself and that’s the way into victory brothers
and that’s the way into victory brothers and sisters. Not to just struggle with this old attitude
inside, not to keep striving against it but to admit, “Look, this has been crucified with Christ.
This old self of mine has been crucified with Christ.” This Connie has been crucified with Christ.
This John has been crucified with Christ. This Ernest has been crucified with Christ. This Dan has
been crucified with Christ. We were destroyed with Jesus in Calvary. That means our futures were
destroyed, our own rights were destroyed, our possessions are no longer our own possessions. We’ve
been destroyed with Christ on Calvary. And then a willingness to let the Holy Spirit run our lives
once we’ve stopped running them ourselves. And that’s the way into victory.
It’s just accepting that your old self, that old attitude inside that strains and strives against
God was crucified with Jesus. Don’t argue about it you see. If you look at Romans 6:6, it says it
plainly so you shouldn’t try any masochism, or any monasticism. A lot of people try to drive it out
of them, you know, as if it’s a kind of demon. If you beat your body hard enough you’ll drive him
out. It’s not that you see. Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” So
that’s a fact.
The old attitude inside that causes you so much trouble was destroyed by God. Now, you should begin
to thank God for that. You should begin to say, “Father, I thank you that this old self that
produces this anger in my life was crucified by you on Calvary. I thank you that it died there with
Jesus.” And then look to the Holy Spirit and say, “Holy Spirit, will you show me any way in which I
am not willing to let it go out of my life.” And the Holy Spirit will probably come down to you and
say, “Well now, anger. You get angry because things are getting out of your control. Now, would
you be willing to let things get so out of control as much as the Holy Spirit wants them to be out
of control and would you allow him to call it when he wants to?” And you’d have to face that you
If you’re a father or mother with children, or if you’re a brother or sister with a roommate that
really gets under your skin, slams the door every time she goes out, just doesn’t know how to close
it quietly then the Holy Spirit will say to you, “Will you be willing to have that door slammed for
a thousand years until the Holy Spirit wants to stop it being slammed?” In other words, the Holy
Spirit will start to apply to you what would be the consequences of your death with Christ, you see.
And usually that means if you’re dead you wouldn’t control your own life, isn’t that right? You
wouldn’t control your own future. You wouldn’t be able to stop people when they were hurting you.
You wouldn’t be able to get people to do just what you wanted when you wanted them to do it. Those
would be some of the consequences. You’d have to hand that all over to the Holy Spirit because
you’d be dead to Christ and there’d be nobody else to run your life, your physical, mental,
emotional life. And the Holy Spirit will take you through those things.
I don’t know what it is for you but it’ll be something that is the heart of yourself. It will be
some part of your life that you will not let go out of your grip and you’re saying to God, “I’ll
follow you as long as.” And the Holy Spirit takes that as long as and he says, “Now, would you be
willing to die to self there in that as long as?” And there’ll come a time in your life, there
certainly came a time in my life, when I got to the ground of my heart and the Holy Spirit showed me
that the trouble was not anger, or impatience, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, the trouble was me,
Ernest O’Neill. Just me myself. I was sin. I was rebellion against God. I was such a miserable,
rotten, wretch there was nothing for God to do but destroy me and start all over again. And then he
took me to the ground of my heart and showed me what my besetting sin was and asked me, “Would you
Yeah, he asked me, “Would you be willing to be a failure for me?” And you know, when you’re a
pastor you sort of want to be successful and you want to do things and he said, “Would you be
willing to be a failure for me?” Would you be willing to be nothing for me? And there came a day
in my parsonage in North Minneapolis where I said, “Yes, I would be willing.” And there was just an
absolute confidence that I had come to the ground of my heart and that I was really willing to be
crucified with Christ. And then Jesus poured the Holy Spirit into me in fullness. And from that
day I walked in incredible victory with none of the old strain or the old defeat that I’d suffered
for 10 or 12 years of my Christian life. And brothers and sisters, that’s the way into victory.
God does not want you to walk with these besetting sins on your heart. He does not want you to walk
in strained obedience. He wants you to enter into this death with Christ. And that’s the truth of
it, you know. It’ll be as real as real death, it really will because you die to everything that is
dear to you, you know. You die to controlling your own future, you die to having your own way at
home, you die to having your own way in your room, you die to having your own way as far as your
money is concerned, and you die to having your own way as far as your relationships with others are
concerned. And so it is a real death and it’s more real I suppose than physical death and yet when
you’re willing to come into that and let what has taken place already in Jesus take place in you
today, then Jesus fills you completely with the Holy Spirit.
And then it seems that the real Christian life really begins and it just takes off and it’s an
effortless life of victory and it is really good. You know you should pray about it because this is
certainly at the heart of my life. This is the thing that changed my life and it’s the thing that
gets you really into that stratosphere of God’s love. So often we’re in the atmosphere and we’re
feeling the pull of the earth, and it’s pulling us down, pulling us down and the old friction is
going like mad and then you get into the stratosphere and it’s just effortless quiet flying through
the air. And that’s where the Father wants us. But it only comes through that death.
Now there are lots of ways to find out because you’ll be thinking about them. You’ll be thinking
about it increasingly these weeks and months. I’ve written a wee thing called “Free to live through
death to self”. There might be some of those on the bookshelves, but there are other men who have
written about it far, far better. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray is good on it and The Normal
Christian Life by Watchman Nee is good. And really – you actually don’t need to read anymore, all
you need is Romans 6 and Romans 8:13, or Galatians 5:24-25 and then ask the Holy Spirit to begin to
make that real in your life.
And oh I pray, I know that God wanted me to speak it for someone today so there’s someone here today
that needs that otherwise I would have preached what I had slogged out last night to prepare. But
there’s someone obviously who needs it so you should move on it now. You shouldn’t hold back. That
controlled surrender brings strain in the eyes and eventually just nervous exhaustion in the body
and eventually falling out of any pretense at Christianity at all. There’s only one way to go with
Jesus and that’s the whole way. And this is really a good way to go and really the only way to fly,
really, if you want to. So I pray that God will show it to you.
Let us pray. Dear Father, we thank you for the completeness of your plans for us. We thank you
that you have not simply dealt with the superficial symptoms of the rebellion against you but you
have dealt with the inside attitude that no other religion can deal with. That attitude that says,
“The good that I would I cannot do and the evil that I want to avoid, that’s the very thing that I
do.” Father, we thank you that you dealt with all this in Jesus on Calvary and that we are in our
present trouble because we’re living a lie. We’re living as if we had never died with Christ.
We’re living as if this life is our own and we have to guard it and protect it.
Father, we thank you that that isn’t the case. That this life ended with Jesus on Calvary and now
the Holy Spirit is the one who controls these minds, and bodies, and emotions and he will do it for
your glory and we will be able to just enjoy the ride. Father, we thank you for that. Trust you
Father for whatever brother and sister needs to hear this this morning that you will deal directly
with them and that you will bring them right into this. I know Holy Spirit that you are a good
counselor and they need no other counselor but you. You will show them where the ground of their
heart is and where their own self is. I trust you to do it so that we will be a glorious body
without spot, or blemish, or wrinkle, or any such thing and that when the world sees us they will
see you. We ask this in your name, Amen.