Description: There's a streak of irrationality that we experience, that monster within that will act against it's own best advantage in order to have it's own way.
Bondage Of The Carnal Will
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
One of the most famous biographies in English literature — some of you will know immediately I
mention it — is Boswell’s life of Dr. Samuel Johnson in the 18th century. And one of the qualities
of Boswell’s biography that makes it so good is his patent honesty. He records things as they really
are. And he records his own feelings and his own experience as it really is.
And I think I have used this quotation once before, and some of you may remember it. He says this in
his diary for Sunday, November 28, 1762, “I went to St. James’s Church, and heard service, and a
good sermon on ‘By What Means Shall A Young Man Learn To Order his Ways,’ in which the advantages of
early piety were well-displayed. What a curious, inconsistent thing is the mind of man. In the midst
of divine service, I was laying plans for having women, and yet I had the most sincere feelings of
It’s that moral perversity that all of us have experienced, that we’re talking about these Sundays.
It’s that streak of irrationality that probably every one of us in this auditorium has experienced
at some time or other that we’re talking about, that wild Mr. Hyde that seems to be lurking
underneath the respectable Dr. Jekyll.
We’ve agreed that many of us here are Christians. Many of us know that God has forgiven us our sins.
Many of us really believe that Jesus had died for us, and indeed, we believe that He has put his
Spirit inside us. And yet many of us have found that there is underneath all the outward appearance
of Christianity, a great monster that really does what Dostoevsky says it does. It will act even
against its own best advantage in order to have its own way.
Now it’s that that we’re discussing dear ones. I think it’s important to share that at the beginning
of each study, because some people are just here, maybe, for the first time today. But that’s what
we’re talking about — the difficulty that many of us have in walking the way we know we should walk
— in doing the things we know we should do.
Old Paul maybe puts it best of all. And maybe you’d look at it if you don’t already know the verse
off by heart. It’s Romans 7:15. It’s the classical description of this dilemma in which we find
ourselves. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing
The approach most of us take to that problem is this. We decide we’ll deal bit-by-bit with each
problem area in our lives. So we see the impatience in our life, and we run a campaign in prayer and
practice against impatience.
I think most of us here would agree that it’s quite successful, initially, because you do seem to
get some measure of control of your impatience. The trouble comes when you begin to move to your
selfishness. You initiate a campaign of prayer and practice against your selfishness. And you seem
to get a measure of victory over that. And then you decide, “It’s going so well, well, I’ll move on
to the envy.” And you start praying about envy, and concentrating and disciplining yourself by will
power, against expressing envy. And then, horror of horrors, you find that some little monster is
beginning to push up its head over here. And it is the old selfishness that you thought you dealt
with. And you’ve hardly seen its head, but you see the old impatience is coming up as well.
Many of us have found that that piecemeal dealing with defeated areas in our lives has not been very
successful, over a long period of time. In fact, we often call that the ‘fight of faith’. We keep
praying this one down, praying that one down, praying this one down, and praying that one down. And
you keep running from place to place, trying to stop the leaks.
Really, it reminds you of old Freud’s theory. It reminds you of that theory of his you know, that
‘we’re just one great hydraulic system, where if you let the pressure out there, then it doesn’t
build up somewhere else. But if you stop it from getting out there, then it builds up somewhere
else.’ Really it suggests that almost, doesn’t it? That it’s impossible to deal with the thing.
If you hold this thing down here, it jumps up over here. If you hold it down over here, it appears
over here. It’s really a bit like some of us do — some of us brothers who know we need an ordinary
screw-driver or we need a Philips screw-driver, but we have an ordinary screw-driver. But we’re
determined to get that last old screw turned. And the tool is the wrong tool. Or the sisters who get
the wrong needle for the wrong sewing job: you keep trying to make do. And you keep trying to make
adjustments to the tool and try to use it a different way. And it’s a long-long time before you
eventually decide, “I’ve got the wrong tool. I just need a different tool. I need to change the
whole thing, the whole system that I am using.”
Really dear ones, that’s what Paul has been saying to us, under God’s direction, that the problem is
not the individual areas of our life that are wrong. It’s us ourselves. There’s a whole thing wrong
inside us that just needs to be changed. You remember he said it, if you look Romans 7:14, just a
verse before the one we read. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
We’ve been discussing for some time that the problem with most of us is, our nature is all wrong.
Our whole system has been turned inside out. And it’s the whole system that has to be changed. It’s
not the impatience or the bad temper. It’s not the unkindness or the unclean thoughts. It’s the
whole system inside our personality that has to be changed.
You know I have used this diagram often. And it can be used, I think, to bring it quickly to
somebody’s mind who has seen it for the first time, that the Bible really teaches that our own
personal psychology is like that. [Shows 3 rectangles with the largest labeled “Body” and inside
that a smaller labeled “Soul” and inside that the smallest labeled, “Spirit”] And it consists of the
spirit and the soul and the body; spirit, soul and body, dear ones. And you get that, of course, in
1 Thessalonians 5:23. “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and
soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
You remember we’ve shared often how it was God’s plan that we should receive in our spirits, all
that we needed to, from Him. In other words, for instance, in the case of our emotions, we should
receive from God himself, all the love and affection that we needed. And then we should experience
all that love and affection from God, our dear Father, who alone can love us perfectly, at the end
of the day. And then we should begin to express that outwardly — that we would receive from God,
the Father, all the love that we need through his Holy Spirit — and then that we would express that
through our souls and then through our bodies and then out into the world. That was the way our
personalities were meant to operate, from the inside out.
Now, you know what we’ve shared, that we rebelled against the whole idea of depending on God for
love alone and affection alone. We wanted to operate independently of Him. We wanted satisfaction
for these emotions in our souls. We wanted the satisfaction whenever we wanted it — not just
whenever He wanted to give it to us. So, of course, we cut this off completely [shows source from
God cut off]. Our spirits died and went into almost just an inactive state completely. And so we
found that we had to get satisfaction for our emotions from somewhere. So we looked out here [shows
outside the body], to our friends, to our wives, to the world, to everybody that we could use. And
we began to grab attention and affection from them — through our bodies at times and, at times,
just through our emotions. And we began to try to get satisfaction in that way.
So you remember when people say, “I love,” today, they really mean, “I need.” Indeed some of the
songs — some of the new songs that are coming out — are at least more honest. They do state that
kind of thing. But whenever we say, “I love,” we mean, “I need; I want; I require affection; I
Now that’s what we mean when we talk about a carnal nature or a carnal attitude, dear ones. The
whole personality has started to work the wrong way around. Instead of working out from the inside
like that [shows source from God into the spirit], receiving all we needed from God, we’ve started
to try to get from other people and from the world what we alone can get from God. And so we have
become a great world of parasites who are always demanding from one another, and emptying one
another of all the love they have.
Now that’s what we mean when we talk about a carnal nature. It means — carnal is ‘sarx’ in Greek,
which is body. It means our whole personality is trying to get all the satisfaction it needs from
the body. That’s why so many of us eat too much, because we’re trying to get satisfaction for
insecurity from eating. That’s why so many of us spend so much money on clothes, because we’re
trying to get status from the way we appear to other people, when really we should get it from the
confidence we have that our Father accepts us.
So the whole nature has begun to work the wrong way around. That’s what we fight against when you
find yourself envious of people or jealous, or you find yourself getting into a corner, and crying
over the fact that nobody will give you the attention you deserve. The self-pity that we experience,
dear ones, is not just one little problem on its own. It’s just a symptom of a whole personality
that is working in, instead of working out that way [shows movement out from spirit to soul to body
Now that’s what we’ve talked about over the past Sundays. What I’d like to share a little today is
how this applies to our wills. You remember, for instance, that we have applied this to our minds.
And we showed — I think it was last Sunday or the Sunday before — how our minds were meant to
receive what they required from the intuition of our spirits, and were to pass it on out through our
bodies and out into the world.
In that way, we wouldn’t have oil spills. We wouldn’t have the pollution that we’re making of God’s
world. We’d have a world that was working beautifully, according to his plan. We did the same thing
with our emotions, you remember, showing that the love and affection that we need should come from
God, through the fellowship in our spirits. It should pass on to our emotions, and our emotions
should be used to express that same love and joy to other people. So there is always an outgoing
Would you look with me, just for a few moments now at the will and the conscience? That’s what Paul
is dealing with here in Romans 7:16, if you would like to look at it. “Now if I do what I do not
want, I agree that the law is good.”
And loved ones, the will is what determines your action. When your will decides something, you
actually do that thing. The will is directly responsible for your action. Now Paul is saying here in
Romans 7:16, “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.” But if he does it loved
ones, then his will must be wanting to do it. So he is saying that my will does something that
another part of my being does not want to do. That’s really a better way to read the verse. “Now if
my will does what another part of me does not want, I agree that the law is good”.
Now what is that other part? Well, if you look at the diagram, you can see that the part of our
spirits that governs our wills is our conscience. [Shows ‘Conscience’ in the spirit and ‘Will’ in
the soul] And really what Paul is saying is, “If my conscience wants to do what God wants, then
even though my will does not do it, yet there’s some part of me that is agreeing that God is right
and that his law is right.”
Loved ones, do you see that just for a moment? Paul is saying, “There are two parts of me that can
want things. My will can want things and my conscience can want things. But when I do a thing, it
proves what my will really wants, even though there’s another part of me that still seems to want
Now that brings home a kind of important truth to us, because you know that a lot of us say, “I
really want to get up early in the morning. I really do. I really want to, I really want to.” Or we
say, “I really want to stop that habit. I really do, believe me I do, but I can’t. I want what God
wants, but I just can’t do it”.
Loved ones, I don’t know a strong enough word to say, but it’s just foolishness, you know. It’s just
not true. You’re not being honest. If your will really wanted to do it, you do it, because that’s
it. That’s what your will is there for. Your will is the determining executive, pivotal factor in
your whole personality. If your will really wants to do something, you’ll do it. There’s no
question. And you’d just better face the fact, when you say those pious words, they’re really not
true. The reason you don’t get up in the morning, is because your will doesn’t want to get up in the
morning. The reason you don’t stop that habit that you want to stop, is because your will doesn’t
want to stop it.
Now you may have another part of you that is wanting. And maybe that’s what you mean. Maybe you’re
saying, “Well I know my will doesn’t want to get up, but my conscience does want.” But it’s not your
will. It’s the will that is siding with your actions. That’s why — oh there was one fellow called
Law who wrote an old book on the devotional life. He said, “When we don’t pray, or we don’t keep our
temper, or we refuse to be industrious, or we are lazy, it’s simply because we lack the intention to
Now we’re tremendous bluffers, you know. We keep saying, “No, no Pastor, I have really, I have just
holy intentions. If you saw my holy intentions, you just wouldn’t believe it was the same person.”
Well, loved ones, I believe if I saw your conscience, it wouldn’t be the same person. But do you see
your intention determines what you do?
Don’t split it up loved ones. Don’t accept Satan’s lie that your will can be really wanting and you
won’t do. That’s what gives us all a frightening feeling that maybe we’re not in control of our
personality, because we kind of think, “Oh, if our will wants to do this, then why are we not doing
it?” Well loved ones, it’s the truth that your will doesn’t want to do it. Your conscience wants to
do it, but your will doesn’t.
Now this business of conscience, it seems to me is important. The conscience is the part of us
inside our spirits that remains more alive than any other part even after our spirits have died. So
even people who have dead spirits, even people who aren’t Christians at all, who don’t know God at
all — still they have a little bit of conscience left. The conscience is the part of us that
mirrors God’s nature inside us, and makes us know inside what standards He would want us to live up
Now the conscience, we all remember, was very weak and sleepy before we were Christians. That’s why
we often thought of the conscience as the voice inside us that said, “I ought to do this. I ought to
do it”. The great moral ‘I ought’, you remember, that Kant [19th century philosopher] talked about
it. It’s the feeling that I ought to do something. But when God’s Spirit comes inside us and
strengthens our spirit, then our consciences has become strong themselves. And instead of saying “I
ought,” they being to say, “I want.” And that’s how the conscience begins to be transformed into a
real desire to do something.
So, most of us who are Christians have two ‘wants’ inside us. We have the ‘want’ of our conscience
and we have the ‘want’ of our will. Loved ones, really’ God’s plan was simple. His plan was that his
nature would be revealed to our spirits; that would be expressed through our conscience, and our
conscience would rule our wills. That was his plan, that our conscience would rule our wills.
Now in fact, as with every other part of our personality, we’ve turned the whole operation upside
down. 6:00 a.m. or 5:00 or 4:00 a.m., the alarm goes off. And the conscience wants to do what God
wants you to do. But for years, your will has been operating, not by the conscience, because you
remember your whole spirit was originally dead. And so your will has been dominated for years by
what everybody else wants, and especially by what your body wants.
So for years, the body’s self-defense mechanism has been transformed into the executive of your
life. And the self-defense mechanism has turned into a self-assertion mechanism. And so your
conscience says, “Get up, get up, get up,” and trying to press through to your will. But your will
has been, for years, dominated by your body. And your body says, “Only five minutes more.”
Dear ones, do you see it’s as hopeless to fight against that as to try to produce electricity by two
sticks being rubbed together? The system just isn’t made to work that way, because we have deformed
the system. We have reversed it completely. And for years, we have trained our wills to be dominated
by our body. It’s the same with whatever habit it is.
So the conscience tells us, “Okay, you should stop it. You should stop this habit of telling lies.”
You forget an assignment at work or at school, and the conscience immediately says, “Be open,
confess, and face the consequences. Whatever loss of job, or whatever loss of status it means,
whatever loss of grade it means, face the consequences. Your Father is in charge. He will reinforce
you. He will take care of it.” But your will, for years, has been dominated by what your professors
think of you, by what your friends think of you, by the physical needs that you have to fulfill with
the necessary wages that you have to earn. And your will has simply no chance against that pressure.
And you just break down completely. And you tell the old lie again to get out of the difficulty.
Now loved ones, what I am anxious for you to see this morning is, why it happens? Do you see why it
happens? It’s not just that you haven’t a strong enough will. It’s not just that the will is a wild
maverick that happens to run independently of your whole personality. Brothers and sisters, it’s the
same problem as with everything else. For years, we’ve been training our wills and our minds and our
emotions to be dominated and dictated to by our bodies and by the world, in general. That’s why we
have such a problem with the will obeying.
Do you see what needs to be done? You need to change the whole system. That whole miserable, carnal
system has to be reversed and turned around so that you can begin to obey, with your will, what your
conscience says. And that is just such a massive supernatural task that only God can do it. And
that’s why we talk about this. That’s why we talk about Romans 6:6. That’s why we keep saying, “Our
old self, our whole self here [shows diagram of personality working the wrong way], the way it used
to be, was crucified with Christ. That whole unworkable system, going in like that [shows diagram of
personality with arrows from the world outside to the body and to the soul], was crucified with
Christ.” And what we need is for the Holy Spirit to make that actual and real in our own lives.
Now dear ones, do you see that’s why it’s not enough to say that you remember Romans 6:11, “Reckon
yourselves dead indeed onto self?” It’s not enough to say that the way you reckon yourself dead
indeed unto self, in connection with your own will is, bit-by-bit to take each area where your will
is unwilling, and deal with that area.
Some of us think that, that’s why I think some of us think, “Oh dying is kind of a gradual
day-by-day business.” And we say, “Oh yeah, well if I have to reckon myself dead to my will, all
right, the conscience tells me to get up tomorrow morning. Well, I don’t get up. Okay, at that
moment I have to reckon myself dead. And then I’ll be able to get up.”
No, loved ones. Don’t you see the issue is, “Are you prepared to die to the will being dominated by
the body? And are you willing from now on for your will to be governed by your conscience?” That’s
the death it means. Are you willing to die to letting your body govern your will? Are you willing to
die to your body or other people always telling your will what to do? And are you prepared to come
alive to letting your will do what your conscience tells you, whatever, whatever the consequences?
Now do you see, that is a big crisis decision to make? In other words, it’s not a matter of
gradually step-by-step yielding your will on this area, on that area. It’s a decision, “Are you
going to let your nature work the way God planned it to work?”
Brothers and sisters, I can’t give you any idea of the joy and freedom and liberty and
single-mindedness that comes once a person settles that issue on the cross with Jesus. Once you
settle, “I do not care if I lose friends. I don’t care if I lose my job. I don’t care if I am known
by nobody or if I am another failure, from now on, what my conscience says, I am going to do it.”
Suddenly, loved ones, you begin to get a sense of immediate life coming from your creator to you.
And things in your life begin to fall into place, honestly. When you stop giving your mind and
emotions and your body, the right to interfere with what your conscience tells your will to do, then
there comes tremendous freedom and single-mindedness.
But you see that’s what we do. I mean we’re foolish. Our conscience gives us a direction. We don’t
look to it. We point our will out to what our mind thinks of all this. And by the time our mind has
finished modifying the directions of our conscience, and by the time our emotions have made us
scared of the consequences of following our conscience, our will hasn’t a chance. It just doesn’t
look to the conscience at all. It does what the body tells it.
So loved ones, reckoning yourselves dead indeed unto self, in connection with the carnal will, is
really a matter of, “Are you willing to die to your right to your will being determined by your body
and by other people? And are you willing to put your will under your conscience directly from this
day forward?” That’s really it.
And you know; you’re no fools. You know fine well as you sit there listening to me, what it means
for each of you. You know that. You know it will change your life if you ever started that. It would
just transform you. You know if you really spoke, when your conscience told you to speak, you know
the things you’d suffer. But you also know some of the things that God would be able to do.
Loved ones, your will can be placed directly under your conscience. It really can. Tomorrow morning,
when the alarm goes off, you can put your will under your conscience. You can refuse to negotiate;
refuse to question; refuse to rationalize. Get the body up out of bed. You can do it, because that’s
the way God planned for us to operate. And once you are willing to accept that death with Jesus, the
Holy Spirit enables you to do that.
Oh you know, on the cross, when the conscience said to Jesus that he should say, “Father, forgive
them for they know not what they do,” I mean he didn’t pause for a minute. He didn’t pause for a
moment and let his mind think, “Well, could I get angels and arch angels to come and deliver me from
this cross?” He immediately said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
It settles an awful lot of problems, if you do that. I think a lot of you wonder, “Oh is the
Christian life really simple and straight forward? I’ve found it complex and a problem.” Loved ones,
it’s dead simple and really joyful, if you’ll simply get the will back under the conscience. Do you
believe it? Really it’s true. It really works.
So will you begin to think and pray about that in this business of reckoning yourself dead indeed
unto self and alive to God in Christ Jesus? Begin to ask the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit, in what
places in my life am I not willing to put my will under my conscience?” And immediately a lot of
them will come to your mind. And then the Holy Spirit will show you the rest.
Oh, I’d get with it you know. I’d get with God and with his plan. It’s worth it. The time we spend
arguing, itself, brings more frustration than the problems that would come from us obeying our
consciences. Let us pray.