Description: What or who manages your life? You-- using your own powers or Holy Spirit -- bringing freedom through our obedience to what He tells us to do?
The Work of the Holy Spirit
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Most of us know the situation in the Church of Galatia where it appeared that the Christians had
started to believe that in order to be completely pleasing to God they ought not only to obey Jesus’
word but they ought to obey the ritual laws of the Jewish dispensation, like circumcision and all
the other sacrificial laws. So we all know of that and you know how Paul wrote to them and said,
“Look, you’re being deceived, you’re being led away — that isn’t necessary.”
In fact, some of you may remember the conference that the apostles had over it and how in fact, Paul
accused Peter of some insincerity and going a little too much with the Jewish group. Paul came
right down the line in this letter to the Galatians and said, “No, no, who has bewitched you? You
were called to freedom. You were called to freedom, obeying the spirit of Jesus and now you’re
falling back into other laws and other things that you have to obey as well.” Of course, we all
tend to think, “Well, yeah, yeah but that was then, they were Jews and that’s what they had to
fight. Thank goodness we haven’t that to fight.”
But it does seem so easy, doesn’t it? It is easy for us in our desire to please God to fall back
into our own ritual laws and to begin to believe that by obeying certain laws of the spiritual life
or certain principles, or by listening intently to what Hudson Taylor [1832-1905, Chinese missionary
and founder of China Inland Mission] did, or how George Mueller [ 1805-1898, Missionary in Bristol,
UK] prayed, or even listening to each other and looking as we all are anxious to please Jesus for
some hint of how I may please him more. It’s very possible for us ourselves, to fall into a
preoccupation with, in a sense, laws.
That is doing things that we think will please God and by that means removing ourselves one step
from the throne of God. Because, the truth is that through Jesus we are directly connected with the
throne of God. It is very easy to move yourself back one step by falling into that tendency to
think that by obeying certain principles, or observing certain laws of the spiritual life, we
alleviate them because we read Hudson Taylor with enthusiasm, we’ll read John Wesley with
enthusiasm, we’ll read William Law, and we read all the contemporary saints with a great admiration.
It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of following things that they do. Of course, worse even than
that, we can set up our own laws, our own things that we feel we ought to do to be good Christians
and to be good disciples. And so we can get a whole little pattern of habits and practices in our
own lives by which we think we can please God.
Now, you’ll see in a moment that there’s something much worse in that than just obeying laws. How
do we get into this? I think it goes right back as most of our deceptions do, to the very heart of
the gospel and so maybe you’ll look at it. For us especially, it’s been Romans 6:6, but really
since Paul says, “I came to preach Christ crucified and I determined to know nothing among you
except Christ’s crucified,” it’s really the central apostolic gospel — it’s the gospel of Christ
crucified. Particularly we see the importance of Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was
crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to
So, that teaches the plain truth that we were all put into Jesus, we were utterly changed in Jesus,
and our old self, our desire to stand up for ourselves, and have our own way, and run our own lives,
that was crucified in Christ. Our whole personality was crucified in him so that the body of sin,
“soma hamartias” it is in Greek, so that the body of sin might be “katargethe” [destroyed].
“Katargeo” means, might be destroyed.
Some people translate it might be done away with. Some people translate, or it has been translated
as rendered inoperative, rendered useless. Sometimes, rendered unemployed. It means this, that the
body of sin is not the great body of sin out there that rules in all kinds of dens of iniquity, or
the great body of sins for which Satan rules in the world, but the body of sin is this body that is
being used by sin. That’s what it means.
It’s the body that is being used by sin and what the Greek means is, that in the cross the body was
put away as far as it being a body that was used as sin is concerned. So, as far as it’s a body
that is used by sin, that was done away with in Christ. So we all believe that and in fact, we
would believe that when we enter into a clean heart and allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts,
then we have been freed from that body of sin. We’ve found, for instance, that this little body
that was used to giving a quick rejoinder to anybody who criticized us, you know the way that works,
somebody criticizes or appears to criticize us, sometimes they just give us some advice and
immediately we respond with a little bit of a crack at them. That tendency to attack when we’re
apparently being attacked, that body of sin was destroyed and we find we’re at last free from having
Or many of us, when our eyes would go to either gentlemen or a lady that we liked then we’d find all
kinds of lust or desire rising up in our hearts and going out to meet, and we’d find that that body
of sin was destroyed. That link between the outward image and the inward response seemed to have
been broken. It was a miracle. So many of us found that we were at last free from those things
that are known as the works of the flesh — the motives, the wrong motives in our lives; the motive
to be proud and to build up self — that seemed to have been destroyed and we were cleansed in our
hearts and we found rising out of our hearts good motives and good desires.
It’s at that critical moment that it seems many of us topple back into law because we receive
honestly the statement that this body of sin has been done away with as far as it being a body that
is controlled by sin. But then we say it’s now unemployed by sin who should employ it and we step
forward and say, “Me. I will employ it.” It seems so sensible, it seems so reasonable. “I, with
my renewed mind, I will employ this body now. Thank you, Lord, that you have cast out the wrong
king and the wrong lord. You’ve cast out the power of sin and hypnotizing, mesmerizing connection
it had with my body. Thank you for bringing me freedom. Now, I’m free. I’m free from having to
But we don’t realize the peril of the other side of that, that because we’re free from having to
sin, we’re now free to sin. So, like naïve little children, we step forward boldly and we say, “I
will employ this body now, but I will employ it for God’s service.” We set about the task of
serving God with clean hearts and with a freed body, “We, I, will serve God. Now, how do I do
this?” And we begin to lay out plans in our own minds, maybe visions they are or ways of doing
things that we think will be a service to God and so we become those great disciples who are bent on
serving God. As we walk along serving God with our eyes on that distant purpose, the eyes slip off
Jesus. We never do get on with the Holy Spirit we are bent on serving God and we begin to gather
our little laws around us that will enable us to serve God. “Obviously, the people have to be
brought to Jesus so I have to equip myself to Jesus and that means I probably have to go abroad
somewhere and so now I have to sort out which country I go to and I have to get the language
Well, you can see it can’t you? Before you know it, you’re back in the driver’s seat. Before you
know it, you’re back managing the whole thing again because you say to yourself, “Who should employ
this body? Well now it’s free, I will employ it.” Of course, that’s what Paul deals with in Romans
7. I don’t know if you’ve ever asked why Romans 7 follows Romans 6? We’ve answered that it’s
certainly at least that Romans is not just a chronological personal experience of Paul’s, we’ve said
that. But it’s specifically because it’s a theological outline of the gospel that Romans 7 follows
Romans 6 because Romans 6 tells of the death with Christ that frees us from the power of sin within.
Then it’s as if Paul goes backwards. He goes in Romans 7 to you’re not only freed from the old
self, the selfish will, from the desire to elevate yourself and gratify yourself, you’re not only
freed from that but Romans 7, you’re freed from the law too.
See, he knew us better than we know ourselves. He knew that the danger was when we discover that
we’re freed from the old self that produced bad behavior that the old self would turn right around
and will try and produce good behavior. That’s why Romans 7 follows. You might want to look at it
in Romans 7:1-4, “Do you not know, brethren—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law
is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as
long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband.”
So he’s saying of course, the law, you’re married to it and the only way to get out of it is if the
law dies. That’s unlikely, the only other way is for you to die. “Accordingly, she will be called
an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.” So while you’re alive
you’re bound to the law.
“But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an
adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you
may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for
God.” And Paul is saying, “The law has only one purpose: to expose independence of God, to expose
sin. It’s really for adulterers and fornicators it’s not for you.” It’s to expose unholiness, it’s
not to make holy. It cannot make holy. The law cannot give life to you, it cannot make you holy
because the heart of holiness is you are ruled by another. Not you rule but you are ruled by
That’s the trap that we fall into when we set up our own laws. Watchman Nee [ 1903-1972, Chinese
evangelist] said, “Grace is what God does, law is what man does.” Grace is what God can do, law is
what man can do. You can see what we do, we end up self managing. The real sin is self-management.
Real sin is not bad, or evil, or crime, or immorality.
The real sin is self-management. Before we became Christians, we self-managed our behavior in an
evil way. After we became Christians, we found we were self managing our emotions in an evil way.
Then we were cleansed from that and now we find we’re self managing our service of God by our own
powers. We are self managing our powers.
So, we begin to set about using laws to serve God and to please him. We fall back into the very
whole light of which God delivered us. But we feel, “It’s right. It’s right. I’m not married to
sin, I’m not married to my evil behavior, so now I’m freed to be married to another law.” And it’s
very interesting what I saw in my life was every time you run your life by laws, or by spiritual
principles or strategies, you can bluff it. You know you can bluff it because the law, or the
strategy is a kind of inanimate object. I mean, it’s a set of principles like Wesley’s rules for his
Christian workers. Or, even Hudson Taylor’s guidelines for the China Inland Mission.
You have the advantage of it because it’s a set of laws, or principles, or strategies and it’s an
“it.” So when you’re obeying it you have the advantage, you’re a living dynamic moving being and
what we do is we choose which laws we obey and which laws we don’t so it’s us in control. Of course
it hands the whip back into Satan’s control because he’s always moving. He’s a moving target and
he’s always moving into new areas of our life and establishing some self-management there. The
self-management that he establishes contorts the way we look at the laws so the laws aren’t able to
deliver us. So, what we end up doing is surrounding ourselves with laws, and principles, and
strategies for serving God which are not capable because they’re inanimate dead objects, they’re not
capable of pursuing the carnal mind where it springs up again. So many of us end up serving God in
the flesh, in the power of our souls, working out with our so called renewed minds and our balanced
emotions the things that would please God.
Now, who is meant to employ the body? It’s so plainly set forth in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not
know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not
your own.” The Holy Spirit is the only one. The Holy Spirit is the only one who has the ability or
has the right to rule our bodies and our lives and the only thing that keeps us safe and enables us
to administer to God as opposed to serving him. You serve God when you think you can do something
for him. You minister to him by being what he makes you and the only way you can do that is by
obedience to the Holy Spirit.
I’ve seen that it’s very easy to come back into uselessness to God and to lose the liveliness of his
heart within you by grieving the Holy Spirit, by not doing what the Holy Spirit guides you
personally to do. I think Satan is all the time trying to get our carnal minds, or our fleshly
minds to argue around directions the Holy Spirit gives us and we forget that the Holy Spirit tailors
his directions to us personally and he may well guide you and ask you to do things that somebody
else isn’t asked to do. So, it’s vital to listen to him and to obey him.
As you do that you retain the freedom that God gave you in Jesus. But if you don’t do that you
become bound up in laws, and principles, and strategies and you fall back into a kind of legalism in
your life and you lack the liberty and the lightness, and the freedom of Jesus’ spirit. But if you
obey the Holy Spirit and realize that you’ve died to the law and therefore you’re free to be married
to the Holy Spirit, then he is more subtle than you are and that’s the big advantage. He can out
think us and he can out think Satan and he can keep us free and at liberty and light in our hearts.
So, what God brings home to us is — sin is self-management. Sin is not simply doing immoral things
or doing so called sinful things, or committing crimes. Sin is not even having evil motives. But
the heart of sin is self-management, doing things yourself by your own directives, or by the
directives that you gather from books or from other people. Instead of getting out on the limb of
faith and believing that what God has said is true, that he has sent the Spirit of his Son into our
hearts and he has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. The Holy Spirit is given to be our
Lord and our master and if we will obey him and will listen to him and make him the true king and
the true master of our hearts, then all the other things will be added onto us.
You might be used, you may not be used and it’s not a big thing whether you are used or not used in
the world’s eyes. You might be used you, may not be used. So, he might take you to China or he
might leave you here. He might put you into somewhere where you’re not thought of as a Christian at
all. But the Holy Spirit will add those things onto us as he pleases if we will attend to him. Of
course, what that does is bring a lightness into your own spirit and your own heart and it seems to
me it saves us from deception because the other way you’re able to have all the marks of a Christian
disciple and to be bent on serving God by being very serious about it and doing all the things that
you’re supposed to do and the Bible study and the prayer, and read the books and all those are good.
But, you’re able to do all those and yet not have a living daily responsibility to the Holy Spirit.
I wondered yesterday why God says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” Because I thought, why wouldn’t
you put it even more sternly because it seems this is dreadful, this is a terrible danger that you
can fall into where you think, “Oh yes, I’m saved and I’m sanctified and I’m not bent on serving
God.” Why would you not put it more subtly and strongly? Of course there are a couple of reasons;
one is certainly that the Holy Spirit is very patient and does not jump out of our hearts the first
time, or even the second time, or the third but he stays there and is grieved.
But then the other reason I saw was that the Holy Spirit is a person that feels sorrow and feels
grief when you ignore him and it’s in ignoring him, that’s what subtle about it. It’s just a
gradual ignoring of him. He says to you something about this little thing and then Satan comes in
and rationalizes it and says, “No, other people aren’t doing that, you don’t need to do it.” Or,
you get working on it yourself and you say, “It’s not convenient at this time to make that change I
will carry on this way.” Or, “There’s another reason for doing this and I know it’s walking along
the edges here of wrong, but there’s another reason.” We get working on it and it’s a kind of a
gentle thing; it’s inch-by-inch, you just gently, gently – and you can sense the Holy Spirit
grieving, just grieving. Grieving and feeling pain as you bit-by-bit separate yourself further and
further from him. Until then there comes time in your life when you don’t know which end is up,
you’re so deceived.
So it seems to me what God does want of us is to see that the only way to please God is to realize
that we are no longer married to sin, we’re no longer married to the law, we’re married to the Holy
Spirit and the Holy Spirit is our law. That is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The
Holy Spirit is our personal lord and master and we are each one called to obey him privately.
Now you know some of the benefits of that for instance, are that we don’t become a little stereotype
sect where everybody does the same thing. We’ve all laughed and joked about the Seven Star Diary
being a diary that the spiritual man has. But one of the beauties of real loyalty and closeness to
the Holy Spirit is that we would become a glorious group of individual replicas of Christ and not
people who are all doing the same thing in the same way.
So the Holy Spirit has some dear liberty for us to live in but it does seem to me that it’s only if
we pay strong attention to him. I don’t know where all of you are in regard to him. I would
counsel you that if you felt your heart getting hard, or you found that in some areas you seem a way
off, or if you’ve sensed a deadness coming into your life, I think it would be good to think over
these things before God today and to wait upon him. To wait upon God; just to be content to wait
upon him. Just the way in the old days the courtiers used to wait upon the king and out from the
king’s presence would come this important man; that important man and all these people who are
waiting upon the king and they would wait upon him for days.
I think you should wait upon God and ask him to enable the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where you
began to grieve him because that’s as sure as anything what has happened. You’ve begun to grieve
him in something that he has warned you about. He doesn’t let a child of God go without giving them
warnings and so ask him to bring you back to the thing that he warned you about and then it doesn’t
matter what everybody else does. It doesn’t matter what the whole world does, obey him on that.
Begin to obey him on that and gradually the Holy Spirit’s voice will become louder, and louder.
You’ll begin to hear him again and he will deliver you from all legalism and from all self-managed
discipleship and self-managed service of God which brings that uptightness into our lives. Instead,
you’ll have the responsiveness, and the discernment and perception of the Holy Spirit himself.
Thank you for listening because I think I did it very poorly, but I know that God has a dear truth
in there for each of us and he can show it to us.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we do thank you for your faithfulness to us and we thank you Lord, that you have your
eyes upon us and that you are anxious to deliver anyone of us here from any deadness that has come
into our lives or any great areas of deception and darkness that we have entered through not
listening to you.
Dear Holy Spirit, we sing about you being in the swallows, and the birds, and the flowers, and the
running brooks and yet we have so often turned against the freedom that you have for us, and the
liberty, and the lightness. We know that in many ways you’re more demanding than the law but in all
kinds of ways obeying you is perfect freedom and enables life to go in an incredible way of gladness
and success, so we thank you.
We ask you, Holy Spirit, to take again your central position in our lives so that we may again take
our place on the cross and in the tomb with our Lord Jesus, and you may live his life again in us
for his glory.
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 this minute, this hour and throughout this week. Amen.