The War Within
The War Within (Romans 7:15-25)
We want to do more, but we do less. We want to reach higher, but we fall lower. We want to be better, but we turn out worse. That is often the conflict within the believer. The great apostle shares that conflict. This is an autobiographical passage in which he opens his own heart for all to see. Paul experienced the inner conflict of a Christian. "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want" (Gal. 5:17). The Christian life just begins the war within. But the war is winnable through Jesus Christ.
The War Within Exceeds Human Understanding
The psalmist asked, "Who can understand his errors?" (Ps. 19:12) For the believer there is an irrationality about the continuing war within. The fact and intensity of the battle exceeds our understanding.
The complaint is "I do not understand what I do" (Rom. 7:15a). Paul does not mean that he does not know what he is doing. He knows all too well what he is doing. He does not always acknowledge, approve, or condone what he does. It is as if he said, "The works I do are incomprehensible to me."
The conflict is "what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (v. 15b). In reality he keeps on working at or busying himself with the very things that he wishes not to do.
Paul does not mean by this that he is always defeated. He does mean that a perpetual difficulty dogs his steps in that his performance falls short of his understanding.
The concession is "I agree that the law is good" (v. 16). A silver lining behind the cloud is Paul's inward agreement that God's law is of the highest quality of goodness. The very presence of the conflict indicates Paul's respect for the law of God.
The condition is "it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me" (v. 17). This is not an excuse but an acknowledgment of a fact. Sin usurps him, takes possession of him, and sometimes dominates him. Here Paul distinguishes between what his own essential person desires and what the intruder within actually does.
The War Within Exceeds Human Will
Even though we may understand that will of God, the capacity to do it exceeds our human wills. We can diagnose our condition, discuss our condition, deliberate about our condition, and even desire a different condition. Yet at the point of desire Paul says, "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (v. 18b). This does not mean that the Christian is totally ineffective. It does mean that what the believer practices actually and fully corresponds to his will. Our best actions are always stained and spoiled by egotism.
The dilemma of the Christian is threefold. There is an essential shortfall, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature" (18a). All of the endowments of human nature, everything that is in a man, perpetually falls short of God's expectation. This shortfall produces a takeover, "It is sin living within me that does it" (v. 20). A usurper, intruder, or an uninvited guest remains within. The residual principle of sin takes over and dominates the mind and the will of the believer. This takeover leads to a war because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are two principles at war within the believer. There is a warfare between the members of his body and the law of God in his mind.
This is so intense that Paul cries out, "What a wretched man I am!" (v. 24).
The War Within Can Be Won By Christ Alone
What is the solution to this conflict? The war within can be won by Christ alone. As Luther's mighty hymn states it, "Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing." Our only hope in the conflict is "through Jesus Christ our Lord!" The Christian life is not difficult; it is indeed impossible. Only the supernatural resources that come from a moment-by-moment identification with Christ enable us to win the war within. Every day and in every way we must "offer [ourselves]" (6:13). We must appropriate the fact that "we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (8:37). Your outlook determines your outcome. You win the victory by presenting yourself to the Victor.