Civil War of Soul: Some Thoughts on the Inner Battle of the Believer
In surveying Romans 7:14 – 8:17, we find that the feature that distinguishes believer from non-believer is a renewed mind that has as its primary bent or disposition a regard and a life lived for the promotion the glory of God. Such a person is regarded as possessed by the Holy Spirit. If a person is possessed by the Spirit of God, this inborn inner principle of Spirit-born righteousness marks him or her as God’s possession (8:9), as pleasing to God (8:8), and as possessing life and peace (8:6). Furthermore, a “mind set on the Spirit” is a mind imbued with a new-born inertia or momentum towards righteousness and holiness.
Those devoid of the Spirit of Christ are described as having a “mind set on the flesh,” by which I take a life that has as its primary bent or disposition a disparagement of the glory of God. Paul describes this fallen condition as of such disrepair that those within this condition are innately hostile towards God (8:7), unable to please God (8:9), and incapable of obeying his commands (8:7). Such a fallen person is pulled by this inner Adamic riptide into unrighteousness. The mind is “set,” or “settled” on the flesh.
Herein lays the recipe for the kind of despair that we find verbalized by Paul when he cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” This cry concludes a description of a civil war taking place within his soul- a soul that’s been renewed by the Spirit. Which is to say, upon regeneration we experience the birth of a new principle of holiness which does not eradicate the old principle of godlessness. Upon the new birth, a person is thrown in the middle of two opposing forces; the new-born inertia or momentum towards righteousness clashes with the native Adamic riptide of unrighteousness.
It’s important to note that this clash is not between equally opposing forces. Upon rebirth, a believer does not have both “a mind set on the flesh” and “a mind set on the Spirit.” Remember, by “set,” we mean a primary bent of nature, or a chief inclination to do certain things. One cannot have two opposing inclinations that are primary at the same time. In the new-birth, the Spirit of God implant in the heart of man a disposition towards righteousness that is, by default, greater than the native disposition towards unrighteousness.
“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (8:5)
One can “focus” the mind on the flesh, but now the default is a mind focused on righteousness. Further, one can nurture the flesh such that the desires rival and overwhelm, at times, the new-born principle of righteousness.
Again, we must recognize that although a fundamental component of the “new man” has been transformed, not every part of our nature has enjoyed this grace. From these unchanged but redeemed parts, ungodly desires will rush from the bottom-up, competing with the desires of the mind which flow from the top-down. The result is a clash within a believer that is captured for us in Romans 7:14 – 8:17. This clash will remain so long as the body hasn’t experienced the fruition of redemption (8:11). From these things, I make the following observations:
(1) An unregenerate person will experience conviction of sin, but never to the degree that a believer does. More often than not, the natural man looks on with perplexity at the angst of a believer over their condition.
(2) A regenerate person will always be (in this life) a hypocrite – or one who does not practice what she preaches. But this inconsistency causes him deep sorrow. She hates her hypocrisy. She hates the part of her that remains fallen. She clings to Christ more fervently because of this. She longs for the completion of God’s work of redemption in her.
(3) A regenerate person will never resign himself to the presence of sin in his life, no more than a patriot makes friends with an enemy who has invaded and occupied his land. He hates the occupier, curses it, and does whatever he can to undermine his operations. He implements guerilla warfare tactics on those fallen parts of his soul. He does whatever he can to minimize its influence, waiting eagerly for complete liberation.
(4) As a result, a regenerate person should be noticeably different than the unregenerate. His moral progress flows inevitably in the midst of this inner struggle, for he fights from a new heaven-born disposition towards holiness. We should see a progressive distain of sin in his life, as well as moral progress. We should see a progressive regard God’s glorification in his world, as well as in his life. We should see a growing intensity of future hope for ultimate liberation.