THE REALITY OF THE STRUGGLE
Paul's language is arresting--both to those conscious of their involvement in the struggle, and to those ignorant of it. For those experiencing these things, his language is marked by a preciseness that promotes spiritual liberty. For those ignorant of the warfare, his words appear too strong--apparently applicable to a prior time in his life.
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (v 15, RSV). "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good b-19, RSV). "I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (v 23, RSV).
When Paul says he does not understand his own actions, he is not acknowledging spiritual naivete. Here is a remarkable confession of faith! The Apostle lived so close to God, that the intrusion of worldly thoughts and perspectives were confounding. Basking in the light of God's grace, he found such encroachments strange. The marvel of this perspective of faith is its contrariety to the experience of the religious masses. For, an illuminating thought is as strange as a morose one was to Paul. Unspiritual thought is strange to faith; spiritual thought is strange to unbelief. I am confounded by the common acknowledgment of aloofness from God. Preachers and teachers readily admit they are "stumped" by the logic of Scripture. Their speech too often betrays that their mind is filled with thoughts that follow the pattern of the world. But this is not, nor will it ever be, the response of faith.
The "actions" Paul did not understand were not his involvement in the will of God. They were not the deep and profound thoughts he had of the "things of the Spirit of God." Rather, they were the intrusion of earthly thoughts--fiery darts from the evil one. O, that this view were more common in our day. O, that men were more surprised by their propensity to evil than by their involvement in the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).
One cannot ignore the nature of this struggle. Here is a graphic picture of inhibition and frustration. The right things are loved, and wrong things are appropriately hated. The will has been altered, provoking the fervent desire for right, as well as an aggressive abhorrence of evil. Yet, the individual cannot consistently implement his desires. He is engaged in a conflict within. Both good and evil are present, struggling for the supremacy! Further, the writer is discontent with the outcome of this inner warfare. His discontent is not morose, nor does it produce despair. Rather, it stimulates the writer to a more earnest and consistent endeavor to keep the faith. It is important to see that this is not merely Paul's perspective. It is the view of faith, and whoever has faith has this view to some measurable extent.
This condition is also set forth in Galatians 5:17. "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would" (RSV). Whatever is desired--whether good or evil--competition arises from within. The desires of the flesh--your flesh-- and God's Holy Spirit are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. No peace can be made between them. Both cannot dominate simultaneously. That is why one cannot be carnal and spiritual at the same time. You cannot love God and the world concurrently. As Jesus put it, "No man can serve two masters" (Matt 6:24).
Evil inclinations are elsewhere called "fleshly lusts," and are said to "war against the soul" (1 Pet. 2:11). They constitute a liability to the believer. It is vital that saints consider them primary while developing their strategy to keep the faith and finish the course. This race can neither be run nor completed without attentiveness and insight. Our acceptance of Christ brought us into a perpetual war zone. Here we are daily confronted with the hostility between good and evil. The confrontation is more internal than external, more unseen than seen. It is a spiritual battle, not a fleshly one.
James speaks of a "spirit" in us that "lusteth to envy," and points out that "more grace" is provided for the situation (James 4:5-6). We are in an arena of fierce competition, and God "yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us" (v. 5, RSV). That Divine yearning is reflected in the struggle against evil which the believer experiences within.
Those in Christ are much like Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau. Before they were born, it is written that they "struggled together within her." The condition caused concern to Rebekah, so she went to "inquire of the Lord," an excellent procedure for everyone to follow. The Lord's words to her are illuminating. "Two nations are in thy womb, and two different manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:22-23). Like Rebekah, the person born from above has two contrary natures within. One is from heaven, the other from earth. One is spiritual, and one is fleshly. One is sensitive to God, the other is sensitive to Satan. One is the root of good, the other of evil. These two natures are locked in mortal combat! Faith, however, causes the new nature to be dominant. When our faith is strong, we are more spiritual. When our faith is weak, we become more fleshly. Our "new man" excels when faith prevails. Our "old man" dominates when faith subsides.