William Barclay wrote, “Every man is a walking civil war. Within him there is the tension, the division, the battle between right and wrong, between good and evil, between passion and reason, between the instincts and the will.” Truer words were never penned.
While this idea of an individual being “a walking civil war” can be applied to anyone, it is especially true in the case of the Christian. The war within the lost person comes from the inner struggle between the person’s sin nature and the person’s conscience (Romans 2:14-15). There is, however, a third element at work within the Christian. Not only does he have a sin nature and a conscience, he also has God the Holy Spirit living inside him (Romans 8:9-11).
Long before William Barclay lived, the apostle Paul wrote about the civil war within the Christian. By way of illustrating his point, he used himself. In Romans 7:21-24, he wrote: “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members (body parts), warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul said, “I’ve got an inner desire to do good. I want to live for Christ. I want to be holy. I want to keep God’s commandments. The inner desire is there! But when I take a good look at what is going on with my eyes, my ears, my arms, my legs, my hands, and my feet, I see another desire at work. It’s the desire to commit acts of sin.” He said, “That contrary law wars against my mind and makes me a captive of sin.” That’s why he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
With that question Paul was acknowledging that as long as he was in his human body there was no escape from the inner civil war. For the war to cease, he would have to be delivered from his sin-defected body. As long as he was in that body, its various parts would betray his desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord. His mind would flash sinful thoughts every now and then. His heart would send out ungodly emotions on occasion. His hands would sometimes do the work of the flesh, not the Spirit. His legs would take him to places God really didn’t want him to go.
You say, “Oh, come on, Russell. We’re talking about Paul here. What sins could he have committed?” Well, I can’t say for sure, but I feel very safe in saying that he was prone to one particular sin: covetousness. I say that because of Romans 7:7-8, where he wrote: “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire.” You see, by Paul’s own admission his “pet sin” was covetousness. He said, “That’s the commandment that nailed me.”
I ask you, do you have a “pet sin”? Do you have a sin that causes the civil war within you to rage even more violently? If you do, that makes you normal. It doesn’t make you okay, but it does make you normal. It means that you can relate to Paul. It means that you can understand why William Barclay wrote what he wrote. It also means that you will probably struggle with that particular sin all of your life.
But here’s the good news: If you know Christ as your Savior, there will come a day when He will at last deliver you from your body of death. Right on the heels of asking, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul gives the answer, “I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Take heart, Christian, you won’t always have to deal with your inner civil war. That sin nature won’t always be a part of you. Once you leave this world and go to be with Jesus the war will be over. Keep your eyes fixed upon that day, and in the meantime do your best to let the indwelling Holy Spirit carry the battle inside you.