DOES IT EVER FEEL LIKE there’s a conflict that constantly takes place inside of yourself? As if there’s a “war” taking place in your heart between the part of you that wants to do the right thing and another part which wants to do the wrong or selfish thing? Right now there is constant battle inside over how we are to act, think and believe. When we have been wronged or even when people have done the right thing to us we can have many different thoughts on how to respond. Some thoughts are good, others bad, even if they appear good in our own eyes.
This is all important as we continue our growing understanding of not just the Holy Spirit but our daily life as believers of Jesus. When we declare that the Holy Spirit is a regular part of our lives we must accept that He is not just some abstract fragment of God far away somewhere. For Christians the Holy Spirit is the living part of God that is housed inside of us. When we learn to hear His voice over that of our own then we can truly have fellowship with Him and live among others as a good witness for Christ. When we learn to listen and trust His voices then we can have the advantage in this war for our hearts.
Where does this whole conflict come from?
In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul shows us the source of this struggle: it’s the war between our flesh, which is our fallen nature and our spirit, which is the part of us that has been made alive through Jesus.
Galatians 5:16-17 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (NKJV)
We must first understand that we are a being of two realities, therefore we have two natures within us striving for control. One of these natures is the one that desires to please God and the other one that is in constant rebellion against God. This second nature is what was in control of us before we knew Christ, our old flesh/self focused sin nature. The nature that looks out for only me, myself and I, it is our physical needs, wants and desires. It takes the physical needs we require to survive and supercharges them and forces us to go above and beyond to satisfy every desire no matter the cost or consequences.
However as Christians who have been made alive through the resurrection and have been adopted into the New Covenant we have both of these natures vying for control of our every thought and action. Now our spirit is alive and is trying to live according to God’s standards while the flesh is trying to lead us back to living according to our own standards.
A Heart Torn Between Two Masters
One of the best examples of this dual nature at work in the believer comes from Paul in Romans 7:14-24. Here Paul lays out one of the greatest struggles faced by a believer, that although we are saved, redeemed and made righteous
the flesh’s desire to sin and act selfishly does not automatically disappear. We see and know that we still have struggles to do the right thing at times and at others we have no will to do what we know God wants us to do in a given situation.
The good news for us is found in Romans 7:25 where we see that there is a hope for us through Christ.
Through Christ we have the ability to receive forgiveness of sins when we do follow after the will of the flesh. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit living inside of us we have hope to prevail, as long as we are aware of the battle between the flesh and spirit taking place. That is why prayer and taking moments to stop and wait on God is so crucial in many instances. When we don’t stop for a moment and bring God into the picture we are exceedingly more prone to following the will of our flesh, because it seeks instant gratification and can’t stand playing the waiting game.
Turning The Page
When we come to Romans 8 the secret of winning this war for our heart is revealed. It’s interesting to note that in the original Greek manuscripts there is not a division between the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8, it is the same paragraph. Far to often we create and artificial divide between chapters 7 and 8 and tell both others and ourselves that we live in either one of the two chapters. But the reality is that it’s the same thought in action, here Paul is painting not a picture of condemnation in chapter 7 but of one of victory for the believer. That while we still struggle with these issues we also have access to our daily victories through Christ.
Romans 8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
In Romans 8:5-6 we find our first key: what we set our minds to will determine how we act and respond. If we are only concerned about ourselves, our will and our feelings then we will inevitably turn towards acting in a fleshly way. On the other hand, if we are mindful of the Spirit of God living inside of us and thinking about His will and feelings first then we will walk according to the ways of the Spirit. We begin by making willful choices on how we are to live and interact with others and how we follow God.
We see the same truths spoken of by Paul also in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 2:1-7, in Galatians Paul describes several examples of living according to the flesh. While in Ephesians Paul highlights the spiritual influences which lead many to follow after those selfish ways of the flesh along with the solution to the problem, Jesus and our hope for eternity.
The Soul is the Heart of Our Being
We have talked about how the flesh tries to lead us to sin and how our spirit (and the Holy Spirit living in us) tries to lead us closer to God but there is a third power at work among all of this turmoil, the soul.
The soul is the combination of our mind, will and emotions, in Hebrew it is also called our heart, it is the center of our being here on earth and it is the one which both the spirit and the flesh are trying to dominate. Our spirit is eternal, it is how we communicate with God and this is the point of contact between the natural and supernatural realms. The flesh represents our bodily needs such as food, drink, sleep, sex, self preservation and so on. In its current state these are the only things that the flesh cares for and it does what ever it can to get as much of these things as it can.
This leaves the soul in the middle to pick and choose which of these parts of our being it will submit to and follow. Our soul is not just mind, but also our desires, memories, intellect, it’s the captain of our choices and it’s the part of our being that made the choice to accept Christ and receive salvation and forgiveness. Let’s go back to Romans 8 to see how this plays out.
Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Here in Romans 8 we see the interaction between the spirit, soul and flesh, Paul lays out how desires and urges begin in one place but are acted out in another.
Be it good thoughts, urges and desires from the spirit or from the flesh. It is the soul which casts the deciding vote on how and what we are to act upon. In Romans 8:6 we see clearly that a mind set on flesh will bring about death, be it spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or physically. On the other hand, the mind set on the spirit brings life and peace.
The Greek word for life here Zoe and doesn’t just mean natural life but also the kind of life which makes up the soul and the spirit. When we follow God’s will and ways and live a life under the control of our spirit it brings about life and peace not only in an intellectual sense but also in a spiritual and in a natural way.
On the other hand if we continue to allow our flesh and carnal nature to rule over our lives and thoughts Romans 8 shows us clearly that our mind becomes hostile towards God and will not allow itself to be subjected to the love, power and expectations of God (also Romans 2:5-11). Which is why Paul says in Romans 8:8 “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God”. Paul can make a declaration like this because of what God spoke in Isaiah 55:8-9. Even Jesus eluded to this contrast between the ways of the spirit and the ways of flesh throughout His ministry when He spoke about the ways of the Kingdom, how He expected His followers to act and in nearly every parable.
The War Of Heart Choices
Seeing all of this we must accept that the ways of the flesh will never be in alignment with how God sees the world and how He wants us to live. If left unchecked our flesh will always chose the exact opposite of what God would have us do (or at the very least corrupt our motives for doing the right thing), because the flesh is focused on itself, its true god.
Is our current situation hopeless? No for we have been given an unfair advantage in the war over the control of our heart. Our spirit is not alone for we are also in living communion with God and through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit we have the living God present in us to give strength to our spirit so that it can speak loud and clear to our soul (Romans 8:9-14, Galatians 2:20).
We must come at this war over the soul from a mindset that the spirit actually has the advantage over the flesh, but only if we allow it. Through patience we learn the ability to not act impulsively when situations arise, we must always give God opportunity to speak and intervene within our spirit and soul.
At every opportunity we should be in internal fellowship with God so that we will always be aware of how we are to act, speak and believe in any situation. Walking in the spirit requires effort, while walking in the flesh only requires inactivity. Our living everyday relationship with God and our ability to live out the call on our lives will not be decided by natural means but will be decided by the battle raging within ourselves.
Question: How would you act differently in your daily life if you were constantly aware of God’s presence all around you and how would that impact the war within you?
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The War Within Our Heart Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.