The War of the Wills within Us
James R. Aist
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-23). Paul is speaking here of various “laws” at work within him (and, by extension, within us). And, like us, he senses that there are opposing forces within us that are at war against each other. How can we make sense out of these inner struggles, and how can we turn a better understanding of them to our advantage as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”?
The Wills within Us
Perhaps it would help if we first try to identify and define the different “laws” at work within us. To do this, I find it useful to think of them as “wills” instead of “laws.” If we subscribe to the idea of the triune nature of man as spirit, soul (mind, will and emotions) and body, then we can identify three different wills of man by re-examining the structure of Romans 7:22-23 in a slightly different way, as follows: For in my inner being I delight in God’s law (will of my spirit); but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind (will of my soul) and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me (will of my body). This analysis suggests that everyone is born with three wills: the supernatural will of the human spirit, the natural will of the human soul and the natural will of the human body. Each of these wills is able to influence what we do and don’t do in life (i.e., our behavior), and we can easily get a sense that they are often at war with each other when we are tempted to do something that goes against our “morals” or “ethics”, regardless of how we may have come by them. If this is, indeed, the “order of command” in a person — spirit commands soul commands body — then, for example, the will of the body may be to get drunk on wine because it feels good, the will of the soul may not think it is a good idea to get drunk because it is harmful to your health, and the will of the spirit is left to mediate between these warring wills and make the final decision. Inevitably, one of the warring wills will lose out.
Enter Even More Wills!
Unfortunately, because of the fall of man, our natural inclination is to do evil all the time (Genesis 6:5); we are born with a fallen conscience and are at enmity with God (James 4:4). But God has come up with a remedy for this problem: we call it “salvation.” In the process of being “born again”, we receive a new human spirit from God (click HERE), a spirit that is morally pure, delights in the things of God and is not at enmity with Him. But wait, it doesn’t stop there. We also receive the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 2:38) who takes up residence within our new human spirit and has His own will. Now we have not three, but four, wills within us: the supernatural Holy Spirit of God, the supernatural will of our new human spirit, the natural will of the human soul and the natural will of the human body. And the order of command now becomes Holy Spirit commands human spirit commands soul commands body. This is, of course, the way God intends for it to work, and to the extent that we are obedient to the Holy Spirit within us, it does so. But, unfortunately, the “old man” doesn’t give up easily, and so we have to go through a process of “sanctification” to align our wills with the will of the Holy Spirit living within us. Thankfully, it is the work of the Holy Spirit living in us to sanctify us (2 Thessalonians 2:13) and to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)
(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)