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. Whereas the war within the non-Christian comes from the inner struggle between the person’s sin nature and the person’s conscience (Romans 2:14-15), there is a third element at work within the Christian. Not only does the Christian 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 ever wrote, the apostle Paul described the civil war that rages within the Christian, and he used himself to illustrate his point. In Romans 7:21-24, he says:
So I find this law at work: When 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 the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (N.I.V.)
Paul had an inner desire to do good, live for Christ, be holy, and keep God’s commandments. But when he reviewed what was actually taking place with his eyes, ears, arms, legs, hands, and feet, he saw evidence of another desire: the desire to commit acts of sin. That’s why he said, “This other law that is manifesting itself in the members of my body is warring against God’s law in my mind and making me a captive of sin.” Just how bad was the situation? It was bad enough to make him exclaim in exasperation, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
That question was Paul’s admission that he would never be free from his inner civil war as long as he was living in his human body. For the inner war to cease, he would have to be delivered from his sin-defected body. Only then would the various parts of his body stop counteracting his desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord. But prior to that eternal deliverance, his mind would occasionally flash sinful thoughts, his heart would send out ungodly emotions every so often, his hands would do the work of the flesh in too many instances, and his legs would sometimes take him to places that God 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 don’t know for sure, but I feel safe in saying that he was prone to at least one sin: covetousness. I say that because of Romans 7:7-8, where he writes:
…I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire… (N.I.V.)
I ask you, Christian: Do you have a “pet sin”? I’m talking about a sin that causes the civil war within you to rage even more violently? If you do have such a sin, that makes you normal. It doesn’t make you okay, but it does make you normal. It means that you can relate to Paul’s problem with covetousness, and it means that you can understand why William Barclay wrote what he wrote about you being a walking civil war. Unfortunately, however, it also means that you will probably struggle with that particular sin all of your life.
There is some good news, though: If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, there is coming a day when He will at last deliver you from your body of death. Going back to Romans 7:21-24, right on the heels of asking, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul gives the answer in Romans 7:25. He says, “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Therefore, Christian, you should take heart in the promise that you won’t always have to deal with your inner civil war. Once you leave this world and go to be with Jesus, your war will be over as your sin nature will be permanently laid to rest. So keep your eyes fixed upon that day, and in the meantime do your best to let the indwelling Holy Spirit win every battle inside you.