The War of the Wills

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul describes a war of the wills that caused him a great deal of grief.

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (verse 18). Paul had human will to build godly character and to overcome. But even though his human will desired it, he couldn’t do it.

The human will cannot build spiritual character.

“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (verses 19-21). Paul was shaken by this dilemma. He had an important spiritual lesson yet to learn in order to make some necessary changes in his life.

“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, 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 shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (verses 22-25). This really was a war between two opposing wills.

Paul was a highly educated man. He had a strong will, and he had learned for years to rely on that human will to do just about anything he wanted. But now he had to stop relying on it because that human will cannot overcome spiritually. In Romans 7, we read how Paul didn’t always see that like he needed to.

How well do you understand this lesson? If you are not overcoming, chances are you need to grasp this more deeply.

The human will is human, and it cannot build godly character. It is of the man. Godly character is of God.

In Romans 7, Paul was experiencing a real trauma. He truly wanted to overcome. What am I going to do? I’m not overcoming! he cried. His experience was a disaster. He realized he wasn’t approaching it the right way at all. Oh, wretched man that I am! How am I going to be saved? Who is going to save me from this body of death? And he went on to say, God will do that.

Romans 8:14 shows us how we are to approach this situation: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Notice: We must be led and empowered by the Spirit of God, and through God’s inspiration, the human will must choose to follow that Holy Spirit. The human will plays a key role in our building of character because there would be no character without it. But we must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Notice this powerful statement Paul made some time after he wrote the epistle to the Romans: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

In Romans, Paul willed it, but it wasn’t God’s will. That is why his efforts were getting him nowhere spiritually.

Here in Philippians, he says God works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure—to overcome! Paul had learned that we must have both God’s will and God’s power working in us in order to produce real spiritual fruit. It is God’s will in us that makes it possible for us to do—to fulfill His will, His purpose and His good pleasure. You can’t do that with something human!

Understand: The human will plays its key role in making certain that we can build character because God cannot do it by fiat. He must have our support. Still, that human will cannot overcome or build godly character. We must always remember that.

What can you do with the human will? What can any human being do to build character that will prepare him or her for the Kingdom of God? It takes a lot more power than human will can provide. Here God says that both of these—the willing and the doing—are done by God, through the power of His Holy Spirit.

In order to progress spiritually, we must be led by the Holy Spirit of power, and really use that Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take over—we must use it. And if we let God work in us, real spiritual growth will take place! Daily we have to overcome with God’s Spirit! The inner man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

You can’t really give your life to God, build the character of God, and do the Work of God until you have the Spirit. Even when it is working with you, that is not enough. It must be in you and empower you, or you don’t get the job done. You don’t will and do. You may will, but you don’t do what God wants you to do or achieve what He wants you to achieve.

In our concert series in Armstrong Auditorium, we strive to showcase “the best of the human spirit”—some of the finest artistic achievement a human being is capable of apart from God. That can be very uplifting—and it does point back to the Creator of that spirit, and of human beings. But look what the human spirit can do when it is led by the Holy Spirit! Then God is able to re-create Himself spiritually within a human being—create His very character—create another God!

For more, please read my free booklet How to Be an Overcomer.