The War of Our Two Selves

The War of Our Two Selves

Article by Matt Schememan
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:15-24

It might seem odd to you, but this might be my favorite passage in scripture. Let me share with you why this is.

In this section of his letter to the Romans, Paul lets us into his heart. Despite the profound knowledge he shares in this letter, he is not performative and cold. He could easily keep his authority, his pedigree (see Philippians 3:4-6), or his insight (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-5) at the forefront of his writing. Yet, he peels back the layer of his heart, showing weakness and confusion. This is not the only letter he does this (see also 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

In doing so, he reveals something that I, as a follower of Christ, can relate with – the war that rages on inside.

As a believer, don’t you ever wonder why at one minute you can feel deeply connected to the Spirit, and then the next find yourself straying down the path of thought or action that you know is outside of the character of God?

Sometimes, it feels so jarring that I wonder if two personalities are inside of me. How could it be that these two persons that are so profoundly opposed to each other coexist?

Paul introduces these two persons as the flesh and the Spirit. First, our flesh or our natural self is bound to sin. This sin that, without the law, I would not even know existed. This self is consistently drawn to pleasures of the world and the satisfaction of gratification of self. This is the self that the enemy can so easily manipulate. This is the self that Paul calls us to “put off (Ephesians 4:22-24).”  

Conversely, the self he implores us to “put on” is the Spirit alive in us. “Born-again” does not carry the weight I believe happens when Christ enters us. Maybe we should say “Born-A-New,” for the Spirit that comes into us is new life! If you are a follower of Christ, this is your true self. This is a self that longs to worship God, longs to love, and longs for freedom.

Why do they remain together – and why the battle? Couldn’t we have the Spirit and be done with the flesh? One day this will happen but not yet.

I deeply desire to be done with the war. Yet, I see the war allows two things:

  1. The war enables an intimacy with Christ. Jesus is the only human to perfectly fight the battle between the flesh and the Spirit. He was tempted but did not sin. Now we can come to Him and find mercy and grace in a time of need (Hebrews 4:15, 16). If we did not battle and rage inside, we might not feel the need for Him. I’m grateful for the need if only to deeper feel His embrace.
  2. The war allows an intimacy with others. It still amazes me that I find commonality in the battle with such a great Christian as Paul. And I believe this commonality is one of the reasons Paul allowed himself to open up the veil to his heart and his struggle. When we share our journey, we can comfort others and find encouragement from others. We do nothing for our fellow humans to continue to show our well-decorated masks. I believe that our collective feelings of isolation and disconnection are tied to this resistance to show what is happening under the surface.

The last thing I’ll say in my fandom of this passage is the turn after the phrase, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He immediately answers. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Through His mercy and grace, I now have the freedom to serve Him. And although the battle rages on, I know that no matter who wins out on that day or in that moment, I am still His.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Matt Schueneman

Counselor in Biblical Life Ministry