I saw a comic by Randy Glasbergen of two businesspeople conferring in an office, and the managerial-looking man holding a pen and paper says to the businesswoman, “We need to form a conflict-resolution team to settle the dispute over who should be chosen for our conflict-resolution team.” I think we’d all agree that conflict with others is the norm. But there is also conflict happening inside us.
As Christians, there really is a battle within us. Our sanctification isn’t complete, so we still have sinful desires deep within us. They are strong urges to gratify the flesh. We also have the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit produces strong urges to obey and glorify God. And the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict within us. Paul said in Galatians 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” As believers, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, and by God’s grace and Spirit, we want to do what pleases Christ. But deep within us are these evil impulses. Every day we feel them, and they are very difficult to subdue. Sadly, we do sometimes succumb to these evil impulses and afterward, feel awful and wonder, “Why am I like this? Why do I do things like this? I know where sin leads! God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Paul understood this inner conflict quite well. He wrote in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Don’t you identify with that? There’s a great conflict within you and me.
As followers of Jesus Christ, God’s law does two very helpful things for us. It alerts us to the sin still remaining in us, the sin that we must put to death, and it helpfully explains how we should love and serve our heavenly Father who adopted us into His family. God’s law shows us how we fall short and how we are to live as God’s children, and when we obey our Father’s commands, it comforts and assures us of our Father’s grace and Spirit at work in us.
Heidelberg Catechism 4 asks, “What does God’s law require of us?” That’s an important question. We need to know how our Father wants us to behave. The answer Heidelberg 4 gives is a Biblical summary of the entire law:
Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
You love God. You really do. That love is from the Spirit and is legitimate love. But do you love God “with all your heart, soul, and mind”? In other words, is your love for God complete, whole, or undivided? Is it perfect? Well, no. Neither is mine. The conflict within us between the flesh and the Spirit reveals the deficiency of our love for God. Jesus never had this inner conflict. He was certainly tempted, but his love for God and others was never lacking. And because our love for God is deficient, our love for others is as well, because our love for others flows from our love for God. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? In fact, Jesus went further by saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34). Jesus was talking about love for other believers. Do you love other believers just like Jesus loves you? Well, no. Why? Because of that conflict within us.
When you hear Christ’s summary of God’s law, you should feel convicted of your sin. By God’s grace and Spirit, you do actually love God and others, but to borrow from the 1980’s British synth-pop band Soft Cell, your love is a “tainted love.” It’s poisoned with sin. When God reveals to you the imperfections of your love, He is working in you to further purify you from sin. Be grateful that you feel convicted, confess your sin to God and others, and repent to God. Devote yourself to loving God and others more fully.
But, you should not only hear Christ’s summary of God’s law with conviction but also with comfort. Though you fall short, God continues to love you. By revealing sin to you God is confirming that His grace is in you. The conflict in you reveals God’s grace and Spirit at work in you. Through His law, God is also lovingly instructing you in how to love Him and others, and when you do, it is your heavenly Father helping you. Take comfort in your love for God and others. When you love God and others a little more deeply, a little more faithfully, a little more selflessly, be thankful, for God is loving you by sanctifying you, by growing you, by completing His gracious work in you. Imagine if there was no conflict in you. It would mean the Spirit is not in you. But if the Spirit is in you waging war against your flesh in a great conflict, then be both convicted and comforted, for God is at work in you calling you to greater holiness, righteousness, and obedience. Be convicted, but also be comforted, and follow the Spirit into greater conformity to Christ.