It is essential that we take a moment to consider the inward conflict of the growing child of God. It may be said, “What if a man knows his sins to be forgiven and more, liberty” (which some call “sanctification,” “deeper life,” etc.), “then, surely, every spiritual desire must be gratified, and thenceforward, till heaven be gained, there can be nothing more to be wished for it.
In things spiritual, as in things natural, when children have grown up to manhood, to ripe age, or, as Scripture says, are “perfect,” they do not find that thenceforward there is nothing to do, nothing to suffer. Quite the contrary; in one sense they may be said to begin life only when perfect. Until the great and terrible “I” be held by grace to have been crucified with Christ, the believer can hardly be said to have begun to live the new life in its liberty; but liberty obtained, inner conflict is certain to be entered into.
Before we were brought into Christian liberty, the enabling of the indwelling Spirit was not known, but, being delivered from the thrall of the old man, we are in the moral position which should gain the victory day by day. Not that the position itself is victory—it is the vantage ground for victory; freedom from the domination of sin is obtained by the Spirit. Still, it is no little good to know what the vantage ground is, and a greater thing to occupy that ground.
The Spirit of God dwelling within us energizes the desire of the new life which He has implanted in us. He leads to humility, gentleness, and courage, and all in a divine way. We do not mean such qualities apart from the Spirit, which in that case may be merely traits of the Adamic life.
When our old man stirs us up to desire its old things, the Spirit of God does not remain passive in us, but occasions conflict within: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal 5:17). He restrains the believer from doing the things which the flesh likes, and constrains him to do the things which the Father loves, and effects this by acting upon the new man. The believer is not, and never will be, free from having sin in him in this world; nor will he be free from the danger of committing any kind of evil: and he is never, practically, safe except when he realizes his weakness, and walks in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
Should he say, “I cannot help doing evil,” then he denies the Spirit of God in him as the enablement for righteous living, and remains in the mire of sin. Should he say, “I am holy, or spiritual, or heavenly,” and in his heart think of what he is in himself, then it is the old man at work in another and more dangerous form, and he has denied the Spirit of God in His ability to produce spirituality, and heavenly mindedness. This last is worse than the first, for the first is unbelief in God and the last is belief in himself. The truth is, there is constant conflict proceeding within the growing child of God, and the Spirit is continually restraining from evil, as well as leading to good.
The flesh in its pride would say, “I can live to God by means of law-keeping and religious observances”; and the flesh in its lusts would say, “I am safe for eternity, and thus can live for myself.” The new life the Father has given us has no affinity for either the one or the other of these evils, and the Spirit of God opposes the flesh in each.
– HF Witherby