We are tripartite beings because we were created in God’s image. We are a spirit, we live in a body and we possess a soul.
I feel a yearning to do what’s right and to not do what’s wrong. (Those are two distinct things.) I have another urge to do what’s wrong and to not do what’s right. It’s the internal, eternal tug-o-war. What’s more, it happens minute by minute, all day long every day.
My spirit always naturally yearns towards what is right. My body, or fleshly man always naturally yearns towards what is wrong. My soul is the arbiter of the dispute. Paul detailed it quite well in Romans 7:
14: For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15: For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16: If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good.
17: Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
18: 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.
19: For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20: Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
21: I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22: For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23: 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.
24: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25: 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.
“For to will is present with me; but to perform that which is good I find not.” The words of Paul. (And you thought it was just you!)
Verses 22 and 23 are particularly interesting because, taken together, we find Paul referencing all three parts of his tripartite being separately, as well as three different laws. The law of God is where his inward man (human spirit) delights, the law of sin is at work in his members (body, or “flesh” as he put it in vs. 18) and that law of sin is warring against the law of his mind. The mind here is the soul. (The soul is the mind, the will and the emotions.)
So now we have three parts of a human being and three laws. The law of God in which the spirit delights is easily understandable. The law of sin that the flesh desires is, too. What’s the third law?
The human will. The only force in the universe that God cannot overpower.
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” What is the solution? Verse 25 tells us. “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.” There is then a very, very bad choice of chapter break on the part of the translators. After Paul sets up and vividly describes the problem, he gives us the solution beginning in Romans 7:25 and continuing into chapter 8:
1: [There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
3: For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
5: For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6: For to be carnally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace.
7: Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8: So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
How do we walk after the spirit and not after the flesh? Paul hinted at it by omission in 7:25. He had just described, prior to that, three distinct laws. But in verse 25 he only mentions two. He said earlier that the law of sin was at war with the law of his mind. In verse 25 he says that he will serve the law of God in his mind. A choice of free will.
Your mind has its own law – your will. You choose which law your will serves – the law of God or the law of sin. The problem is that you are continually forced to make that choice. Over and over and over. What forces you? The law of sin at work in your flesh. So how do you train to successfully do that?
By the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2):
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
He follows up on that thought in I Corinthians 2:16.
Each time I read this, I’m reminded of Paul mentioning his “thorn in the flesh” in II Corinthians 12:7. I have serious doubts that he’s referencing the same thing because he specifically says in II Corinthians 12 that it was a messenger of satan sent to buffet him and here he’s specifically talking about the sin at work in his flesh.
Yet, two things stand out. First, he was far from perfect and accomplished great things for the work of God. Second, the answer is the same in both cases. God’s grace is sufficient. He knows we’re imperfect and He knew it when he called us.
(As always, I suggest you read all of this scripture in context. By that, I mean, read at least the entire chapter. In the case of the passage I quoted from Romans, back up to at least chapter 6 and read through at least chapter 8.)