Why We Fail: The Internal Conflict

StockSnap_M5791YB6J9We now follow up on the question from the previous post: why do we fail at achieving our goals?

The first problem is that we don’t want just one thing. We want many things, including ones which are in conflict with each other. We want achievement but we also want convenience. We want productivity but we also like laziness. We want increased quantity but also increased quality. We want to accomplish our long term goals but we also want instant gratification. But reaching our long term goals takes sacrificing our instant gratification and waiting patiently without seeing results for a long time. Accomplishments don’t come easy but, on the other hand, we like the easy way. We like shortcuts and cutting corners. We want to enjoy the end result but we want to avoid the pain of the hard process that brings about the result.

These conflicting motivations is the first answer to the question why we fail. In the Bible James says: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1 ESV) We have many passions and desires and they are often at war with each other within us. There is a universal internal conflict within the human nature. An example of conflict James gives is the fact that Christians love God but, at the same time they want to be “friends with the world” (James 4:4). A few verses later he calls such Christians “double-minded” (James 4:8). We all experience this double-mindedness, these conflicting interests not only in spiritual matters but also in our life in general. Failing at accomplishing our top goals often just means that we succeed at accomplishing the opposing and less significant interests we have.

Apostle Paul also makes this point. Sharing his experience in the quote from the previous post, he points out this dualism: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom. 7:22-23) He not only mentions the conflict but also gives the source of the conflict. There is the “law of my mind” in opposition to “the law … in my members.” Indeed, the conflict is between what our mind knows we should do and what the body wants to do. The failure comes doing what we want instead of doing what we know we should. Much of our conflict falls along this line. The mind pursues long term goals. The body pursues instant gratification. The mind appreciates working hard for what’s important. The body likes convenience and dislikes tiredness, effort and pain. The body cares about the tummy to be filled and other bodily passions and desires to be filled. The body tries to take over and define a fulfilled life as a worry-free life—one with enough resources (such as money) so that the bodily desires will never lack fulfillment. This would be a life in which one could do whatever he wants. The mind defines a fulfilled life as one with meaning and accomplishments—a life that makes a difference. Not a life in which one can do whatever one wants but a life in which one can do the very things one purposed to do: one’s top goals.

Paul makes this distinction and contrasts the “old self” with the “new self” (Eph. 4:22 vs. 4:24; Col. 3:9 vs. 3:10; Rom. 6:6) and the “flesh” with the “spirit.” He says:

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. (Gal. 5:17)

What keeps us from doing what we want to do, our most important goals? It’s the conflict within our hearts which becomes a battlefield of two opposing interests.

One may say that this conflict is not universal since people who are not born again don’t have the new self Paul is talking about. Yes, but they still have reason and conscience. They have the thought of eternity that God put in their hearts (Ecc. 3:11). In Rom. 8:16 Paul makes the distinction between the Holy Spirit and our spirit. Even without having the Holy Spirit one still has his own spirit and that is often in conflict with the body, the “flesh”. What reason and our conscience tells us that we should do often diverges from what the body demands us to do. This internal conflict is therefore universal.

In the next posts we’ll look at other answers to the question why we fail and we’ll also answer why we do the unreasonable and follow what the body wants instead of what the reason prescribes.



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