Paul uses the term inner man several times in his epistles (2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:16). Romans 7:22–23 says, “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body.” The “inner man” is another way of describing the spiritual aspect of a person. The “outer man,” by contrast, would be the visible, external aspect of a person.
Human beings were created by God with a spirit, soul, and body (Genesis 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). It has been said that we are not bodies with souls; we are souls that have bodies. The body—the “outer man”—is our physical housing through which we experience the world. Our bodies function primarily through the five senses and by meeting innate needs that drive us to eat, drink, and sleep. Our bodies are not evil but are gifts from God. He desires that we surrender those bodies as living sacrifices to Him (Romans 12:1–2). When we accept God’s gift of salvation through Christ, our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20; 3:16).
Our souls are the personality centers of our beings from which our mind, will, and emotions operate. With our souls we choose either to listen to and obey the lusts of our flesh or the desires of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16–17; Romans 8:9; Mark 14:38). The soul of a person is the courtroom where life decisions are made. It is the seat of the self-life and the fountain from which character traits such as self-confidence, self-pity, self-seeking, and self-affirmation originate.
Our spirits contain the inner man about which the Scriptures speak. Our spirits are where the Spirit of God communes with us. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is within our spirits that we are born again (John 3:3–6). The “inner man” contains the conscience upon which the Holy Spirit can move and convict of sin (John 16:8; Acts 24:16). Our spirits are the parts of us most like God, with an innate knowledge of right and wrong (Romans 2:14–15). First Corinthians 2:11 says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
Romans 12:1–2 implores us not to be conformed to this world’s way of thinking; rather, our inner man must be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” This mind-renewal comes about as we allow the Holy Spirit free rein within our “inner man.” He begins to change our actions and desires to match His. Romans 8:13–14 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Romans 7 details the often painful battle between our flesh and spirit. Our spirits, having been reborn by the power of God, long to obey and follow Jesus. But the flesh does not die an easy death. Romans 6 explains how we can allow the inner man to triumph over the flesh. Verses 6 and 7 say, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Until we consider ourselves “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), the soul and body battle with the spirit for supremacy. We continue to live in a state of defeat until we die to self and allow the Spirit to have full control over every aspect of our lives, both inner and outer man.
It is God’s desire and design for human beings that we live always directed by the born-again nature, which is in step with God’s Spirit. But our fallen natures want to rule, and so a spiritual battle rages. Romans 7:24 poses a question that every dedicated follower of Christ asks: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Verse 25 answers that question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The extent to which we surrender that inner man to the control of the Holy Spirit is the extent to which we walk in continual victory over our fallen flesh.