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An Undeniable Truth: The Spirit is Willing but the Flesh is Weak

Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:40-41


For the last few years, I have been thinking a lot more about my health. Now that I have a wife and kids, I don’t want them to miss out on things, because I am not as active as I once was. I also don’t want them to have to wonder about my health, or if something is going to happen to me. The only problem is, the path to better health is one that seems daunting and, often, hopeless, because of how much things have changed in the past five years.


Unfortunately, about five years ago, when I went into vocational ministry, I quit coaching and working out. Almost immediately, my weight skyrocketed up and before I knew it, I felt the dire consequences. Back pain, knee pain, constant fatigue, restless sleep; you name it I have experienced it. So, I have spent the last few years trying to figure out how to get this problem under control.


What I have realized is that this is not a spiritual problem. Many times I have caught myself thinking that the problem I had was that I lacked self-control, or didn’t have enough will-power, but that is not true. If we are in Christ and living through the work of the Holy Spirit, our spirit longs to do the things that honor God. The real problem is that our physcial flesh seeks to indulge in the things that satisfy carnal, temporary desires. As Jesus told the disciples, the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. 


When Jesus asked the disciples to pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, there is no doubt that they wanted to serve Jesus. I bet they had every intention of fervently praying like Jesus was. However, like me in the drive thru line at McDonald’s even though I know I should be packing my lunch, they surrendered to their flesh and succumbed to the temptation to close their eyes. It wasn’t that their spirits didn't want to honor Jesus, it was that their flesh was too weak to stand firm.


Far too often, I get a defeated feeling that I am never going to be able to regain the health that I once had. I have tried all the diets, and I have tried to work out again, but it always ends up going well at first, then I fall back into the same habits. Truth be told, I fall into the trap of thinking that as I get older that I need to “face reality” that this is the new normal and I need to be content with things as they are. 


Do you ever feel this way? Like maybe you just need to surrender to the reality of our weakness and try to “make the most of” what is left of your life.


Although contentment is a necessity for Christains (look at Paul’s words to the Philippian church), it should never come from a position of depression and defeat. Contentment stems from knowing we are doing everything through the power of Christ and His Spirit, so we can have assurance that His desires are being accomplished.


This is not what is happening when we quit on something because it is “too difficult” or “makes us feel uncomfortable.” In those moments of depression and defeat, we need to awaken to the reality that we must fight back against the flesh that cripples us. We must suit up and prepare for the spiritual war that we face against our flesh.


Understand my friends, the adversary wants us to think we are too weak to change the things we hate about ourselves. Which, if we are not in Christ and dependent on the Holy Spirit, is completely true. However, if we are counting on the Holy Spirit’s divine ability to strengthen and sustain us, then we can trust the outcomes to God. We can know, with confidence, that He who has started work in us, will carry it out to completion.


I used to struggle with admitting that there are things that I can’t do. My relationship with God was one of “I’ll do as much as I can, then I’ll call on God to do the rest.” That misguided approach led to complete disaster, and a much bigger issues that God had to somehow rescue me from. Although God was faithful to rescue me from my stupidity, it always came with much more pain than if I would have pursued Him first. I am understanding more each day that we will always achieve more when we are living in Christ and strengthened by the Spirit.


My prayer is that we will all be quicker to acknowledge that the Spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak, therefore, we are quick to admit our inadequacies and depend on the strength of the Spirit for what God desires us to accomplish.

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