Our Spirit is Willing but Our Flesh is Weak

Sometimes, we read Scripture and wonder what we’re supposed to learn by reading it. We get distracted by our buzzing phones, future tasks, or anxiety. But sometimes, God gives us a lightbulb moment.

Last week, God turned the lightbulb on in my mind. The Scripture passage made sense. I knew what I had to do once I read it (besides write this post)!

Gleaning Truths from Gethsemane

The following passages are probably familiar to you, especially since Good Friday and Easter were celebrated last weekend. I won’t include the whole chapter of Matthew 26 below, but I hope you read it later. For now, here are a few crucial verses to study:

Jesus said to him [Peter], “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too. (Matthew 26:34-35 NASB, emphasis mine)

Later that night…

And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee [to Gethsemane], and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:37-41, emphasis mine)

Even later that night…

At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets.” Then all the disciples left Him and fled. (Matthew 26:55-56, emphasis mine)

A Familiar Story with New Application

I realize you likely know this story well. But I want you to pay special attention to the italicized sections of the above passages. Here’s what I gathered from them (and the rest of Matthew 26):

  1. Jesus’ disciples promised to stay with Him, no matter what.
  2. Jesus told three of His disciples to keep watch and to pray, but they fell asleep multiple times.
  3. Jesus’ disciples deserted Him, despite their earlier promise to Him.

In this story, the disciples perfectly represent us. They had willing spirits in verse 35, but their weak flesh is evident in verse 56. It is possible they entered into temptation in verse 56 because they didn’t watch and pray as Jesus instructed in verse 41. They were so willing to follow Jesus wherever He went—even to death. But 21 verses later, they were tempted to abandon Him—and they all did.

The same is true for us. We want to do the right thing, but we often don’t follow through with biblical behaviors. We may say we love Jesus, but it’s challenging to show that we love Him with our thoughts, words, and actions. I believe the solution for our Willing-Spirit-Weak-Flesh malady is simple: be alert and pray so we won’t give into temptation. But this isn’t my solution; it’s Christ’s solution.

We Have No Excuse

To be fair, it appears that only three of Jesus’ disciples (“Peter and the two sons of Zebedee”) were present in Gethsemane when He commanded them to watch and pray (though Luke’s account in Luke 22 doesn’t specify which disciples were with Him). Perhaps the other nine disciples have an excuse for deserting Him because they didn’t know to watch and pray. However, I don’t think they truly do. I doubt they were unaware of the importance of watching and praying.

Jesus is our example in this situation, as He is in every situation. The disciples promised to stay with Him but quickly left Him. He could’ve left, too. He could’ve abandoned His mission.

Instead, He watched and prayed. He asked God to be freed from His suffering, but He was also willing to die. What if the disciples had watched and prayed as well?

The practical application is clear: We can avoid giving into temptation by being alert and by praying for God’s help. If we only focus on earthly things and if we try to fight sin on our own, we’ll give into temptation, just like the disciples. But, if we recognize the importance of heavenly things and if we fight sin with God’s strength, we can overcome temptation.

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