The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh Is Weak

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41

Ever been in the situation where you know what the right thing is to do, yet you’re pulled to do the opposite?

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus and his disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper.  Jesus went off alone to pray. He was overcome with grief knowing what He had to go through in the next few hours.  

He asked the disciples to keep watch, but they fell asleep.  When He came back He chastised them and warned them to keep watch and pray so they would not give in to temptation.

He then spoke one of the most relatable phrases He spoke in all of the Gospels, “For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He knew what pain and suffering He was going to go through.  He knew in His heart and in His spirit that He had to follow God’s will.  Yet, being fully human, He was distressed over what was going to happen.  

His heart knew what He had to do, but His body was weak.

I couldn’t tell you how many times throughout my years of addiction where I felt the exact same way.  

I knew what I needed to do.  I wanted to do the right thing.  But I continued doing what I knew was wrong.  I tried to quit, I wanted to quit, but I inevitably did the wrong thing. 

There were so many times where I had an internal battle with myself whether or not to look at porn.  My heart knew I shouldn’t do it, but my body craved it. Far too often, my flesh won out.

The Apostle Paul felt the same way about sin.  He expressed his frustration with himself in his letter to the Romans in chapter 7, verses 14-25: 

14The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Like Jesus, Paul knew what was the right thing to do, but his flesh was weak. He constantly did what was wrong even though he wanted to do the right thing.

The reason our flesh is weak is because we are enslaved to our sin. Sin lives within us. We are sinful by nature. Given the choice, our flesh will choose sin every time. We have the law to know right from wrong, but because sin lives within us, we will never be able to live up to that standard. That is why we needed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He took those sins and paid the punishment for them on our behalf. He’s the only one never to give in to the flesh.

The sin living within us is why we can’t break free from addiction.  It’s why although we know it’s wrong and we try so hard not to do it, we still do it anyway.  Like Paul said, it makes us “slaves” to sin. We are held captive by our sin.  

We can’t break free on our own.  Trying harder won’t do it. Thankfully, Paul gives us the answer to freedom in verse 25, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Only through Christ can we find freedom.  Only through His grace can we find healing.  Only through His forgiveness can we find redemption.

As Jesus told the disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”.  You have to stay alert.  Those temptations will sneak up on you.  Undoubtedly, the time will come again where you will be faced with a situation where your “spirit is willing but your flesh is weak.” Your flesh will want to look at porn, masturbate, or engage in some sinful activity that you know is wrong.   

Without the strength of God, your flesh will win.  But if you rely on Him for your strength, if you trust in Him to guide you through, you can overcome the temptation.  

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Published by Timothy Reigle

I’m Timothy Reigle, the founder of Into The Wilderness Ministries. After overcoming a fifteen year addiction to porn and sex, I have made it my life’s mission to help other men break free from the bonds of addiction. As an author, coach, and chaplain, I work with men to transform their lives by renewing their faith, re-energizing their families, and restoring their masculinity.

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