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“The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh Is Weak.”


Matthew 26:36-41


Jim Davis


In his book Erroneous Zones, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer writes, “Look over your shoulder. You will notice a constant companion. For want of a better name, call him Your-Own-Death. You can fear this visitor or use him for your personal gain. The choice is up to you.”


The power of death and the power of life are present in every step we take in life. Realizing Your-Own-Death is your constant companion Dr. Dyer challenges us to ask ourselves some sobering questions. “Should I avoid doing the things I really want to do?” “Are things important to accumulate?” “Is putting it off the way to live?” (Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Your Erroneous Zones, Avon Books, New York, New York, pg. 17.) Life and death are wrapped up in each of these questions.


We have grown up in a culture that has convinced us that we are not responsible. We are convinced that something or someone outside ourselves is responsible for our actions. Think about how we seek to defend ourselves. We have used these statements over and over.


“You hurt my feelings.”

“You make me feel bad.”

“I can’t help the way I feel.”

“I just feel angry, don’t ask me to explain it.”

“He makes me sick.”

“Heights scare me.”

“You’re embarrassing me.”

“She really turns me on.”

“You made a fool of me in public.”


Every one of these statements is a statement about Your-Own-Death. It leaves you believing you have no choice in the way you act. To adapt this approach to life is to sign Your-Own-Death warrant. Of course, Dr. Dyer encourages us to take charge of our own lives, but the Bible encourages us to put God in charge of our lives, after all God has the power of life and death.


There is a part of us desirous of doing the right thing, then, there is that part of us wanting to take the easy way out. The easy way is seldom the best way. Jesus faced this decision as he confronted the cross.


Matthew 26:36-41

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."


39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."


40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body [flesh] is weak." NIV


The revelation of Jesus’ humanness was never more evident than in Gethsemane when he was called upon to relinquish his life to overcome his-own-death.  The touching thing in this scene is that Jesus’ spirit cried an agonizing prayer for God’s will to be accomplished with his life, but the flesh threw him face down to the ground. Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the body [flesh] is weak.” Jesus’ spirit was willing to obey the Father’s will to the point of death, but his flesh sought to escape the ordeal as he cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” The call of the flesh was so strong that Jesus’ sweat was as drops of blood falling to the ground.


Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” “Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:35 NIV). But they denied him in almost the same breath (Matthew 26:69-75). Their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak.


The Flesh Is Weak


Have you noticed that life starts out with a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude? Children start out this way, they are selfish. By the way, this attitude is Your-Own-Death.


A man walked into a service station to have his car worked on. There he saw a mechanic thoroughly scrub his hands and begin cleaning the upholstery in a blue truck. The man changed the oil, tested the motor, checked the air pressure in all the tires, including the spare, and buffed over some rust spots on the rear bumper. The customer walked over the service manager, and pointed to the energetic mechanic, hoping to get him to work on his car. "I’ve been watching that guy, and he certainly looks like a good mechanic." "He is," laughed the service manager, "especially when he’s working on his own car!"


It seems more exciting to just live for self, but it is the way of death. When Absalom, David’s son, was seeking to dethrone him, David cried out “My own flesh is trying to take my life.” In the same way it seems as though the weakness of our own bodies tries to squeeze the very life out of us.


The difficulty is the flesh’s appetite is insatiable—even when it gets what it wants, it doesn’t want it anymore. It leads us to want more of something else. This is why Paul admonishes, “. . . do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” The reason is they cannot be satisfied.


In the disquieting battle between the spirit and the flesh it is often difficult to tell which one is winning—the body or the spirit. The flesh is very deceitful. We may convince ourselves the spirit is winning only to discover we have been deceived by the flesh. Paul stated he had lived in all good conscience before God and man (Acts 23:1), but while living in all good conscience he was murdering Christians.


The Corinthians were caught in this trap. They thought they were spiritual minded, but their flesh was in complete control.


1 Corinthians 3:1-3

3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? NIV


Most of the problems in the church today are due to spiritual immaturity. Often, the more immature and less knowledgeable a person—the stronger their will. Such a person may misinterpret a strong will for a strong faith. Even the ones who know the most must fight against fleshly immaturity, for knowledge in and of itself is not spiritual wisdom. Listen to what Paul says in the following verses. Paul writes, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV).


Sometimes we have to beat our own bodies to keep it from squeezing the very life out of us. Even Christ cried out “Not my will . . .” This must be the cry of every Christian. It is the cry of a spirit wanting to overcome the flesh.


Romans 7:18-20

18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. NIV


Thy Will Be Done


The biblical concept of flesh is what we call ego today. The acronym for Ego is Edging God Out. Edging God Out is Your-Own-Death. Your-Own-Death desires to edge God out. The fundamental mistake today is that we begin with ourselves instead of God. Our ego becomes the center of our lives. This is the root cause of every moral problem in our society. Abortion is considered because of what is best for us, not the unborn. Homosexuality is embraced because our fleshly ego convinces us perversion is natural. Drugs are used because the flesh is looking for a high.


Ego not only edges God out, it edges everybody out of our lives. A mortician at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California was asked, "What was the most expensive funeral he ever had there?" The mortician didn't have to search his memory. A man embittered at his ex-wife and children had left them almost nothing, but had provided bountifully for his own final, ostentatious farewell. He had assigned $200,000, about a half-million in [1985] dollars. First a bronze casket was bought for around $18,000, and a beautiful rose window was created for $25,000. But after these and other expenditures, the mortuary still had about $100,000. What next? Their solution was orchids--one hundred thousand dollars worth! And how many attended this $200,000 extravaganza? Exactly three. ("A Message From the Publisher," Christianity Today, May 17, 1985, p. 12. Submitted by Ken Newberger, Dallas, Texas.)

Many things have changed over the last 2000 years since Christ died, but one thing is definitely still true: We still need saving from ourselves. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."


Today our egos are so fragile that we can’t bear to tell ourselves no. Our egos have convinced us we must never say no to self. We certainly don’t want others telling us no. William V. Shannon in the Tampa Tribune-Times wrote: "Many of our adolescents and young adults cannot ‘just say no’ …because their whole approach to life has been shaped by television, the land where ‘no’ does not exist." (David Redick, Sense and Sensuality, http://preacherstudy.com.)


Twenty first century people are living out the old ‘70s dictum, "If it feels good, do it" in ever greater numbers today with ever greater and more destructive consequences. But you’d better not point it out to them. God forbid that anyone would have the nerve to question the validity of such so-called "freedom." Oh no! You can’t do that! (Adapted David Redick, Sense and Sensuality, http://preacherstudy.com.)


Many in the Corinthian church were weak and sickly, for they sought the glory due God. They were naïve enough to believe they were actually seeking God’s glory, when they were actually edging God out. Every problem the church of Corinthian had can be traced to their desire to seek their own way, their own glory. Today every problem in the home and in the church can be traced to the same cause. Paul warns us not to “become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”


Galatians 5:24-26

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature [flesh] with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. NIV


Provocation, conceit and envy are egotistical responses. Ego will only confine us to a self created prison. It’s a kill-joy, and produces all sorts of problems.


Ego is an attempt to steal the glory of God. When God gets the glory, we experience his life giving power. God gets the glory when we allow his will to be done in our lives to accomplish his purposes. When we steal God’s glory we rob ourselves of his power—death overtakes us.


To give God his due is to wield a death blow to the devil’s power over our lives. Jesus came in the weakness of the flesh, but he allowed God to direct his life to destroy Satan’s death hold on him.


Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. NIV


We Accomplish God’s Will through Prayer


The purpose of prayer is to focus our lives on God. When Jesus was torn between two worlds he focused on God’s will through prayer as he prayed “Thy will be done . . .” This is the purpose of prayer.


A woman said to a guest at dinner, "We say grace at dinner each day to remind us around here that there is something bigger than our egos." Prayer can free us from the gravitational pull of our egos and remind us of the goodness and might of God. Prayer can move us from self-centered preoccupation to wonder and awe. (Maxie Dunnam in Living the Psalms. Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 4.)

Prayer is the only thing that can free us from the everlasting burden of having to have our own way. We struggle with this kind of prayer. Jesus asked repeatedly for this cup to pass. Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Abraham had to struggle when he offered Isaac for a sacrifice. None of these prayers were answered according to the will of the one praying.


Our initial prayer lives begin as we struggle with God’s will. Initially we may beg, demand, or expect God to respond to our request showering us with blessings. We major in instant solutions as we strive to manipulate God for our purposes.


As we mature we begin to realize prayer is not to get our will done in our lives. Prayer is for the purpose of relinquishing our wills, as we cry as Jesus did, “Thy will be done . . .” The one thing God must do to get us to pray this kind of prayer is to bring us to the end of ourselves. We can only pray this type of prayer when we understand God’s way is the only way. Jesus understood this; Paul’s thorn in the flesh brought him to this realization; Abraham had to determine that God would provide a sacrifice if all else failed.


The most difficult thing in life is to be brought to a place where you must abandon yourself. The book of Esther is a beautiful book. Esther is brought to the end of herself as she faces her need to save the Jews. To do so she must risk her own life. There is no other way out. She simply says, “If I perish, I perish.” In doing so she allowed God to step into her life in a powerful way.


Daniel was brought to the end of himself when he was thrown into the Lion’s den. I like to remind us that Daniel was probably around 65 years old when he was thrown into the Lion’s den. This reminds me that it is not too late to be brought to the end of myself.


If Jesus had not suffered the cross he would have never experienced the resurrection. When the disciples waited in the upper room in Jerusalem on Pentecost it was the last place they wanted to be. But they were at the end of themselves. They began to pray. They had no choice but to rely on God’s power. This allowed God to come in a powerful way on Pentecost.




Salvation is about God becoming the center of all life. Without him there is no way we can plot a true course for our lives. God enters our lives to reveal the truth about ourselves. We don’t have to figure out how we are made or how we are supposed to respond, God already has it figured out. But we must come to the end of ourselves and accept his ways for our lives.


Coming to the end of self is a scary proposition for we must recognize no good thing dwells in our flesh. When we come to the end of ourselves, the end of our resources we may think God is out to destroy us, but he isn’t. He merely desires to transform us into the image of himself. Paul states it in simple terms.


Romans 6:1-10

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.


5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.


8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. NIV


Christ invites you to be crucified with him. Yes, the flesh is forever resisting, but the power of the resurrection is awaiting your response. Want you die the death of Christ in baptism, so that you can live him?


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