“The Spirit is Willing but the Flesh is Weak... A Familiar Feeling”

Categories: Monday Morning Meditation

Overwhelmed and grieved to the point of exhaustion Peter, James, and John slumbered when their master and friend needed them most. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”, Jesus lamented. As He often does, Jesus blends the “spiritual” and the “physical” together so thoroughly that the two are no longer two separate entities which never touch, but rather, they are overlapping domains which affect one another to the point that what happens in one domain is representative of the other.  What was happening in their physical reality, failing to stay awake, was representative of a deeper spiritual reality. Thus, Jesus says, “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Notice that the problem was not a willingness or desire to do the right thing. Jesus admits that they wanted to do the right thing, and yet still failed to do it.

Perhaps this fact strikes you as all too familiar. You’ve been there before, wanting to do what’s right and failing miserably. You’re not alone (raises two hands and a foot). In fact, the apostle Paul, in describing himself at a point in his life pre-conversion, representative of all who find themselves outside of Christ, describes a similar struggle Romans 7:14-24. In so doing, Paul takes up this language of spirit (mind/inner being being used synonymously with the way Jesus used spirit) and flesh. Paul laments that he desires to do what is right but does not have the ability to carry it out (Rom. 7:18, 21-23). The problem was not his desire, but his ability shackled by the flesh. For Paul, the flesh - while related to physicality - points beyond mere physicality to a force of corruptibility and way of living that is contrasted with the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-5). It is a mode of existence devoid of and outside of the Spirit. Thus, Paul writes “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9).

Being of the flesh is not a function of whether or not someone has a physical body rather it is function of what controls, animates, and empowers them. The answer to weakness and sin, is not the escape from physicality, but the transformation of it. We have been given new life by the Spirit which changes not only how we walk, but our ability to walk in the first place (Rom. 8:1-4). This gets to the Adam/Christ as the second Adam contrast we encountered last night in Romans 5. There is the old way of humanity in Adam, ruled by sin and destined for condemnation and the new way of humanity found in Christ, empowered by the superabundance of God’s grace and brimming with life. Paul has been developing and will continue to develop this point over the course of this letter. The love and grace of God mediated by God’s Spirit, is at work transforming our hearts producing the kind of faith in us that causes us to love Him, follow Him and serve Him (Rom. 5:5). He describes that on this occasion as our indebtedness to God who has called us to Himself as sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:12-15). When I am fully aware of what God has done/is doing in me/for me by giving up His Son, I am able to set my mind on Him, tap into the power He bestows as my heart is transformed with my ability and actions along with them. Let us keep the Passion narrative ever before our eyes.

I end with the lyrics to the hymn Gabe led us in as we closed our time together yesterday morning:

1 When my love to Christ grows weak,

When for deeper faith I seek,

Then in thought I go to thee,

Garden of Gethsemane.

2 When my love for man grows weak,

When for stronger faith I seek,

Hill of Calvary, I go

To the scenes of fear and woe.

3 There behold His agony,

Suffered on the bitter tree;

See His anguish, see His faith,

Love triumphant still in death.

4 Then to life I turn again,

Learning all the worth of pain,

Learning all the might that lies

In a full self-sacrifice.

(John Reynold Wreford)