As a follower of Jesus, do you ever struggle with good intentions, but don’t follow through with them. You want to do what’s right, but then you don’t. You know what you should say, but you don’t. You know what you should not say, but you say it anyway. You want to stop that sin you keep doing, but you don’t and you feel like you can’t stop. You have the desire to do the right thing, but you don’t do you. You feel trapped or like there is this war between doing right and doing wrong going on inside you. If that is you, then you are not alone.
The apostle Paul, who God used to write half the New Testament and start many churches in the first century, struggled with this. Listen carefully to what Paul says in Romans 7:14.
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The 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. (Romans 7:14-25, NLT)
He is not saying that he never did any good or that he never made the right decisions. What he is saying is that this struggle between doing right and doing wrong is real and powerful. There are these times in his life that he knows the right thing to do but doesn’t do it because of the power of his sinful nature.
Jesus refers to this in Mark 14. Let’s take a look at it.
They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 37 Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” 39 Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. 40 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say. 41 When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Mark 14:32-34, NLT)
We are going to focus in on verse 38 and dissect what Jesus means by the spirit is willing, but the body is weak. If you understand this statement by Jesus, you will understand why you can want to do what is right, but do what is wrong both at the same time. This will also help you understand why those in your life will say the right things but do the wrong things.
The spirit is willing
Let’s start with Jesus’ statement, the spirit is willing. What does that mean? It is a small phrase with a big meaning. To help us understand it, let’s break it down into four thoughts.
First, your spirit is your mind, will, and emotions (Romans 12:11; 1 Cor. 16:18). It includes your soul. Your spirit is the part of you that thinks, feels, and decides. It involves your thinker, feeler, and doer. It is the part of you that deals with morality: what is right and wrong, good and evil. Its that part of you that can feel passion and enthusiasm for God. Romans 12:11 says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (ESV). To “be fervent in spirit” is to be enthusiastic serving the Lord. At the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions some believers who were devoted to serving the Lord and blessing His people. Paul said this about them, “They have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men” (1 Cor. 16:18, NASB). Paul is saying they have refreshed and encouraged his mind, emotions, and his will; they help me to think right, feel right, and do right especially when I get discouraged and worn out.
Two, your spirit is the real you. It is who you really are. If you were able to separate your spirit from your body, the real you would be found in your spirit. Your spirit is the part of you that can live independently from your body. Your spirit does not need your body to exist. At the moment Jesus died on the cross Matthew says, “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit” (Matt. 27:50, NLT). Later in the book of Acts we are told about a follower of Jesus named Stephen who was being stoned for being a follower of Jesus and as he was being stoned to death prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59, NLT). When you die, the real you, your spirit is going to leave your body.
Third, your spirit is God-conscious. God gave you a spirit and that is the part of you that is aware of God and connects with God. Your spirit is what makes you spiritual. Listen carefully to Romans 8:16 which says, “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (NLT). 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (NLT). The way God communicates to you is through your spirit. The way you connect to God is with your spirit and that makes it spiritual. Your spirit is that part of you that truly worships God. Jesus said God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Your body allows you to be world-conscious, your soul allows you to be self-conscious, but your spirit allows you to be God-conscious. Your body helps you be aware of the world you live in, your soul helps you be aware of you, and your spirit helps you be aware of God.
Fourth, your spirit is willing. As a follower of Jesus, your spirit is willing to do what the Holy Spirit wants you to do. The disciples told Jesus they would never abandon Him, reject Him and they would die for Him (Mark 14:27-31). Their spirit was willing. They were passionate about this. Their mind was made up and they had made a decision not to give in or back down. Their spirit is willing. They had good intentions. In their spirit they desired to be faithful, but they would soon discover their bodies were no match for the tempter or the temptation. Their spirit was ready to obey, but their body was ready to disobey.
Your spirit is willing. The Holy Spirit has been working on your spirit creating, developing, and deepening you with new desires, new passions, and new values. As a follower of Jesus who has the Holy Spirit your spirit wants to express love, faithfulness, and obedience to your Lord, Jesus. But there is a big problem. The biggest challenge in dealing with temptation is not the devil and its not the world you live in, but the body you have. This takes us to the second part of what Jesus says.
But the body is weak
Jesus said, the spirit is willing, but the body is weak. The phrase the body is weak describes the impact the sinful nature has on you. When you (like the disciples) become overwhelmed by a situation, your best intentions cannot withstand the temptation without God’s help.
The word body (sarx), sometimes translated as “flesh” or “sinful nature” has two primary meanings. One referring to the physical body (head, arms, legs, hands, feet, etc.) and the other one referring to what is contained in the physical body (emotions, mind, will, soul, etc.) with an emphasis on the sinful nature’s impact on it. This is how Jesus is using the word body when He speaks to the disciples.
Jesus tells them their body is weak. The word weak (asthenes) means sick or helpless. It carries the idea of something without strength or energy. It refers to something having a limit to its capacity to do something and powerless to produce results. When it comes to the context of Mark 14:38 it refers to our inability and/or feebleness with regard to handling temptations in our own inherent, intrinsic, natural strength.
How is your body weak? There are four weaknesses that are connected to your body that cause temptation to be difficult to overcome in your own strength. In your life you are going to find yourself weak in these four areas. Listen carefully, these weaknesses are not a sin, they are weaknesses. These weaknesses are a result of the sinful nature passed down from Adam and Eve.
Your body is weak physically. This means your body gets tired, hungry, needs sleep, and gets thirsty. This is the weakness that dominated the disciples in the garden, and they couldn’t pray because they were so tired and sleepy. Your body being physically weak also refers to getting old, getting sick, broken bones, and organs malfunctioning. One of your weaknesses is your physical weakness. This is why you need doctors, medicine, God’s healing, exercise, and a healthy diet. Your body is weak. When your body gets tired, starts breaking down, or you get sick that is when temptation becomes stronger and has a greater opportunity to cause you to stumble.
Your body is weak mentally. This is the lack of mental strength. This is where you struggle to understand God’s ways, to understand complex relationships, and to understand your own weakness. Mentally you forget things you should remember and remember things you should forget. You think the wrong thoughts and let your mind wander too much. This is why the Bible talks about renewing the mind. This is why you need wisdom, knowledge of God’s truth, and this is why you need to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. Because of your mental weakness you make decisions with incomplete knowledge and flawed understanding. Your thinker is broken. When your thinking is broken, temptation becomes easier to give into because your mind will start rationalizing the sin or selfishness you want to do.
Your body is weak emotionally. This is the lack of strength to handle pressure and so you become stressed easily. This is why you struggle with criticism and are easily offended. You worry too much and are filled with anxieties that may cripple your life. You become angry too often. This is why you need God’s truth to tell you to not worry and to be angry, but don’t sin. This is why you need counselors to help you deal with your emotions, medication to help you emotionally, and the Holy Spirit to produce things like love, joy, peace, patience and self-control. When you are driven by emotions like worry, anxiety, fear, grief, or anger its easier to make unwise decisions and to give into temptation.
Your body is weak spiritually. This is where you love Jesus, but you don’t talk to Him much. You love His Word, but you don’t read it or study the way you should. This is where you know you need a healthy church in your life, but you don’t go or you keep your distance by watching online. You are in a spiritual battle. You need to pray for others, and they need to pray for you. You need to encourage other believers and they need to encourage you. You need to challenge others and they need to challenge you. Because of your spiritual weakness you give in to sin too often.
We are all weak in some way regarding all four of these areas. These weaknesses effect how you see God, how you see yourself, and how you see others, how you treat others, what you believe, what you do, what you value, and how you respond to temptation.
- Now listen carefully, these weaknesses are not sins. Physically, it’s not a sin to be hungry, tired, need rest, or to get sick. Mentally, it’s not a sin to misunderstand, misinterpret, or to misread something. Emotionally, it’s not a sin to struggle with anger, loneliness, anxiety, or fear. Spiritually, it’s not a sin to not know how to pray or to know how to read and receive from God’s Word or to know how to worship God. A weakness is a lack of strength, not a sin.
- Now watch this, your weaknesses are what make trials and temptations difficult. When a trial or temptation bumps up against your weaknesses you find yourself struggling more, wrestling more, and it’s more difficult than normal to get through it. This is what the disciples were experiencing. The disciples were physically weak. They were so tired they would rather sleep than pray like Jesus asked. They are mentally weak in the fact they don’t fully understand what is going on and the significance of what Jesus is going through and about to go through. Their emotional weakness is about to reveal itself when they all become afraid and scatter.
When temptation and your weaknesses collide you will find yourself sinking in this struggle like in quick sand, but that is when God can step in and pull you out, that’s when God opens the door, that’s when God delivers the wisdom, that’s when God provides the self-control, that’s when God gives you the patience, and that’s when God is able to keep you humble. For when you are weak and fully depending on God, that’s when you are truly strong.
So, what do you do, when you discover that your spirit is willing, but your body is weak when it comes to opportunities to be unfaithful or disobedient to God? The answer is found in what Jesus said to them.
Watch and pray
Jesus says to them in verse 38, Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. There is your defense. That is your wall of protection. That is your guard against your weaknesses. Jesus is not only telling them the answer, but He is also showing them the answer. When Jesus says this, He is fighting His own concerns about the cross, His own anxieties, and His own weaknesses as a human. This is why Jesus is sweating blood and saying things to the Heavenly Father, like, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
So, what does it mean to keep watch and pray. We looked at this a few weeks ago, but let’s review it.
First, Jesus says to keep watch (gregoreuo). When Jesus says keep watch, He is actually telling them to keep watching Him, learning from Him and to be spiritually alert. The Greek word for keep watch has an interesting image attached to it. It is a word that describes a person who carefully crosses a river while stepping on slippery stones. If they do not pay close attention to their steps, they would end up in the water. Jesus is telling the disciples they are on slippery ground right now. They need to focus, be watchful, and alert because if they are not, they could slip and fall into temptation.
The same is true for you. Jesus wants you to keep watch. He wants you to be spiritually alert and awake. He does not want you to dose off spiritually (Rom. 13:11-13). Later, Peter would say something similar in 1 Peter 5:8 when he writes, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith” (NLT).
The second thing Jesus said was for them to pray (proseuchomai). This word pray is a general word for prayer and includes all aspects of prayer.
- This would include praise (telling God how great and wonderful He is and as a result reminding yourself of how big and awesome your God is compared to what you are facing).
- It would also include confession (telling God about your sin and admitting to Him what you have done).
- It would include supplication (talking to God about what concerns you in your life).
- It would include intercession (talking to God about what concerns you have for someone else)
- It would include thanksgiving (telling God how grateful and appreciative you are for all that He has done, is doing, and will do in your life)
This word pray does not mean simply praying generic general prayers, but praying specifically about what it is you are facing at that moment. You praise God in light of what you are going through. You confess any sin that you have done leading up to this point. You talk to God about your concerns about your own weaknesses and blind spots regarding what you are about to face. You talk to God about others who are involved in what you are facing. You specifically thank God for what He is going to do in this season or situation in your life. To keep watch and pray is to pray with your spiritual eyes wide open.
Jesus tells the disciples to keep watch and pray. Why? Jesus tells them so that you will not give in to temptation. You cannot win against temptation in your own strength, you have to have God’s help to do it. A few thoughts from this.
- Your temptation is the strongest when you are the weakest. When you are tired, it is easier to get angry and sin out of that anger. When you are lonely, it is easier to go further physically with someone than you normally would go. When you don’t understand someone, it’s easier to be impatient with them and unkind toward them. Temptation is the strongest when you are the weakest.
- Your temptation is normal. You are not the only one who is tempted by what you are tempted by. There are thousands and maybe millions of people who have and are struggling with the same temptations you struggle with. 1 Corinthians 10:13, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (NLT).
- Your temptation is unavoidable. Jesus said in Matthew 18, “temptations are inevitable.” You cannot escape temptations. They are always hanging around.
- Your temptation has four sources. Jesus said the world will tempt you to sin (Matt. 18:7; 1 Tim. 6:9). Jesus also said people will tempt you to sin (Matt 18:7). Matthew tells us that the devil will tempt you to sin (Matt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Thess. 3:5), and then James tells us that your own desires will tempt you to sin (James 1:14).
- Your temptation can be resisted. Jesus said, Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. Let me be real with you. You are going to be tempted, but not all temptations are equal. What I mean by that is, there are some temptations that have the potential to ruin your marriage, to damage your children for the rest of their life, to destroy you financially, to cost you your career, to demolish your reputation or to put you in prison. The reality is you are not going to win against every temptation, because you are weak. However, there are some temptations you need fight with all that God gives you because of what is on the line because of what is at stake. To do this, you will need to keep watch and pray!
Jesus does something here to help us deal with people who give in to temptation. What do you do with that follower of Jesus who has a willing spirit and the right desire, but because of their own weaknesses doesn’t follow through with it? How do you respond to them? Jesus shows us two things here.
- Jesus responded with understanding. Jesus acknowledged and agreed that they had a willing spirit. They had good intentions. They really wanted to do what was right. He also understood that the reason they didn’t do what they needed to do was because they were weak. Jesus understood the power of their weaknesses. Jesus was understanding. Hebrews 4 says that Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15, NLT). Jesus understands the power of temptation and frailty of your weaknesses. As followers of Jesus, we need to try to have the same understanding toward those who demonstrate good intentions and the desire to do what’s right but fail at it because of their own weaknesses.
- Jesus responded with kindness. He pointed out their need, the problem, and gave a solution, but he was not rude or unkind toward them for their weakness. Jesus did not ignore their weaknesses, but He also did not shame them because of their weaknesses. This reminds me of Ephesians 4:32 which says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (NLT).
Being a follower of Jesus is learning how to keep watch and pray so that you don’t enter into temptation.