209. THE SPIRIT IS WILLING BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK

(The Information & Edification Series – Batch 4)

In Mark 14, Jesus, as the all-wise Lord, knowing that he was soon going to be taken by his enemies to be crucified and how his disciples would react, told them:

  • “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.”

Yet, Peter disagreed. He could hardly believe what the Lord had just said. Him, be offended because of Jesus? Never! He knew himself, he thought and maybe the other disciples would be offended but he never would. He loved the Lord too much.

The scripture therefore reads, “But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.”

Certainly, this ought to have caused the Lord to revisit what he had said and revise his statement to exclude Peter but Jesus did not. Instead, he went further to address Peter, pointing out exactly what he Peter would do and on that very night.

Verse 30 states, “And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”

In response, Peter did not back down. He was certain that he would never do what the Lord had indicated because he was sure he knew himself and what he would never ever do. The Bible says in verse 31 of Peter, “But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.” It goes further to state that, “Likewise also said they all.”

Peter “…spake the more vehemently…” meaning more intensely or forcefully, as if to say, Lord, how could you even think that I would ever do such a thing? It is inconceivable! He “…spake the more vehemently…” as if insulted by the very suggestion, casting scorn on it because he knew he would never in a lifetime stoop so low. Peter clearly felt hurt by what the Lord had said because to his mind, certainly, the Lord knowing him and how much he loved him, ought to have known better!

But the Lord did indeed know better. He knew Peter and every disciple there, more than they knew themselves. Although all said they would never be offended because of him and Peter, thinking he was so sure of himself, resisted the statement the most, Jesus, as their Creator, knew that they all would and that Peter, faced with the right trying circumstance, would go even further and deny even knowing him.

After they had had this conversation, the Bible continues in verses 32-38:

  • “And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
  • And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

Interestingly, Jesus had taken Peter, James and John with him and therefore gave the instruction, “…tarry ye here, and watch”, to all three. After he had prayed and came to them, he found all three of them, not just Peter, sleeping. Yet, he addressed Peter alone. The Bible states that he, finding “…THEM sleeping…saith unto PETER, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.”

If all three were found to be sleeping, why then did Jesus single out Peter to address in this way? Why did he see the need to tell him, specifically, that he needed to watch and pray lest he entered into temptation and that his spirit was ready but his flesh was weak?

In light of the fact that, later on, to Peter’s own surprise and dismay, he did go on to deny the Lord, exactly as the Lord had said he would, what Jesus was trying to warn him, about the weakness of his own flesh, became more apparent.

To my mind, Jesus was telling him to be WATCHFUL (so that he wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and to PRAY (for strength), as, despite the fact that he had so much confidence in his flesh and therefore thought he knew what he would and would not do, his true situation (Jesus having assessed him and knowing him better than he knew himself and of the weakness of the flesh within him) was that his spirit was ready or willing (as Matthew 26:41 puts it) but his flesh was weak.

Jesus therefore seemed to be telling Peter that because his flesh was weak, he needed to never take things for granted and assume that he was strong enough and prepared to withstand all temptation but to remain on guard, meaning alert, watchful and ever vigilant and to pray. He was telling Peter not to ever think that he was too strong or too spiritual to fall, as, in the right set of circumstances, in the right situation, he could.

This is a scary thought for all Christians. To think that in the right set of circumstances and in the right situation, we could fall? “God forbid!”, we would all be quick to say but given the flesh within us, this statement is true of even the most pious of us.

What Jesus told Peter reminds me of what 1 Corinthians 10:11 states, where it warns, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Taking heed once again calls for a state of alertness, vigilance and watchfulness.

On the whole, the scriptures keep admonishing us as Christians, that we ought not to think so highly of ourselves, that we think we could never fall and therefore become complacent, expose ourselves to dangerous situations and court temptation. For, apart from the Lord’s strength, we can do nothing of ourselves and for as long as this wicked flesh is within us (which is at enmity with God – Romans 8:7), no matter who we are, we can fall.

As I wrote earlier in another Article, there is the will of God and there is the will of your flesh. Both are always at variance with each other because the flesh is selfish, wants its own way and as one Preacher put it, self wants its own kingdom and crown. It does not want to submit to the will of God but to do its own thing and to assert its own interests.

As things turned out, although all the disciples stated that they would never be offended by Jesus, they all forsook him when he was captured, so as to secure their own selves and preserve their own safety. When the multitude of people and Judas came with swords and staves to take Jesus away under order from the chief priests, scribes and elders, the Bible states in verses 50-52:

  • And they ALL forsook him, and fled And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.”

They ALL forsook him and fled, even Peter! To his merit, he did try to follow Jesus from a distance though, seemingly to see how he fared and how things would turn out and because he did indeed love him, although his flesh was all about self-preservation.

The Bible states:

  • And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death…”

However, having already forsook the Lord and running away to preserve his own life, when further temptation came, it seemingly took Peter off-guard and he was not ready to withstand it. He had so much confidence in his flesh and in his upstanding character and therefore thought he knew what he would and would never do but in the hour of temptation, he fell. When faced with a situation that threatened his own safety, he chickened out, so-to-speak and did something horrible, by denying that he even knew the Lord.

At an earlier point in Jesus’ Ministry, Jesus had told his disciples, including Peter:

  • “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Peter therefore understood the awfulness and severity of the offence of denying Jesus but when temptation came, when he found himself in trouble, to get himself out at all costs, this is exactly what he did!

In order to monitor what was happening and what would be the outcome with Jesus his Lord, Peter sat with the servants underneath the place where Jesus was being held. He probably thought that he would go undetected and that no one would recognize him but to his dismay, people did.

Exposed, he had to make a decision: To admit that he knew the Lord and was one of his disciples and face the consequences, even if that meant that he too would be captured OR lie and say that he did not know Jesus and therefore, had no affiliation with him. Many Christians do the latter. To avoid adverse consequences at their workplace and in life in general, they lie or pretend that they do not know Jesus and that they are not affiliated with him whatsoever. For, they are not prepared to suffer, to be ridiculed, to lose out, to be thought of as strange or peculiar and to have to bear any kind of burden, pain or loss for the Lord.

In the moment of temptation, Peter, the man who had so much confidence in his flesh and was so certain that he would never deny the Lord, even telling the Lord earlier, that even if all the other disciples did, he never would, did exactly that.

Verses 66-72 of Mark 14 states:

  • “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. 
  • And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.”

Peter thought his flesh was strong but in truth and in fact, it was so weak, that when admitting that he knew Jesus meant that he would be exposed to danger and his life in jeopardy, he denied knowing him, not once or twice but three times! Additionally, although the Word of God says that we should walk in the spirit so that we would not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, when his speech seemed to confirm that he was one of Jesus’ disciples, he decided to walk in the flesh in order to get the people around to believe the lie he told and so, he cursed and swore.

In swearing, he knew that he was once again choosing the wrong over the right, as Jesus had earlier told the disciples that swearing was wrong. In fact, in Matthew 5:34-37, Jesus told them:

  • “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

Yet, in his moment of weakness, Peter abandoned all that he knew and did whatever it took to preserve his own self. Like the other disciples, when danger came, he forsook the Lord and fled. Then, although he followed from afar, when he was confronted and accused of being affiliated with Jesus, he lied, cursed and swore. He even referred to Jesus who he knew was Lord (although he was also a man) and in the presence of those who did not believe that he was Lord but an imposter, not as Lord (the confession of which would have made for a good testimony) but as “…this man…”. He seemingly was afraid therefore, to confess Jesus as Lord before the ungodly and so referred to him as just “…this man…” Ultimately, Peter sinned grievously by denying that he knew the Lord and on three occasions. In that moment that his flesh reigned therefore, he completely disassociated himself from the Lord.

When the cock crew the second time though, Peter remembered what Jesus had told him and went out and wept. In my opinion, he wept because he realized that Jesus had been right all along. He wept because he realized that, although he thought that he was super-spiritual, the flesh within him, which he had placed confidence in, was more weak than he had ever realized and he learned in that moment, that it could not at all be trusted or relied upon. He learned that he Peter was capable of doing the most despicable of sins. Although he had thought it not possible, he had come to realize that he, Peter was capable, in the right set of circumstances (and without him humbly remaining WATCHFUL and relying on the Lord’s strength through PRAYER to deliver him from temptation and sustain him) of falling!

When temptation came, in his complacency, he was not prepared. He did not heed the Lord’s warning given earlier, that he should WATCH and PRAY, for his spirit was willing but his flesh was weak.

He probably had dismissed that warning as just words when Jesus spoke it but after he had been let down by his own flesh, Peter finally understood what the Lord had been saying. He finally understood how wicked his flesh within him was and that nothing could be put past it. When temptation came, he was caught off-guard and overpowered by his flesh, he denied the Lord. He did the very things he said he never would.

All of the eleven disciples had forsaken Jesus in the hour of danger but although Peter had clearly thought of himself as more devoted to Jesus than the rest, he did worse than them all! They were guilty of having forsook the Lord but he was guilty of having forsook, having lied, having cursed, having sworn, having refused to confess Jesus as Lord in the presence of the ungodly and worst of all, having denied the Lord, not once, not twice but three times.

Alas, the one who had thought himself to be super-spiritual, super-committed and super-strong (in his own flesh) was the very one who had had a super-fall.

LESSONS FOR US TODAY

The moral of this story for us Christians today is that we must go through this life with a humble mindset, knowing that, although we have God’s divine nature within us (for which we are grateful), we also have another nature which is the flesh. This flesh is not our friend and will look for every opportunity to bring us down, to make us disobey the Lord and to fall.

We cannot possibly overcome our flesh and its dictates in our own strength. We need the Lord to help us. Burying our heads in the sand and deluding ourselves (as Peter did) into thinking that we are okay and that there are some things that we would never do is to give the enemy ammunition to strategize a plan to take us down.

The Lord Jesus, knowing our hearts and knowing us better than we know ourselves, knows that, although at times it is easy for us to believe that we are so spiritually mature that we would never fall, that the truth of the matter is, that our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak.

The antidote for a weak flesh is therefore two -pronged. As Jesus told Peter, we must WATCH (meaning remain vigilant, on-guard, sober, discerning and alert) and we must PRAY.

If we neglect to do these two things and don’t make them part of our Christian lifestyle, then in the moment of temptation, we will be caught off-guard and we will not have the strength to withstand.

Later on, after Jesus had died, rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples (including Peter who had repented and been forgiven) and went back to heaven, Peter, having learned from his own humbling experience no doubt, gave the admonition to other fellow saints, telling them:

  • “…But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and WATCH unto PRAYER.” (1 Peter 4:7)
  • “…all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, BE VIGILANT; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” (1 Peter 5:8)

Indeed, many scriptures exhort the Christian to be watchful and to pray, even as Jesus had personally warned Peter and as Peter himself went on to warn others. For, the Christian walk though possible, is not an easy walk. It requires the disciplines of watchfulness and prayer.

Christians need to be WATCHFUL for a number of reasons. They need to be always alert and spiritually awake so that they will never stop looking for and anticipating the return of the Lord and never instead, become distracted, preoccupied and intoxicated by all that this life has to offer. They also need to be alert and watchful to ensure that they keep walking in the path that is right, to quickly spot that which is not of God, dangerous to their Christian walk and their spiritual success and to have the discernment to recognize the devices, tactics, trappings, strategies, deceptions, concoctions and workings of the enemy. They need to do this so as to avoid and not court or be overtaken by sin, which they are capable of, given that their flesh is weak.

The Word of God therefore states:

  • “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. WATCH ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:34-36);
  • WATCH therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have WATCHED, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” (Matthew 24:42-43);
  • “And what I say unto you I say unto all, WATCH.” (Mark 13:37)
  • “WATCH ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)
  • “Continue in prayer, and WATCH in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
  • “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore WATCH, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
  • “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us WATCH and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8)

In Revelation 3:1-3, in Jesus’ letter to the Church at Sardis which had become complacent, distracted, preoccupied with their own affairs and was no longer watching, Jesus conveyed:

  • “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be WATCHFUL, and STRENGTHEN the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not WATCH, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”

The Christian, informed by the dangers he sees in his WATCHFUL state and knowing that he is up against a three-fold foe, namely, his flesh, the devil and the world, must also adopt a lifestyle of PRAYER, where he seeks God’s guidance, protection, help and strength, to withstand and overcome temptation, the devil’s wiles and all that this ungodly world will throw at us.

The scriptures are replete with the instruction that as Christians, we must pray. To refer to a few, the Word of God states:

  • “Let us therefore COME BOLDLY UNTO THE THRONE OF GRACE, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
  • “…PRAY without ceasing…” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
  • “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by PRAYER and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in PRAYER.” (Romans 12:12)

Given that we are not greater than Peter therefore and knowing what we know (because the Lord has said it), that our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak, what do we propose to do about it?

I say we because when I heard this portion of scripture about Peter read today, from the pulpit and felt led of the Lord to go home and write this Article, I also felt that the Lord was assessing my own situation and my own issues and telling me that my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak.

He therefore wants me to continue to be WATCHFUL (which I have been doing) but to also cultivate a habit of earnest, effective and fervent PRAYER (which I admit, I have not been doing nearly enough as I ought).

What about you? If you are a Christian, have you been WATCHFUL? Have you been continuously PRAYING? If we don’t do these two things, then our flesh, which battles with our spirit daily, will overtake.

The spirit is willing but in order to strengthen it while crucifying our flesh (which is necessary), we need to rid ourselves from all intoxicating influences, to be watchful and to pray. Galatians 5:16-22 tells us:

  • “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
  • Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

(Written on 16th January, 2022)

Dear Reader, if you found the above Article to be interesting, informative, beneficial or edifying (or you are particularly interested in reading more about the life of Peter and seeing how he learned from his mistakes and grew in the Lord), you may also be interested in reading the following:

  • Note 41 – ‘In Me Dwelleth No Good Thing’
  • Note 180 – ‘To Comfort Self Or To Pursue The Will Of God?’
  • Note 165 – ‘Peter’s Imprisonment – Points I Gleaned From My Study Of Acts 12:1-19’
  • Note 20 – ‘Are You Spiritually Sober Or Intoxicated?’

Under the ‘BROKEN Daughters’ Page:

  • Note 19 ‘ ‘What Jesus Thinks Of You Is All That Matters’

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