During the long night before His crucifixion, Jesus expressed disappointment and understanding of our human weaknesses. How should we respond today?
On the night before His brutal beating and agonizing death, Jesus deeply desired the support of His closest friends. As He cried out to His Father in heaven about the excruciating trial He was about to face, He wanted His disciples nearby.
“And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’
“He went a little farther, 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 for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’” (Mark 14:33-36).
Jesus was in mental agony. He prayed with a fervency that made His sweat “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
But the disciples? Their eyes were heavy. The late night and the stress caught up with them, and they fell asleep. On this night, of all nights, they were not able to support their Lord and Savior.
“Could you not watch one hour?” Jesus asked (Mark 14:37).
Christians today need to watch and pray as well. God knows the temptations that will come on us, and in our weakness, we desperately need His help as well.Then He said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (verse 38).
His words carry a powerful message for all of us. What does He want us to learn? How does He want us to strengthen our willingness and to fight our fleshly weakness?
What is the spirit?
In Mark 14:38, the word spirit is the translation of the Greek word pneuma, which can mean various things. In this passage, it is referring to our human spirit. Jesus was not talking about the Spirit of God. (Jesus spoke these words more than seven weeks before the disciples received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.)
The disciples wanted to support Jesus. Their hearts and minds were willing. They were committed to watching with Him.
But something tripped them up.
Flesh in the Bible
Flesh is the translation of the Greek word sarx, which also has several meanings.
Several Bible translations use the word body here. The disciples were fighting sleep, and their bodily need for rest was winning.
Jesus wasn’t calling His disciples weaklings, though. They were active men in the prime of their lives. But no matter how strong our muscles are, our bodies have limitations. Compared to God, we are feeble and fleeting.
The apostle Paul also used the word flesh—sarx—to describe our human nature apart from God. Although we are born neutral, society and Satan influence us. Satan’s deceptions and temptations corrupt us to the point we become naturally hostile to God.
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7, English Standard Version).
Paul recognized the weakness of his own human nature:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18, ESV).
Although he was using a different meaning of flesh, Paul, too, was essentially saying, The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
See more about this in our article “What Is Human Nature?”
Flesh vs. spirit (is it dualism?)
The apostle Paul powerfully described his battle with the pulls of the carnal, fleshly nature in Romans 7. But Paul was not saying we are good beings trapped inside evil bodies. The Bible does not teach dualism.
Dualism, considering matter evil and spirit good, is a heresy that has taken various forms. But the Bible does not teach it. Scripture shows that God created matter, the physical universe and our bodies, and He said it was all “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
God gave us our body and spirit—all that we are. And He wants us to serve Him with all that we are:
- “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
- “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Our human nature has been corrupted by Satan’s powerful influence. But God is much more powerful than Satan, and He has a plan to restore, refresh and renew. He can take what has been corrupted and make it incorruptible. He wants to transform us—spirit and body.
For that to happen, we must do our part to fight the lusts or “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21; see “Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Adultery” and the other posts in this series).
How to deal with the weakness of the flesh
Jesus gave His disciples instructions that can help all of us in dealing with the weakness of the flesh. On that dark night He told them:
1. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38).
What does “watch and pray” mean?
On that specific occasion, the disciples were to watch by being alert and responsive to what Jesus was doing. They were to support Him in everything He was doing—to assist in His work.
They were to watch out for external temptations and internal pulls that were about to test them.
They were to pray for the supernatural help they would need to pass these tests—to respond in a Christian way.
Christians today need to watch and pray as well. God knows the temptations that will come on us, and in our weakness, we desperately need His help as well.
Jesus also instructed us to watch and pray in preparing for His second coming (Luke 21:36). For more about how to do this as the end time approaches, see our article “Watch and Pray.”
2. Don’t walk according to the flesh (Romans 8:1).
The apostle Paul contrasted living the natural way of the flesh (apart from God) and walking the way of the Spirit. In Romans 8, “the Spirit” is referring to God’s Holy Spirit.
The apostle Peter outlined the start of the conversion process this way:
In our weaknesses, we can go to the throne of grace for help. We can be thankful that our High Priest understands.“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
After this start, we are to continue through life following the lead of the Spirit of God and becoming more and more like God—becoming His children (Romans 8:14). Study more about this essential process in our booklet Change Your Life.
3. Don’t make “provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
We shouldn’t make allowances for our sinful pulls; instead, we must flee from temptations. We should avoid foreseeable dangers and commit to obeying God. We should pray for God’s help to develop more self-control, which is a fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:23).
Learn more in our article “Self-Control and Overcoming Sin.”
4. Be thankful Jesus Christ understands our weaknesses.
Jesus Christ experienced life in the flesh and knows what we are going through.
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Jesus faced the weakness of the flesh—and conquered it. He set us the example by obeying God in spite of temptations and the limitations of the human body. He understands and encourages us to go to God for the help we need.
As the apostle Paul found, God can transform weakness into strength. In the midst of a severe trial, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9; see “What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?”).
In our weaknesses, we can go to the throne of grace for help. We can be thankful that our High Priest understands. We can come to realize that we can do nothing by ourselves, but as Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
And so we can say with the apostle Paul:
“For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Don’t stop here. Learn more about the transformation God wants in our lives by studying Journey: The Fruit of the Spirit.