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The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak: 3 Components to Walking In the Spirit

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What does that phrase “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” mean? How do you walk in something you cannot physically see? Why, if I have given my life to the Lord, is my flesh still weak? 

Picture it. Two toddlers playing in a toy kitchen. One reaches for a pot and pretends to fill it at the pretend sink. The other, looking on, suddenly snatches the pot from the hands of the other. Crying and chaos commence.

We do not have to be taught how to be selfish, mean, or out of control in our flesh. We are born with it. It is our human sin nature.

When you become a believer, this sin nature does not disappear unfortunately for you are still human. That weak willed, sniveling, snotty, person within is still there! But God. In Him, we can overcome our flesh.

It is a daily laying down of self, picking up our cross and following the path of Jesus to keep the flesh at bay. Walking in the Spirit of God means we make choices minute by minute, hour by hour to choose that which glorifies Christ. 

Key scripture on walking in the Spirit

Our focus scripture today is Matthew 26:41 and here are a couple of translations for us to look at:

The Holman Christian Standard Bible has the version most are familiar with as it closely resembles both the King James Version and the English Standard version of this passage.

“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The Message Bible puts it this way: (40-41) – When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

And finally, The Passion Translation states it like this:

“Keep alert and pray that you’ll be spared from this time of testing. Your spirit is eager enough, but your humanity is weak.”

Failing flesh makes walking hard

Ah, our humanity. Note the Aramaic for this is “the flesh is failing.” Humans failing. Wow, does that resonate with anybody? We often think we are failing God and yet that is the last thing we want to do!

Knowledge to walk in the spirit is a learning experience that lasts throughout our life on our Jesus journey. What many of us are looking for is how to do this well. How do we get better at walking in the spirit?

I love a phrase my pastor used in a sermon once. He said, “Be so close to Jesus that the dust from His sandals is all over you.” In other words, stay on his heels. We do this by being in His word and by praying.

I’ve broken down this scripture into three key parts with three key words I want us to look at more closely. In examining these keywords, I hope to guide you to ways you can be more alert, able to overcome and walk in the Spirit with our Lord.

The 3 key components to walking in the spirit

#1 Watch: Being Alert

“Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day, your Lord is coming.”(Matthew 24:42)

“Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:15)

“But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)

I especially like the Passion Translation of this – Keep a constant watch over your soul and pray for the courage and grace to prevail over these things that are destined to occur and that you will stand before the presence of the Son of Man with a clear conscience.”

To “watch” or “be alert” signifies that you are on guard. Defense! Defense! (Any cheerleaders out there?)

I personally like the phrasing “be alert” better than “watch” because the Bible tells us that what we are really fighting is in the spiritual realm. A realm we cannot physically see with our eyes. 

We see it with our senses instead. In things we hear, in the actions of others, in our emotions even.

We see it in our Spirit. The Spirit of God in us provides us with discernment over the situations and circumstances we encounter.

That nagging feeling that something bad is going to happen. Or that you are viewing or listening to something you shouldn’t? That feeling of guilt when you say something harsh?

That is the Holy Spirit ministering to you. Reminding you of whose you are and what is acceptable and unacceptable in His sight. Reminding you to stay your mind on Jesus.

Notice the admonition to pray in Luke: “praying that you may have strength”. This tells us that we cannot do this on our own. We must depend on God!

His strength in us makes it possible to walk in the Spirit. Prayer is one of our main weapons to brandish against Satan. Prayer draws heaven near as we talk to our Father about our needs, our weaknesses, and our hurts.

So, we watch, with a keen and alert Spirit and pray so that God comes alongside to fight for us.

When you employ these tactics, you can “watch” for the schemes of your adversary and not be taken by surprise. You can do your work with joy instead of dread. You are able to think of something to say that is kind…or to simply be smart enough to not say anything at all. You are able to see a way of escape from the temptation.

Speaking of that…

#2 Temptation:

(All bolded words are added for emphasis on the idea of temptation.)

“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us. And do not bring us into temptation.” (Luke 11:4)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. What we choose to read, to watch, to listen to. What we choose to say, to do. What we choose to think about. (Matthew 6:13)

Will it be flesh? Worldly things? Or will you choose to set your mind on Christ? To insulate yourself against the flesh, by listening to the Holy Spirit within that you may walk in it.

It is easy to get discouraged in trying to live this Christian life. It may seem that you are always on guard because you are always under attack. In many ways this is true.

Once you have accepted Jesus as Savior, you cannot be taken out of His hand. Satan knows you are God’s. However, that doesn’t stop that devil from doing all he can to make you less effective for the Kingdom.

He cannot win you to his side, but he can keep you from being victorious for God.

Don’t lose heart though friend! You can and will overcome it. You know who wins this game! And because that Spirit that overcame sin and the grave now lives in you, you will win too.

Day by day as you grow in your knowledge of the Word, of God’s character, and experience His grace, it becomes easier to walk in the Spirit. Temptations and attacks from the evil one still come, yet you are better equipped to defeat his sinister tactics.

You mature in your faith and the fear and intimidation, the desire and enticement of worldly things diminishes. It fails to hold its former appeal.

#3 Spirit:

Galatians 5:16-17 – I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (24) Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

In Romans, Paul makes the statement that he is a wretched man, who despite a desire to do good, has a flesh battle waging war in his mind that desires to do evil.

How does he win this battle? He doesn’t. God’s spirit within him that allows him to bend his will to the law of God, is what wins the battle.

To walk in the spirit is to allow all that is God within you to rise up and take hold over your flesh. When you surrender your will to God’s will, that walk becomes easier.

Even Jesus had to surrender His flesh to be obedient to the spirit. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prays multiple times to His Father for the cup of sin to be removed from Him.

Three times in Matthew 26: 36-42 we find Jesus praying “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will but as You will.”

Jesus understands that His sacrifice must be made to save the world God created. However, in His humanity, his flesh yearns to find a way out of this dreadful circumstance. But He doesn’t walk away. He walks in the spirit to do the will of His Father. 

He allows the spirit to determine what His flesh will do.

Conclusion

As long as you live on this Earthly plane, you will struggle with your flesh and the Holy Spirit. Commit to reading the Word daily. Praying daily. Seeking repentance daily. These practices put your flesh in a posture of obedience to God.

Reflect on these three components to walking in the spirit. The one thread that weaves it all together is obedience. 

Obedience leads to freedom. Freedom allows you to walk in the spirit with your Lord. Joyfully. Purposefully. With delight.

It isn’t an easy walk, but it is a worthy one.

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