“The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak”

Text: Matthew 26:36-41

Shortly before His arrest, Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter, James, and John went with Him and were told to keep watch and pray; but they fell asleep. It is at this point that Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This statement applied to these disciples as well as to us today. It was illustrated in Jesus and the events that followed. Let us see what we can learn from this statement.

Defining Terms

  • Spirit (pneuma) – “the vital principle by which the body is animated” (Thayer); without the spirit, the body is dead (James 2:26); the spirit contains our will; it is the part of us that thinks, feels, and decides
  • Flesh (sarx) – our flesh and blood bodies; inanimate without the spirit (James 2:26); it is weak; it has natural limitations that are placed upon it

What Jesus Did Not Say

  • “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is unwilling” – the flesh does not have a will of its own (James 2:26); we can focus our minds on the things of the flesh (Romans 8:6), but our flesh has no will of its own that competes with the will of our spirit
  • “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is evil” – this was the error of the Gnostics and was the reason why they denied that Jesus came in the flesh (2 John 7); flesh is not evil, sin is evil (1 John 3:4); flesh does not separate us from God, sin does (Isaiah 59:2)
  • “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is stronger” – the flesh does not somehow overpower our will; we sin when we choose to sin; there is always a way of escape for every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13); being in the flesh gives us the ability to sin, but is not an excuse for sin

How This Was Illustrated in Jesus

  • The spirit is willing…” – Jesus willingly went to the cross (John 10:17-18); His prayer was not to escape the cross, otherwise He would have (Matthew 26:51-54)
  • The flesh is weak” – though Jesus was God in the flesh (Colossians 2:9), He did not have a superhuman body (Hebrews 2:14); His body had to survive to the cross; He prayed that He might accomplish His mission (Mark 14:35); His prayer was answered according to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42-43)

How This Applies to Our Lives

  • The spirit is willing…” – Is it? … the Lord will not force us to follow Him (Matthew 23:37); we must have a willingness to serve Him (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • The flesh is weak” – this is not an excuse to sin, but an understanding of the limitations our bodies have (2 Corinthians 11:27); God expects us to do the best with what we have (2 Corinthians 8:12); put Him first (Matthew 6:33)


  • We have weaknesses in the flesh – but this does not mean we excuse/ignore sin
  • We must have a desire and willingness to serve the Lord – then put that into practice and obey Him

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