What Does it Mean ‘The Spirit Is Willing but the Flesh Is Weak’?

Do not be afraid of your own desires, of the enemy, or of the temptations of this world. Trust God to lead you to a life of peace even if life itself doesn't seem peaceful at all. God is for us always.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 22, 2020
What Does it Mean ‘The Spirit Is Willing but the Flesh Is Weak’?

“Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

In human nature, especially in the years of adolescence, we tend to rebel and do whatever we desire. Even as toddlers, we rebel, test our limits with our parents, and desire to do what we want to do. There are stages of development in our lives that play a major factor in obedience versus rebellion like the examples from above. Sin cannot be erased in this lifetime because we were born into it (Romans 5:12; Genesis 6:5).

In this world, we will be tempted and enticed with things of this world (1 John 2:16). But our spirit is always waging war against our worldly/fleshly desires. The Holy Spirit that you received when you gave your life to Christ is constantly at work within you.

God teaches us what it means to have self-control, patience, gentleness, and much more (Galatians 5:22-23). We are at war with ourselves, but our job is to remain constant in prayer and to keep our focus on God.

The Garden of Temptation

Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, and each time He came back, the disciples were asleep. Jesus asked them to “watch and pray” because temptation is near.

Have you ever noticed that when you are tired at night you are tempted to do whatever your flesh or mind is telling you? I noticed that when I stay up at night that I am tempted to think about things that cause me to have anxiety and fear. I even want to divulge in sugary sweets, as many of us battle with craving a midnight snack.

In Romans 8:6, the Bible states, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” When Jesus was praying, he surely was experiencing what the flesh wanted to do. Our flesh and minds do not want to submit to God because it is opposed and contrary to what God calls for us — to live righteously.

Life and peace are what the Spirit produces in us because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. I want life and peace. I do not want to continue to be tortured, lured, and deceived by the enemy and by my own flesh. We should all desire peace (Psalm 34:13-15) and pursue it.

So, if our minds are not at peace, then we know we are in the flesh. Sometimes the war comes without any warning, but that is why we have to be watchful and be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Galatians 5:16-17).

The Fruit of Temptation

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” 

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:1-7).

The enemy displayed the temptation to Eve, and she saw the desire with her own eyes and took the fruit. It is so easy to let the enemy and our flesh take over in a single moment. There is so much in this world that gives us desires. We take the bait over and over again.

Why does this happen? Well, in Romans 7, the Bible talks about the problem with sin within us. We do what we want even though we do not have control over it because we are letting sin control us. So, let us look at Scripture and see why we do what we do.

Therefore, did what is good cause my death? Absolutely not! On the contrary, sin, in order to be recognized as sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment, sin might become sinful beyond measure. 

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 

So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin (Romans 7:13-25).

Now, I know all of these verses are a lot to take in, but I find it more important to read the scriptures and let God speak to you personally. Jesus knew how vital it was to be aware of the temptations of the flesh and the enemy. He taught us to be watchful and pray. But overall, to not let guilt and condemnation become of you because of mistakes you make in life.

Do not be afraid of your own desires, of the enemy, and of the temptations of this world. Trust God to lead you to a life of peace even if life itself doesn't seem peaceful at all. Sin will always be there while we are here, but don't let it control your life. God is for us always.

A Closing Prayer

Father, thank you for sending your precious Son to us to die for our sins. Thank you, God, for showing us how to fight the battles of sin and to pursue life and peace. God, You are glorious and magnificent. You, God, are our goal forever. 

I pray that each of us stays guard over our peace. I pray that we do not conform to our desires. I pray that each one of us is battling the war in our minds to keep standing on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Further Reading

What Is Knowledge According to the Bible

If God Knew That Adam and Eve Would Sin, Then Why Did He Create Them?

What Power Does Satan Have?

How Can I Recognize the Guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Did Jesus' Desire to Give God the Cup Diminish His Love on the Cross?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Gearstd

Rebecca Mashburn (Gordon) has a wonderful husband named Joseph. She has a blog, Trust. Lean, Seek and is working on becoming what God is calling her to. She has a bachelor's in psychology and hopes to one day pursue a degree in biblical counseling. Rebecca loves to be in nature, especially in springtime, and she loves to travel. She has a loving family and hopes one day to have children of her own.


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