The Flesh is Weak

This is our biggest problem.

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

Because our flesh is weak, we need God’s help to avoid and resist temptation.

Our flesh is not inherently bad.

Jesus became flesh. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Jesus had flesh after His resurrection: “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).

There is nothing wrong with having a body of flesh but the problem is that our bodies have strong desires.

Our desires tempt us to sin.

God created man with these strong desires that are essential for life. We have physical needs for food, water and shelter. We have social needs for companionship, approval and sexual fulfilment. All of these God-given needs are supported by desire.

God also gave man responsibility to rule over his desires, restraining them when necessary, and fulfilling them in upright and moral ways. Responsibility entails freedom of choice, which means that right or wrong choices can be made by anyone who has been given responsibility.

In Eden, Eve had all the food she needed, but she chose to eat the forbidden fruit.1 She chose to believe a snake rather than God. Adam chose to listen to Eve rather than God. Eve tried to blame the snake. Adam tried to blame God for giving him Eve. But in reality, Eve and Adam were responsible for their own sinful choices and for the consequences.

Their first child, Cain, also made sinful choices. He “was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). Abel was the first prophet and the first martyr (Luke 11:50, 51). “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).

When God rejected Cain’s sacrifice because of his evil deeds, and accepted Abel’s sacrifice because he was righteous, “Cain was very angry” (Genesis 4:5). God asked Cain, “Why are you angry? ... If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:6, 7). God promised to accept Cain if he did what was right, and God warned him to rule over his evil desires. Instead, Cain murdered his brother.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13).

We must strive to do what is right although our flesh is weak.

Jesus valued Peter’s willing spirit, even though He knew Peter would deny Him.2

The spirit is more important than the flesh. The desires of our flesh relate only to temporary things, to things that will pass away. God has provided a means of salvation for those who love God and sincerely want to do what is right.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Jesus said: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).

Because our flesh is weak, we cannot save ourselves by lawkeeping (Romans 8:3).

Even those who want to do what is right, come short: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Paul explained: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:14, 15 RSV). Paul discusses our hopeless situation because of the weakness of our flesh.3

Only Christ can rescue us from the weakness of our flesh.

Only in Him can we escape punishment for the sins we have committed. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Worldly people try to fulfill the desires of their flesh with little regard for right and wrong. They are called “children of wrath” because their behavior makes God very angry.4

Others love God, want to do what is right, and try to do what is right, but fall short because of the weakness of the flesh. God sent His Son to suffer the penalty for their sins so they can be forgiven if they put their trust in Him.

Believers must put on Christ to be saved.

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

How do we put on Christ? Paul explained, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Through baptism, a believer, who has repented of his sins, gains access to forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Christ. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4).

In Christ we walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

In Christ we are a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This new life in Christ means that we no longer walk according to the flesh,5 but according to the Spirit.6 “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 5:1-4).

To walk according to the Spirit means that we focus on the things of the Spirit: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). When we set our mind on something, it is the focus of our thoughts and actions.7

We must be spiritually minded.

“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8).

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7, 8).8

We must resist evil desires.

Salvation by grace does not mean that we may give in to the lusts of the flesh. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

Paul wrote, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:23).

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:16, 17).

We must avoid and resist temptation.

We must avoid temptation as much as possible. What is the value of the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” if we then go where we will be tempted? Someone with a drinking problem may not sit in a bar or visit someone he knows will try to get him to drink. Young people who are dating should avoid situations where they might be tempted to commit fornication. We must avoid people who try to get us to do bad things. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33 RSV).9

The many unavoidable temptations in life, must be resisted. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

“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).

What have we learned?


Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.


1 She “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).
2 “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31, 32).
3 “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:18-25 RSV).
4 Unless they repent, they will be punished in hell, “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Hell was prepared for the devil, but when men rebel against God, like the devil, it is not unjust or unreasonable that they must share the devil’s punishment.
5 What does it mean to walk according to the flesh? “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
6 What does it mean to walk according to the Spirit? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).
7 In Colossians, Paul explains: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:1-5).
8 “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors - not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:9-14).
9 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.’ I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. 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 6:14 - 7:1).

Published in The Old Paths Archive