Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." -- Matthew 26: 40-41 (NKJV)
The Garden of Gethsemane; the place of crushing. The last stop for Jesus before the cross. His last opportunity to get alone with God for prayer. My intent was to write about how Jesus can always relate to our suffering in this life because of the great suffering He went through even before the cross. The fact that He too even asked if He could be spared it, but ultimately bowed to the sovereignty of God. And while those are terrific theological lessons God instead led me to the above verses from Gethsemane. In it we find two vital truths regarding the war that is constantly being waged against our soul.
The soul has several enemies. The obvious one is the devil, the enemy to our souls. He is not some cute caricature as the world portrays him:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. -- 1Peter 5: 8-9 (NIV)
How is he referred to here? He is your enemy! I have seen so many well intended Christians think they can chat with the enemy, play around with the devil, or maybe even negotiate with him like Eve tried to do in another garden. How well did that work out for all of us? He is looking to devour you -- plain and simple. While we are on this subject let's finally dispel this notion that the devil made you do something. That is simply not possible. The devil cannot make you do anything beloved. All he can do is present a choice to us. The choosing is always all us. The devil did not make Eve eat the fruit; he presented it to her as a pleasing choice. The devil did not make David send for Bathsheba, he just presented her as a pleasing choice. If the devil could make us do anything -- he would kill us. All he can do is present a choice to us. He can wrap up something that is sinful, contrary to what God said, and make it appealing to our flesh. Our flesh then has to compete with our spirit to decide what to do -- who to believe. Let God be true and every man a liar. And do not forget who the father of lies is:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. -- John 8: 44 (NIV)
There is no truth in him and the very language he speaks is falsehood. As you or I may only speak English, the devil speaks only lies and he is not bilingual! He may mix in enough of Scripture to make it seem "godly" but a little leaven spreads throughout the entire batch. There is no partial truth beloved -- only the absolute truth of God's Word.
But we also have two other enemies that all work together with the adversary. They are the world and our flesh. The world system is completely contrary to God and we have been warned in Scripture:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. -- James 4: 4 (NIV)
Friendship with the world is hatred towards God! Not only that but look how He addresses us when we are friends with the world -- we are adulterers! When we think we can fool around with the things of this world and still be faithful to God we are deceiving ourselves. We are actually cheating on God! I know how difficult this teaching is. I understand that we live in the world and that the draw of the world is strong. I understand the war that is being waged. I am not suggesting it is easy -- only what is right. And that brings us to our flesh. The enemy finds a willing partner in our flesh. The world finds a willing partner in our flesh. Because our flesh is in a natural state of rebellion against God ever since the Garden of Eden. And this brings us to our key verses today and the first important truth -- our flesh is in constant war with our spirit.
If you are a born again child of God then you have His Holy Spirit living inside of you. It is the spirit that understands the things of God. It is through the spirit that discernment comes. It is in the spirit that our understanding of the Word of God grows as we pursue Him. But it is in our flesh that we sin. It is in our flesh that we find the attraction of the world and the attraction of the whisperings of the devil. It is in our flesh that we consider things that are contrary to God and what we know to be true. Our key verses spell it out very clearly for us -- the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak! It is the spirit that gives in to the sin of the world or the sin the devil tempts us with. The spirit is always willing to say no. The spirit knows the truth of God's Word and always seeks to apply it to any given situation or temptation.
It is not always such obvious sin issues either. Realize that it is in our flesh that we fear but our spirit knows that God's perfect love casts out all fear! It is in our flesh that we get depressed but our spirit knows that in God's presence there is fullness of joy! It is in our flesh that we can have a negative self-image but our spirit knows that we are fearfully and wonderfully made! So the issue is always -- which do we feed? What we feed is what will grow. What we do not feed will naturally become weaker. If we spend the majority of our time dabbling in the world, flirting with the enemy, then we feed our flesh -- period. Our flesh will then become stronger as a result. If we spend the majority of our time however in godly pursuits, then we feed our spirit. If we have regular time in His Word, learning His Word, then we are feeding our spirit and thus it grows stronger within us. Remember what David said:
I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you -- Psalm 119: 11 (NLT)
Think of this verse this way -- "I have fed my spirit by remembering what Your Word says so that when the devil and this world tries to tempt my weak flesh, I will know the truth and be able to resist the urge to sin." We must feed the spirit within us if we expect to be strong enough to fight the attacks of the enemy and the allure of this world and the inherent weakness of our flesh. These are the basics of spiritual warfare beloved and Paul teaches us how to wage the war successfully:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -- 2Corinthians 10: 3-5 (NIV)
Now follow closely beloved. Any thought the enemy plants in your head is either an argument against God or a pretension, which is a fancy word for a lie. Any sinful temptation the world tries to sell you is also an argument against God or an outright lie. The enemy and the world win when we merely consider the argument or entertain the lie. Eve did not lose the battle when she bit the fruit. She lost the battle when she considered what the enemy was saying to her! Instead, Paul is teaching us here that we must take those thoughts, arguments and lies and make them captive -- which means we do NOT consider them and instead we make them obedient to Christ. What does that mean? Well the verse explains that these rogue thoughts are set up against the knowledge of God -- His Word. Thus to make the rogue thoughts obedient to Christ we must counter them with the truth of the Word of God. When the world says it is ok to have an affair we remember the Scriptures about the covenant of marriage. When the devil tells you that you feel anxious you respond that God did not give you a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind. When the world or the devil says that you will never amount to anything you remember Jeremiah 29:11 which promises that He has plans for you to give you hope and a future. When the devil reminds you of your past you need to remind him of his future! When the world says you will never change you remember that God has made all things new. Trust me beloved. Whatever lie the enemy or this world throws at you there is a promise in the Word of God that assures you it is a lie! You just have to decide what you are going to feed on a daily basis. What you are going to grow and make stronger. You do not magically end up in the motel room having an affair. You consider one lie after another. You choose to ignore what your willing spirit has to say in order to give in to your weak flesh. David had multiple opportunities to stop the pattern of sin he was entering into with Bathsheba. God gave him many chances to choose the spirit over the flesh. He could have gotten out when he found out she was married. He could have gotten out when he found out her husband was fighting on the front lines for him. He could have gotten out with just the adultery and avoided becoming a murderer too. But read that story and watch as sin took over this man. And remember -- David was no spiritual weakling! He knew the Word and hid it in his heart! Temptation is very real and the power of the devil, this world and the weakness of our flesh is equally real. Sin blinds you so much that even when the prophet Nathan tells David a story that is obviously about him he cannot even see it!