So, I feel a little silly, but I did not know that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” were words spoken by Jesus and not the Apostle Paul. It really sounds like something Paul would couch between confessions that he is the chief of sinners and thorns in sides or taking license with grace or something…but, nope. It was Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man grappling with the very human tension of living in spirit and truth while body-bound.
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Matthew 26:38-44 KJV
Jesus’ spirit was willing to go to the cross to save mankind. His soul was sorrowful. His soul was self-aware. His spirit was aware only of the Father.
This passage solidifies for me a hunch that I first broached at the beginning of this series– that the soul is a part of the flesh distinct from the spirit.
The soul, the immaterial portion of Jesus’ flesh, felt that it could die just at the thought of the physical suffering and spiritual pain that He would experience when He was punished on the cross both by the Roman guards and by God.
A spirit is eternal, it cannot die. Jesus said His soul was so sorrowful it could die. “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death” (NIV).
You have to know what your soul is if you are going to give it what it needs. Your soul is the corruptible part of your inner being. It is subject to death and decay. It is fallible and weak and susceptible to illness. It is enmeshed– not intertwined– but completely enmeshed with the body. The soul is not the spirit.
Your body is the way that your soul is perceivable. You can only discipline your soul through the actions of your body, proving that your inner person is no more holy than your outer person. They are both your flesh. They are both dying without Christ’s life breathed into your nostrils.
Your soul, just as your body, has need of the resurrection. Your soul isn’t, like, in cahoots with the Holy Spirit while your body wastes away. We are holistically dying until we are holistically living. Cleanliness is not next to godliness. Self-care is not a spiritual discipline. Pop psychology is not regenerative. Your soul needs life in the spirit. Making your heart feel content, your intellect feel stimulated, or your will feel applied is a losing battle of soul appeasement because these are as much a part of dead works as anything else. Wasn’t the Old Covenant law essentially just intricate hygiene rules? Isn’t self-care the en vogue word for hygiene?
My mom encouraged me once when I was really depressed to put some make-up on my face to perk myself up a bit. “Really,” she said, “you’ll feel so much better.” I mean, yes, taking care of my appearance makes me feel much better– as long as I am actively doing it. I can look smokin’ gorgeous one day and it does brighten my attitude. However, the next day when I’m unmotivated and yesterday’s mascara is crumbling onto my cheekbones, I feel worse than if I hadn’t had my day of being beautiful because now I have blackheads and depression. Their is no ritual, routine, or bronzer that can save your soul from the gravity of slowly falling apart.
You are no more saved by your thoughts, theology, emotions, fortitude, political positions or character than you are by flagellation, hand-washing, sacrifices, ordinances, random acts of kindness, or sabbath observation. Those works of the flesh are good exercises but they are not worshipping in spirit and in truth. They are worshipping in the soul and in the shadow of the truth (see the entire Book of Hebrews).
There is no component of the inborn inner person that equates to the spirit. Not the mind, not the will, not even the heart is made of spirit. Jesus was made to be man with all of man’s weaknesses and all of man’s temptations (Hebrews 4:15). The soul was counted as a weakness to be overcome by Jesus in Matthew 26:38-44. He had to overcome the feelings and desires of His soul to obey the Father unto salvation.
Why would this power struggle be the plan for salvation?! Because His strength is made perfect in weakness. The Father was glorified through the weakness of Jesus’ flesh.
Jesus exhorts His disciples in Gethsemane to be watchful and pray otherwise the flesh could win out over the spirit. Wasn’t Jesus telling them this because it was what He himself was experiencing at that moment?
“Watch with Me,” He said. Jesus was having to fastidiously watch His own soul so that He would not fall into the temptation to save Himself instead of me. He needed help, intercessors, and accountability, but ultimately Jesus would go to the cross all alone starting right there in Gethsemane. He was watching His emotions (sorrow), His mind (if another way is possible), and His will (not my will) while He travailed in prayer.
Jesus’ soul was the first aspect of His flesh that was put to death for my sins.
I’m alive in His Spirit because of the death of His flesh.
The care of my soul is maintained in the way it was won: by putting to death the works of the flesh. Be watchful that you’re not trying to resurrect your own wellness through drinking enough water, making your bed, writing goals on your mirror, or putting on make-up. Your flesh can do nothing for your flesh. The care of the soul is a matter of the spirit.
Not my way to care for my soul, but Yours. Amen.
— Who, being in nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8 —
— For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13–
* artwork: “Morning Glories” Georgia O’Keefe