Life is a battle. But it is a mistake to assume the battle is primarily between right and wrong, or good versus evil. The paramount battle of life is between strength and weakness.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
There is a part of you that is strong and a part of you that is weak. These parts are in constant struggle: the spirit longing for adventure and purpose, despising a life of ease and comforts; the body desiring pleasures, luxuries and ease. Let me be understood, the body is not evil. It’s simply weak. And this weakness seeks to keep us captive in the mire of dead passions.
You’ll be surprised to find that God cares less about right and wrong than you might think. Instead, He cares much more about strength and weakness. Most of us aspire to be good people. We want to do the right thing. But few of us ever think about becoming strong people. We harbor secret sins, give in to the flesh in a myriad of ways, and think that because we don’t hurt anyone, we must be good people. We settle for weakness and call it goodness. But strength is the goal our Father in heaven has planned for each of His children. Examine these verses:
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power
Your God has commanded your strength
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus
2 Timothy 2:1
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong
1 Corinthians 16:13
This represents but a portion of the texts on strength. The writers of the new testament were much more concerned with creating persons of strength than they were about creating people who simply did the right thing.
So what exactly does it mean to be weak and to be strong? Weakness is obvious. In Biblical terms, weakness is captivity to the flesh, obeying its cravings for pleasure, laziness and comfort. Captivity is where we all begin, infants with tantrums who progress onward from there. Freedom, sadly is not where we all end.
The greatest temptation in life is to settle for what is right before our eyes, and live in ignorance of all the wonderful possibilities that could come true, if only we would seek them. No other temptation corrupts the heart so fully as this one. I know of nothing sadder than a person resigned to the cheapest things of life, convinced that people were made for nothing more than what their appetites dictate, one who has nothing to fight for. For when our hearts believe truly that life is a mundane thing, what then is left worth living for? Happiness? Success? Boredom with the world is a burden I hope never to carry again. As the ancient poet has said:
You are born from the children of God’s creation,
But you have fixed your sight too low.
How can you be happy?
That is what weakness is: a life of resignation, one who never fights for the better things of life which God has prepared. But what then is strength? Is strength simply the opposite of indulgence in the flesh, the monastic lifestyle of stoic asceticism, and total rejection of the pleasures and conveniences of society? No. In Biblical terms, strength is living in spirit. For the spirit is a fighter, who longs to do the difficult and to fight for the best of things in life. As Jesus said, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
The spirit is awakened within us, whenever we have an encounter with the beautiful. This is the restless force which God has buried in our hearts, the eternity that God has placed in the hearts of man. It springs to life, and suddenly, only great and worthy things have any absolute and permanent existence, and petty fears and petty pleasures become the shadow of reality.
We are each a battle between spirit and flesh. The spirit cares nothing for houses or retirements or money. It desires passion, heroism, wisdom and courage. It cares only for its daily bread, and for discovering the wealth preeminent in each new day. The flesh desires the opposite. It hasn’t the courage to seek only its daily bread, but stores and plans and hopes for a better tomorrow. These desires cannot be reconciled. One set of desires will dominate the other and a battle is ever being fought, though seldom is the spirit in control. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted:
Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.
When the spirit is awakened to a new kind of life, suddenly, in a mere instant, everything fleshly becomes despised. As Marcus Aurelius advises:
But as if you were now dying, despise the flesh
When the spirit within me comes to life, the flesh becomes subdued. Those little fears and petty sins always lurking in my heart seem to fade away in a moment. And for a time, I feel as though completely free. Until you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to believe or conceive of. CS Lewis tells it this way:
All the delights… with which you could once have tempted him… now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door.