“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41
The Bible is filled with people of great faith who sometimes failed or disobeyed God. First we applaud their successes. Then we ridicule their failures. “How could Moses strike the rock? How could David commit adultery with Bathsheba? How could Elijah run from Jezebel and pray to die? How could Peter sink in the water? How could he deny Jesus?” After asking ourselves these questions, we confidently say, “I would have obeyed. I would have believed. Surely I wouldn’t have done what they did.”
We read our Bibles like Monday morning quarterbacks, forgetting that these people were human. Maybe we haven’t fallen as hard or as publicly as they did, but we can’t claim their spiritual successes either. These people fought the good and hard fight of faith, without full revelation. We have all sixty-six books in our hands. We have the Holy Spirit inside us too. Yet what have we done for Jesus Christ lately? Not much, by comparison. If our spiritual resumes resemble those of Moses, David, Elijah, and Peter, then we can focus on their failures. Otherwise, it’s hypocrisy.
- Moses struck the rock, losing Canaan as a result (Numbers 20:10-12). But we didn’t speak “face to face” with God in a burning bush and on a mountain (12:8; Exodus 3:2-5, 19:20, 33:20-23). We didn’t tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1). Moses did.
- David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband (2 Samuel 11:2-17). God took David’s newborn son and brought a sword to his house as a result (12:10-18). But we didn’t kill Goliath with a slingshot and stone (1 Samuel 17:45-51). We didn’t write seventy-five psalms either, blessing the servants of God in his sanctuary (134). David did.
- Elijah ran from Jezebel and prayed to die (1 Kings 19:1-4). But we didn’t curse Israel with drought (17:1). We didn’t bring a widow’s dead son back to life (17:17-21). We didn’t face 850 heathen prophets on Mount Carmel and pray for heavenly fire to fall (18:19-40). Elijah did.
- Peter sank (Matthew 14:30). Yes, he denied Christ (26:69-74). But we didn’t leave our job to follow Jesus (4:18-20). We didn’t leave the safety of a boat during a storm one night and then walk on water (14:28-29). We certainly didn’t tell Jesus, “You are the Christ” (16:16). Peter did.
Peter was confident that he would “never be made to stumble,” even if others forsook Jesus (Matthew 26:33). He needed a reminder, just like us, that our frail human nature is weak. Satan asked Jesus’ permission to “sift” Peter like wheat and he granted it (Luke 22:31). This is why Jesus predicted Peter’s denial (22:34). If he hadn’t prayed for this disciple’s faith not to “fail,” then where would Peter have ended up after the ascension (22:32)? Where would any of us be without Jesus’ intercession – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? We’re not propping ourselves up spiritually. Jesus is holding us up instead. If he let go, then we’d be lost forever! Only Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). If he can “sympathize with our weaknesses” and help us, then why can’t we sympathize with and help others (4:15)? [This is assuming that they’re truly born again. Some people aren’t, so they fail every time.]
“Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. If God did not spare the natural branches, he may not spare you either.” – Romans 11:20-21
If we’ve been acting like Monday morning quarterbacks with biblical heroes of faith, then we need to look in the mirror. We’re thinking of ourselves “more highly” than we should (Romans 12:3). The failures of Moses, David, Elijah, and Peter should make us fear; if towers of faith can fall, we can too. So I’m astounded when shallow, comfort-loving Christians sing cheap worship songs about wanting to go “deeper” with God. These people haven’t lived through war, persecution, or famine. So they don’t know that the only path to depth is pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Maybe our faith will survive such pain intact. Or maybe we’ll fall stunned by the wayside, wondering where God was when it hurt. The pain of the cross was so deep that Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He wasn’t dumb! We put too much faith in sinful human nature. No wonder we stumble and fall when trouble comes. Instead of believing in God, we believe in self!
Instead of being armchair quarterbacks on this Monday afternoon, let’s admit that our frail flesh is weak, prone to failure. Then let us humbly put our lives in the hands of God. Only then will we learn to help the fallen.
 New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted