“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one”
This text brings us to the end of the series on the Lords Prayer. It is a passage, as we have seen, that contains much more truth than we commonly think it does; like a diamond it can reflect fresh light enhancing its beauty as we examine it more closely. It is a passage that teaches us not only about prayer but about Christian living. It is one of those passages in the New Testament that makes it so clear that praying and living are two sides of the same coin. Our Lord Jesus is giving fundamental teaching about prayer; but, he is also giving us fundamental teaching on those things for which we are chiefly to live.
The Lords Prayer divides into two sections: the first teaches us things we need to know about God and the second teaches us those things which are to know about ourselves. Knowing God and knowing ourselves is, then, the theme of this prayer. Putting these two things together sums up the entire corpus of things that we need to know in order to live for God. Indeed, so fundamental is this that John Calvin, in his twenties, began his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion in this very same way, by suggesting to us that “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (1) Knowing God and knowing ourselves is the sum total of what we need to know in this life to enable us to be godly.
What do we need to know about God? We need to know Him as our heavenly Father, the Lords Prayer says. Furthermore, we need to know what it means to hallow His name, to seek His kingdom and to seek His will in every thing. Fixing our minds and hearts on these three principles summarizes for us those things we need to know about God.
In the light of these truths about God, there are three things we need to know about ourselves: our need for bread ѕ which is an acknowledgement of utter dependence upon God for everything in this life; our need for on-going forgiveness ѕ because of (as yet) incomplete sanctification in this world (expressed as it is in the prayer in terms which urge our willingness to forgive those who trespass against us); and our need to be safeguarded against Satanic assault ѕ something which is determined to end our relationship with, and commitment to our heavenly Father.
Provision, pardon and protection are the three horizontal features of this prayer designed to ensure that we live the kind of lives God intends for his children. In a world that has its complications, a reminder that there are only three things I ultimately need in order to live for Gods glory is what this prayer teaches us. It is the third feature, protection, in the form of deliverance from temptation and evil that we are concerned with here.
The interesting thing about this petition is that grammatically it is in the form of a parallelism. That is to say, a statement is made and then repeated and developed. The first part of the temptation says: “Lead us into temptation.” The second part develops to it and adds to it by saying, “deliver us from evil.” There isnt just temptation; there is also the evil one to reckon with. Additionally, we have an example here of what the grammarians call litotes, that is, stating something both positively and negatively so as to emphasize the point. Seeing this leads us to consider the petition from both the negative and positive points of view.
Leading into Temptation
“And lead us not into temptation.”
The word temptation is now almost universally used in a negative sense, meaning to solicit someone to do evil. That makes it difficult for us to read such passages as James 1:13, which states categorically that God does not “tempt anyone.” If that is so, why pray for God not to lead us into temptation? This assumes that God does lead us into temptation on certain occasions. The confusion arises because ever since the seventeenth century, we have tended to use the word tempt in this restrictive negative sense. But the word is capable of a positive rendition in the sense of “testing”. And in the Greek the same word is used of both senses. James, in the previous verse to the one just cited, uses it in this sense, the NIV and NAS translations choosing to use the word “trial” instead of “temptation” (as the older KJV did): “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (Jam 1:12). As J. I Packer puts it,
temptations are Satans work; but Satan is Gods tool as well as his foe (cf. Job 1:11f.; 2:5f.), and it is ultimately God himself who leads his servants into temptation (Matt 4:1; 6:13), permitting Satan to try to seduce them for beneficent purposes of his own. However, though temptations do not overtake men apart from Gods will, the actual prompting to do wrong is not of God, nor does it express his command (Jam 1:12f). The desire which impels to sin is not Gods but ones own, and it is fatal to yield to it (Jam 1:14f). (2)
Jesus intends more than a prayer against our faith being tested for its authenticity by this sixth petition. He has in mind situations that might solicit pressure upon us to stumble and fall into sin. James alludes to this in a very similar way in the opening chapter of his epistle whereby he uses the word in both of these senses. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial,” he says. Here, he is speaking of the way in which many things come into our lives that are trials or tests of our faith (it is the same word that is used in the next verse for temptation). Peter adds the word of caution that we should not be surprised by the painful trial that comes into our lives (1 Pet 1:12). James recognizes that he delights to prove to us that our faith is real and genuine. The man who perseveres under the test, James is saying, is greatly blessed because when it is over he will receive the crown of life.
James adds, however: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (Jam 1:13). Here James means by “tempted” the particular solicitation that leads us to fail the test and to be drawn into sin, and here God has no part in it. We are to pray that we be saved from that. It is in this vein that we understand those warnings of Jesus: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matt 26:41; cf. Mark 14:38).
Think of it this way: there are situations we may find ourselves in where the exit door is clearly seen and the way of escape evident. These are tests. Whenever God leads us into these kinds of situation, he always clearly labels the exit route: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13). “Temptation is not sin,” says J. I. Packer, “for Christ was tempted as we are, yet remained sinless (Heb 4:15). Temptation becomes sin only when and as the suggestion of evil is accepted and yielded to.” (3)
However, there are situations where there appears to be no evident escape from the temptation. The allurement seems devoid of a way of escape. These are Satans doings. And the Bible yields a certain morphology to this kind of temptation. James, in the passage we have alluded to, is very clear here:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (Jam 1:13-15).
James is addressing two issues: responsibility and morphology. As to responsibility, the issue that we face is the same as that addressed in the opening chapters of the Bible where Adam and Eve end up blaming everyone but themselves for their sinful behaviour. He insists on unmasking the pretence, by insisting that we are responsible for our sins.
As for morphology, there is a deadly progression: from evil desire, to being dragged away, to enticement, to conception, to birth, and finally to death. This six-fold progression proceeds from the mind, to the affections, to the will, to the outward action and to a condition of spiritual death and enslavement.
One gets the impression that James was thinking of the story of David and Bathesheba in 2 Samuel 11 in his use of conception and birth imagery. There, too, in the sordid tale of Davids adulterous affair with Bathsheba, Uriahs wife, there is an evident progression of sin that leads to death.
The story takes place at the time of year when men (like David) went forth to do battle (2 Sam 11:1). His first mistake was to feel that he was above the responsibilities of an ordinary believer, being able to relinquish his responsibilities. He took advantage of his powerful office and thought himself above the demands that are made on individuals. Walking one evening on his flat roofed house, he saw a beautiful woman, and instead of averting his eyes as he should have, he pursued the matter, allowing illicit desire to emerge. Bathsheba was a married woman but when he discovered this, it was already far too late for him to turn back: he had already gone too far because his lust had already got the hold of him. Intercourse resulted in Bathshebas pregnancy, the birth of a child and its swift death. David had crossed the Rubicon the night he allowed his eyes to linger; the point from which he could not return had been passed.
John Bunyan, in 1684, published a broadsheet, designed to be pinned to the wall of the house in much the same way we attach sundry things to our refrigerators. The subject matter was sin, and the piece called, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch Against Sin. The second verse of the sixteen verse poem goes like this:
Sin rather than twill out of action be,
Will pray to stay, though but a while with thee;
One night, one hour, one moment will it cry,
Embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:
Time to repent, [saith it], I will allow,
And help, if to repent thou knowst not how.
But if you give it entrance at the door
It will come in, and may go out no more. (4)
And Jesus is teaching us to pray that we may be protected when we find ourselves faced with situations and enticements that would drag us away from loyalty to him.
The growing Christian grows in recognition of their frailties. Its one thing to have the desire to have those things which are contrary to Gods will and never to find yourself in those contexts that would fulfill those desires. Often, it is only the lack of opportunity that keeps us from falling. When the desire and opportunity meet together, as they sometimes do, then we are sure to fall. And we need to pray that these two things be kept apart.
We need to recognize our weakness. We must never think that we cannot be tempted in certain ways. We must never say, “That could never happen to me.” If we think like that, we have not made much progress in the road of sanctification.
“Do not flatter yourself that you can hold out against temptations power. Secret lusts lie lurking in your own heart which will never give up until they are either destroyed or satisfied. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” asks Hazael (2 Kings 8:13). Yes, you will be such a dog, if you are like the king of Syria. Temptation and self-interest will dehumanize you. In theory we abhor lustful thoughts, but once temptation enters our heart, all contrary reasonings are overcome and silenced.” (5)
Deliver Us from Evil
“But deliver from the evil one.”
Jesus is now adding to this prayer. We can be led into temptation and be made conscious of two enemies: the flesh and the cursed world. A corrupt heart and fallen world are enough to lead us to ruin. But its worse than that. There is the cunning devil, Satan ѕ to give him his proper name ѕ who will employ the world and the flesh to bring you down. (6) You need to reckon with the devil. Twice in the New Testament, he is called “the tempter” (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5).
Peter was told, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). These words are meant to be of encouragement and warning to us, too. Every Christian who is determined to live out-and-out for God can expect to meet the personal opposition of Satan.
But, how will our heavenly Father deliver us from the evil one? Sometimes, he does it by acts of special sovereignty. He removes the circumstances, or persons that have been the means of enticing us into sin.
Sometimes, he removes the desire. When we find ourselves in certain circumstances which are potentially soul destroying, we have no desire to yield to its allurements. The Holy Spirit makes us immune to sins beckoning.
His more normal way, however, is not to bring us such deliverances as these. He allows us to experience the full force of temptations attraction because he wants to engage us in living the Christian life. He actually wants us to battle because it is through the experience of battle that we often grow. Just as unused muscles atrophy, so spiritual maturity is stunted by passivity. God wants to develop the skills of resisting the devil so that he will flee from us (cf. Jam 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9).
But how, precisely, do we do this? And here we could expand at length. One thinks of the monumental work on this subject written by William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, in which he expounds on that passage in Ephesians where Paul speaks of battling against Satan fully equipped with spiritual armour (Eph 6:10-20). Another, is the classic treatment On Temptation by the puritan, John Owen.(7)
There is, however, a wonderful illustration of it in the Bible given to us to teach us this very lesson. We can learn from Jesus temptations in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11). At the very onset of His public ministry, Jesus was delivered from the evil one.(8) By what means?
Several things are worthy of note in this incident that show us how Jesus had learned to respond biblically to every temptation.
i. He recognized the devils subtlety. The devil came after forty days of fasting. “Surely God wants you to eat. Why dont you just turn these stones into bread?” he opined. “Use these miraculous powers for self-satisfaction,” he reasoned. Most temptations are subtle. In them, the evil one comes and says,
“It will be all right.”
And it will not be very long before he comes and says,
“Its all wrong now isnt it!”
Satan is a deceiver!
G. K. Chesterton once suggested the following: “If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.” And the devil is like that! He pretends at authority, but he has none! We listen to him because he throws his weight about; but, his voice is squeaky, and insignificant, if we but knew it.
ii. He reasoned with him. He charged him and rebuked him out of the Scriptures. It is interesting that Jesus must have loved the book of Deuteronomy. It is from this book (chapters 6 and 8, to be precise), that Jesus cites. (9)
He knew His Bible!
He was able to respond and say, “I will live in the way God has said.” Deuteronomy, sometimes called “The book of covenant-renewal,” taught Him to yield his entire life to God and his ways. Satan could have no part of it. No part! And Jesus told Satan so.
iii. He recommitted Himself to His God-given destiny. Jesus had not come for Himself: He had come for others, and especially for His Father in heaven. He had not come, to do His own will, but the will of His Father (Luke 22:42). Christians, too, are to follow the same example: “”Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
To say “No!” to Himself and “yes!” to His Fathers will.
The grace of God, Paul reminds Titus, “It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope— the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit 2:12-14).
It is only as we say “No!” in this way to Satans enticements that we have in our hands the assurance that our heavenly Father is pleased to deliver us from the evil one. So long as it is unresolved issue in my life, I am always going to be susceptible to that voice that says, “Try this and you will enjoy it.”
After Jesus had resisted him, the devil left Him (Matt 4:11).
He will leave us too if we follow this path.
Are you praying this?