Temptation is present everywhere. It’s present with you the minute you wake up in the morning! You might be tempted to sleep in, or tempted to dread the coming day. Temptation is broadcast into our homes through the TV and internet. It’s present through friends who want to do the wrong things. Everywhere you go there are noises and sights that tempt you away from being focused on God.
Temptations often come in the form of attempts to get you to sin. But perhaps they come more abundantly to get you to question God or to weaken faith. Whichever way it goes, temptation is the devil’s business, and he doesn’t let up. It all started in the garden with the forbidden fruit, and he’s offered forbidden fruit ever since.
Thus the Lord taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13). Notice that He didn’t teach, “Help us to overcome temptation.” Temptation seems powerful, but it’s really not, because Jesus has overcome the world. You have the greater One living on the inside of you, the One who is a proven deliverer from evil.
So although temptation is everywhere, it’s not as strong as satan would like you to believe. Satan would like you to believe that you have no power over it, and that you will always have to struggle. But as long as you keep your bearings straight, following the Word of the Lord, you are less likely to struggle because you know to steer clear in the first place.
Thus, “lead us not into temptation” is a direction from the Lord to steer clear of it! It is obvious from this, as well as the exhortation to “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38), that it’s not God’s will that we be tempted or put to the test, as the Greek implies.
Imagine the confusion, then, when theologians and church teachers have historically taught that God does tempt us by putting us into trials of faith so that He can make us stronger. Even Luther was quoted as saying that “temptation is the best school into which the Christian can enter,” meaning that by the grace of God we come out of it better. Good, wonderful Christian men have taught that God even sifts us, when in the gospels the sifting of Peter was attributed to satan!
To top it off, it is clear from James 1:13: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (ESV). Yet the preachers say that still, God does tempt us in a good way in order to grow us.
If that’s true, then wouldn’t we be frustrating His “good purposes” by praying “lead us not into temptation”? Was Jesus contradicting Himself when He said, “watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation”? Certainly one can grow in a trial. But God doesn’t bring the trials. He does, however, bring the way of escape (1Corinthians 10:13).
So then, why did Jesus teach us to pray as if God might be the one leading us into temptation?
I don’t think this was ever meant to be so controversial. The meaning is quite simple and clear if you read it from a Middle Eastern cultural mindset. I believe Jesus phrased this in a typical Hebrew form. Throughout the Psalms and other Hebrew poetry, a point is often made by placing two contrasting ideas together. This is known as antithetical parallelism. In other words, one idea is being emphasized by two contrasting items.
You can see this, for example, in Psalm 37:9: “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.” There’s a contrast between being cut off and inheriting the earth. The idea is that you want to be among those who wait upon the Lord!
Another example is in Psalm 1:1-2: “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night.” The contrast is between those who associate with sinners and those who associate with the God’s law. The idea is that only one of these groups gets blessed, and who is it? NOT this one, BUT this one.
In modern use, it might be like an employee saying to his boss, “I don’t want you to fire me, but to give me a promotion!” There’s really only one desire here, but it’s presented in two contrasting scenarios: being fired or promoted. In the same way, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is really just presenting one desire.
A Holy Desire
To pray this is to communicate a desire not to sin. It’s a prayer concerning sanctification. Sanctification is the working out of God’s righteousness in your life. It’s the increase of victory and power over sin and temptation.
Notice that this desire for sanctification is expressed after “forgive us our debts” (Matt.6:12). That petition expresses the desire for justification. Justification means obtaining pardon and being declared righteous.
Justification comes by grace, and comes before sanctification. Those who truly understand and receive God’s justification will naturally progress to desiring God’s sanctification. If a Christian doesn’t desire holiness, he or she may not really be a Christian, or there’s a huge disconnect from understanding their justification. The grace of God so works upon the heart that the desire for godliness results.
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is actually a reaffirmation of “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” Only here it’s not just on earth, but in my life. Although the last line, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” is not contained in the earliest manuscripts, it’s nonetheless a biblical idea, and it sums up the petition as a kingdom desire.
Ultimately, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Christian life itself, is encased in the Kingdom. It begins and ends with the Kingdom. Only “Our Father which art in heaven” comes before it, showing that He is supreme, and that the Kingdom begins with the worship of God.
So in prayer we reaffirm the desire for God’s Kingdom to be the working principle in our lives. “Lead us not into temptation,” because we know where temptation leads. Most people don’t think about where temptation leads. They give into emotions or allurements and think it’s just natural. It seems so harmless. Pastors and leaders fall into sexual sin because they’ve allowed things to go too far. Instead of resisting temptation, they’ve been led further in, and then the mousetrap comes down! God didn’t tempt them, they just weren’t thinking, or on guard. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
The temptation is not the sin. You are not guilty for being tempted. It’s like the birds you can’t control flying over your head. But you don’t want to let them nest there! Often, instead of shooing them away, we say, “what cute birds!” Then we’re courting danger.
Temptation leads to loss. The best example of this comes from cartoons! I remember more than one that illustrated this. One character would allure the other with a home-cooked pie on the window sill. He put a fan behind it to blow the aroma towards the unsuspecting victim. The aroma was animated as extending towards the victim with a gesture-like invitation to “come this way.” The victim then let his nose carry him and floated towards the pie, where the other character was waiting with a huge mallet behind his back. It smelled so good, but when the dupe got to the pie, “WHAM!”
You can avoid a lot of heartache and trouble if you just considered where the temptation would lead you. That’s why I believe the Lord taught us to pray this way. In prayer, we put ourselves back on the alert. That’s why He referred to it as “watching.” The Christian soldier needs to keep watch, and not be deceived by the alluring aromas that may come his way.
While temptation leads to loss, holiness leads to power. Someone who has fed well on a big juicy steak is not going to be tempted by bologna. If you are affected by the grace of God, and satisfied with His abundant life, you will look upon sin as baloney! It loses its drawing power when you are full of God. Proverbs 27:7 bears this out: “The full soul loathes a honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” Thus the key to power is to get full of God, then those bitter sins won’t be so tempting.
We get full of God as we seek Him. Seeking Him will keep tempting thoughts out of mind. You can’t be tempted at all with what you don’t think about. It’s good to stay informed, but if you don’t hear about all the doom and gloom from the news, you won’t be tempted to fear. If you stop watching programs with adultery and worse, you won’t have to fight temptations to lust.
I could tell you to watch my cell phone while I run an errand, and no problem. But if I said, “Don’t even touch it!” I’ve presented you with a thought that is going to tempt. You may be a loyal friend and not touch it, but because I put the thought in your head, you will at least have the temptation. No such temptation would have even arisen if I hadn’t said anything. We can’t control everything that comes into our minds, but we can position ourselves to keep a lot out.
Get God Involved
“Deliver us from the evil” is an invitation for God’s involvement in the matter. When we pray this, we make declaration of His power to overcome evil in our lives. We also prophesy the truth that He will. “Who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (2Corinthians 1:10).
Prayer itself is often a deliverance. When you can really connect with God, the problems seem to lose their power, in spite of their persistence. God is so good and faithful, and you know how greatly He has delivered you in the past. Think of it! He has delivered from sin, death, wrath, the devil, and so much more.
“That’s great,” you say, “but I need help now!” He is helping even though it seems the trial keeps going. Sometimes deliverance is a process. Are you cooperating with Him, resisting the temptations, or do you think He is the one who is tempting you? The Word says, He delivered, and DOES deliver. Be patient, it’s certain. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).
Not only does God deliver us from, but He delivers us to. We’re not just delivered from the evil, but we are delivered to “thine is the power and the glory”! What a kingdom hope! He is bringing us to a place where there is joy and peace, and it will culminate in fullness in due time. He is delivering us into NOT loss BUT gain (I just used antithetical parallelism). He has our ultimate good in store.
We have an incredible deliverer who is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31)! He is not bringing the problems. He is the answer, and that is what this line of the Lord’s Prayer reveals.
The Lord’s Prayer sums up the Christian life in a word for each petition:
Our Father, hallowed be thy name= WORSHIP
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done= SUBMISSION
Give us this day our daily bread= DEPENDENCE
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors= FREEDOM
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil= OUTCOME
The outcome is a life that desires what God desires, and reflects His powerful influence in our lives. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1Timothy 6:6).