Over the last couple months we’ve been going through the classic passage on prayer from Matthew 6, the Lord’s prayer, looking at the larger meaning and concepts behind each segment. We’ve looked at everything from praying together with and for others, to our position as children of God through the cross, to God’s greatness and His Kingdom to be established, to our daily need for provision and forgiveness that flows out to others. Today we will be tackling the last major chunk in the prayer: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
What is this temptation? What does it mean to not be lead into it? What does it mean to be delivered from evil? And what was our example in Jesus? This is where we are going today and pretty much all the scriptures quoted will appear on the screen.
But first let’s pray. (Pray: Thanks that we have an example. Thanks that we have a guide. Thanks for the scriptures. Lead us into understanding and knowing His strength in our lives.)
(1.) What is temptation?
The words we translate as a temptation in the Bible generally imply a test of faith of some sort with there being three general uses:
1) Testing of God’s faithfulness (as in Exo17:7 “And he called the name of the place Massah … because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”).
2) A “trial”; a test of our faithfulness (as in James 1:2-3 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.)
3) “Temptation”; an enticement to sin (as in 1 Tim 6:9 “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”)
In this prayer the meaning can be determined largely by the context of the following phrase “but deliver us from evil”. A passage in James 1:12-17 makes the comparison of these different types more clear:
James 1:12-17 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 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. 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. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Concerning the first type of trial, the testing of God’s faithfulness, this passage states “there is no variation or shadow due to change” or in another translations there is no shadow of turning with God, great is His faithfulness. For those who have become sons and daughters through faith in the cross, and as much as we try God’s patience and love, He waits and nothing can separate us from His love. From the Lord’s prayer this is clearly not the temptation mentioned, especially since we are to pray for us to not be led into temptation, not God.
As for second type, trials, the passage says “blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial”, they “will receive the crown of life”, “every good gift … is from above”. As His children God sends trials that are good and meant to further establish our faith as we trust in His provision. Peter in his first letter says “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Pet1:6-7) These trials are for our benefit and for God’s praise and glory. Although we may not always enjoy the trials in the moment, they are ultimately a good gift, and definitely not an evil to be delivered from.
Thus, we come to the third definition, temptation to sin. This takes up the bulk of the passage in James: James 1:13-15 “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. 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.” Here we see clearly that both God cannot be tempted to evil, He is the father of lights with no darkness or shadow within Him; but also that God does not tempt, clearly opposed to the trials that He may send. We also see the biggest reason why we need to pray against temptation: if we walk into temptation, if we stay in temptation, we are all the more likely to give into temptation as it leads towards sin. If we continue to remain there rather than turning and going back to God, sin then grows and leads to destruction. This is the temptation we are to pray against. This is the danger being warned against here: sin and destruction which flow from temptation.
A definition given by John Owen1 states that temptation is “any thing, state, way, or condition that, on any account whatever, has a force or efficacy to seduce — to draw the mind and heart of a man away from the obedience which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree whatever.” Let me say that again. Temptation is “any thing, state, way, or condition that, on any account whatever, has a force or efficacy to seduce — to draw the mind and heart of a man away from the obedience which God requires of him, into any sin, in any degree whatever.”
1 John Owen. 1658. Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of it; The Danger of Entering into it; and the Means of Preventing that Danger: with a Resolution of Various Cases Belonging to it.
That is the temptation we are to pray against, temptation that draws our minds and hearts away from obedience to God, and leads us into any sin; temptation that leads to choosing disobedience and making other things more important than God in our daily lives.
This is what we need to both pray against being led into, and deliverance from it daily. This temptation can come from various places, and will look different from person to person, but generally come from three places or combinations thereof: the devil (spiritual attack); the fallen world around us (and other people); and our flesh (indwelling sin). We see this in various passages in the Bible, especially concisely in Ephesians 2:1-3:
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
James 4:4 “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Romans 7:17-18 “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3
Whether from the world, from the devil, or from the flesh, giving into temptation and living a life of walking in sin results in destruction; broken relationships, emptiness, ultimately the wrath of God.
Continuing in Ephesians 2 we see the truth that ultimately removes wrath from all who believe: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— … For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:4-6,8-10)
Through the cross, even though we had all sinned and been deserving of wrath and destruction, God made a way for us to be made alive. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross the power of sin and death was defeated. By trusting in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice we can be forgiven. The wrath of God, poured out on the cross. This, not by any power of our own, but through the power of God. And now that we are alive in Him, we are freed to walk in the purposes God has for each of us. We are freed to “walk in the light, as he is in the light” resulting in “fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleans[ing] us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) As the workmanship of God He has prepared good works for us to walk in. This is where temptation arises. Although freed from sin, we are now still tempted to turn our back on God and what He has done for us and choose sin.
Now that we know what temptation is as well as where it comes from,
2. What does it mean to pray “lead us not into temptation”?
As we’ve already seen, God does not tempt us. So, why pray for Him to lead us not into temptation? It is a prayer of reliance on God. If we only got here because of all God has done, how can we stop trusting in Him? How could we now expect to do it ourselves?2 Ultimately God leads our every step3, even as the enemy, the world, and our flesh seeks to tempt us at every turn. This here in the first part of the verse is proactive prayer. Prayer against falling into future temptation. Prayer for God to guard us as temptation comes from all sides.
2 Gal 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
3 Prov 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the Lord”; Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”; Rom 8:14 “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
On this subject John Piper writes:
“Every step we take is a step into the presence of temptation. There is no moment of your life that is not a moment of temptation—a moment when unbelief and disobedience is not a possibility.
The Lord’s prayer does not teach us to pray against that kind of sovereign guidance.
What it teaches us to pray is that the temptation does not take us in. Don’t lead me into temptation. Deliver me from this evil that is set before me.
Today I will stand before innumerable temptations. That’s what life is: endless choices between belief and unbelief, obedience and disobedience. But, O mighty God, forbid that I would yield. Hold me back from stepping inside the temptation.” Bind my wandering heart to thee!
Ultimately our call is to love God with all we have and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31) as we walk in the light. Daily many things will suggest and draw us towards idolatry or selfish ambitions to love ourselves instead of those we are called to love. We need God’s strength to win against temptation, to flee, to resist, to worship God.
In addition to praying against temptation, for God to give us divine protection from falling into it, praying for the opposite of temptation is a logical extension: not just praying NOT to be lead into temptation, but also praying TO be lead into times of deeper faithfulness and joy in God that temptation would lose its power to entice us.
Psalm 19:13 “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”
Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Psalm 25:5 “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”
Psalm 143:10 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”
May He lead us. May He guide us in that way everlasting as He roots out evil in our lives. May we trust His ways and His love are better than anything the world could tempt us with (Psa 63:3)!
Luther in his smaller catechism states:
“God surely tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our flesh may not deceive us or lead us into false belief, despair and other great and shameful sins; and though we are tempted by them, we pray that we may overcome and win the victory.”
Our duty then in the first half of the verse is as Christ had stated elsewhere (Matthew 26:41) “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We need to do our part in avoiding temptation, to be on alert for any sign that temptation is approaching us, so that there would be less chance for us to fall in and allow temptation to have a grip on our hearts. And we are to pray, daily, ultimately relying on God’s strength to work through us in this endeavor.
As part of this alert watching we need to know ourselves, know our weakness, be willing to admit our weaknesses, and be willing to ask God for strength. Paul warns to those at Corinth (1 Cor 10:12) “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And to the Galatians “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16). To the Ephesians: (Ephesians 6:10,18b) “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might … To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”
Now we know what temptation is, and to pray proactively before temptation draws us in. So now,
3. What does it mean for us to pray “deliver us from evil”?
The reality is that even as we watch and pray against temptation there will be times where we are drawn in. This is the first reason we need to cry out for deliverance. God is powerful and mighty to save us. For:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
And “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet 2:9)
God faithfully promises He will provide when we call upon Him. He will provide a way out. Although our ability runs short, He provides by His Spirit greater ability yet to love Him above all else. In other passages yet the Word says that the Spirit of God, the one who raised Christ from the dead, He is in us and is stronger than the enemy. And do not get me wrong, the enemy is very strong. On our own we would lose, but God is with us to the end of the age when every enemy is struck down and His Kingdom is fully established.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)
“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Rev 20:10)
This, the establishment of His Kingdom, is the second reason we cry out for deliverance. The world as it is now is fallen and the devil rules as the prince of the power of the air (Eph2:2), the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). But God has assured ultimate victory in this war through the cross. The Kingdom of God is forcefully advancing in the hearts of men and women worldwide. The enemy cannot stop it.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” … “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 7:9-10, 21:3-4)
On this I would love to discuss more fully especially as it presents itself as a second layer to the entirety of the Lord’s prayer: praying for the Kingdom to come and God’s name to be praised and exalted as He rightfully deserves as He frees men and women from the power of darkness in this world. We are to participate in this battle for the Kingdom through prayer (2 Cor 10:3-5) as well as the sharing of the good news of Christ, though we were dead in our sins and deserving of wrath, He has made a way for all to come to know Him through the cross, through the payment of our sins on Christ. And more so He has a purpose for us and will provide for us to walk in the light He calls us to.
God is ultimate in power and His deliverance for us will come when we cry out in the midst of temptation as well as for ultimate deliverance of the nations in the age to come.
As Luther put it in his smaller catechism concerning deliver us from evil: “We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”
A two-fold deliverance, now and in the age to come.
So we know what temptation is, to pray proactively, and reactively against it, trusting fully in God’s power now in this age. On a final note,
4. What was Jesus’ example?
Cause that is really the make or break point. If the one we are to follow and emulate didn’t live this out, why should we? If He says we should pray like this, did it apply to Him also? Absolutely.
When Jesus was on earth he was tempted throughout His ministry, with the greatest series of temptations recorded at the beginning of His ministry when He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where the devil tempted Him (Matt 4:1-11). Jesus was tempted by the devil concerning bodily desire, world fame, and the personal glory He would obtain through the cross. In each case, Jesus trusted in God’s plan and patiently fought back with truth of scripture. Later when Peter would try to talk Him out of going to the cross Jesus rebuked that thought stating that Peter was “not setting [his] mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matt 16:23).
But Jesus was adamant. He was patient. He was alert to any inclination of temptation. He prayed ceaselessly. (1 Pet 2:22-24) “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Because He rejected temptation at every point, all can turn and receive God’s graces. Because he now lives and His Spirit in us, we are alive and can follow in His footsteps. “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18)
This was Jesus’ example: faithfulness through every temptation and trial. He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet was without sin. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15-16)
Though temptation to evil be all around, we can pray for God to guard us from falling into it and to lead us in His ways instead, we can pray for deliverance when we do fall into temptation and for the ultimate deliverance as His Kingdom comes defeating all enemies, in Christ we have a Brother who is always there to help us.
(Psalm 143:9-12) “Deliver [us] from [our] enemies, O Lord! [We] have fled to you for refuge. Teach [us] to do your will, for you are [our] God! Let your good Spirit lead [us] on level ground! For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve [our lives]! In your righteousness bring [our souls] out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off [our] enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of [our souls], for [we are] your servant[s].”
[Pray for us.]