The Lord’s Prayer, which is familiar to so many people around the world as the model prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray, includes this petition: “…and lead us not into temptation.” This can be a confusing plea, for why would the Lord lead anyone into temptation? Does God tempt anyone? Is there more than one kind of temptation? Is temptation a sin?
The disciples of Jesus had asked Him to teach them to pray. They did not ask Him to teach them anything else in particular. I would have expected them to ask, “Lord, teach us to work miracles, as you do,” or “Lord teach us to speak, as you teach, sharing the wonderful words of life.” But no, they only asked, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They surely recognized that prayer was the most important thing in life for Jesus, for He would leave the crowds that were following Him and find a solitary place where He could be alone with His heavenly Father, where He could pray without being interrupted. Furthermore, every time Jesus prayed, He was strengthened, and obviously renewed in body, mind, and spirit. Also, many times after He had prayed, wonderful things would happen (i.e. things “full of wonder”), the sick would be healed, blind eyes would be opened, the lame would walk, lepers would be cleansed, and He would bring life out of death. His prayers had such power, power over nature, power over sin, power over diseases, even power over death! Is it any wonder that His disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray?”
He gave them the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer,” but it was not actually His prayer. It was a model prayer that He gave to His followers, for them to pray. It includes so many petitions that are essential in a believer’s prayer life, such as childlike faith, approaching God as our heavenly Father, with whom we can have an intimate relationship through faith – reverence, keeping God’s name holy — praying for God’s kingdom to come to earth, for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – thanksgiving, giving thanks for each day’s provision, without being anxious about tomorrow’s bread – confession of sin, with the assurance of forgiveness when we truly repent – then, “lead us not into temptation,” which is followed by the petition “deliver us from evil” (more literally “from the evil one” ) – and finally this doxology (i.e. a song of praise which ends the prayer), “…for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.” This was the “disciple’s prayer,” (a prayer for the followers of Jesus to pray) but the real “Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer Jesus prayed for Himself, a prayer that came from His own heart, is found in the Gospel of John (chapter 17).
Our focus in this post is on the one petition, which is an earnest prayer for ourselves as sinners who are “prone to wander.” The tempter, the evil one (who knows our weaknesses) tempts us to yield to the desires of the flesh – for those things that human instincts crave, the pleasures and possessions that this world affords. God is not the one who tempts us, for God is not the author of sin or the one who actually leads us into temptation, but rather the One who has the power to deliver us from temptation. We know that none of us are immune to temptation, for all human beings are turned inward; selfishness (i.e. “self-centeredness,” the tendency to yield to the desires and demands of self), which is at the root of sin (that deep “gone-wrongness” at the very center of our sinful human nature), is what makes us “prone to wander,” thus yielding to temptation.
Temptation itself is not a sin! It is “yielding” to the temptations to “go our own way,” to “to do our own thing,” that is the outward and visible manifestation of our sinful human nature, which unbelievers do not even want to acknowledge, believing all human beings are basically good. But as the Bible teaches, all of us are sinners by nature, who need to pray to be delivered from the power and penalty of sin (i.e. the consequences of sin, living in disobedience to God, disregarding God’s will, God’s commandments). It is only believers who pray to be delivered from evil, to be kept from the evil one, so they will not yield to temptation. Even Jesus, who was fully human, as well as fully God, was “…tempted, just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He did not yield to those temptations, but the temptations were just as real for Jesus as they are for us! Every child of God encounters temptation in this life; not even the unique and solitary Son of God was exempt, but He did not yield to His temptations. No one was ever able to convict Him of sin. His cheeks were never wet with the tears of repentance. There is an old hymn that makes this important point: “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin; each victory will help you some others to win….dark passions subdue, look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.”
James, the brother of our Lord according to the flesh, wrote in his only letter to the young Church: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God,’…for each person is tempted to sin when he is lured and enticed for his own desires” (James 1:13). It is so important to understand how temptation works, how temptation invades our thought life, and knocks on the door of our hearts, enticing us, luring us, to open the door. It does nor originate with God, but with our adversary, the devil, whose goal is always the same, to lure us and lead us astray, tempting us to ignore God’s will, which is for each of us to live in obedience to His commandments. It would be utterly ridiculous to believe that God would ever tempt us to violate His own laws, His guidelines, His blueprint for living a life that is in accordance with His will. It was Jesus who first said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Yes, God does certainly tests His own people; God does put believers to the test, but it is Satan who tempts us, who “baits” us, who lures us into those places and situations where we will be enticed to sin.
What is sin? It is the lack of conformity and obedience to the will of God, as we take the “bait” and fall into the devil’s trap. We are not helpless victims of the tempter. No, we choose to take the bait, we make our own choices, we allow ourselves to be enticed, to yield to temptation. This is why Jesus taught His disciples to not only pray “Lead us not into temptation,” but added the very next words, “…but deliver us from evil” (from the “evil one”). As children of God we have freedom of choice, and we are responsible for the choices we make; as followers of Jesus we have the freedom to resist the evil one, the freedom to pray to be delivered from the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-18; I Peter 5:6). We have the promise of power to overcome all temptations to live in disobedience to God’s will, but we must pray for that power to be released within us, that we might be able to “stand,” to “withstand,” to “stand firm,” to “quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” to “keep alert and to always persevere” (Ephesians 6:10,13,16,18).
As followers of Jesus, as baptized believers we can pray in the Spirit, in the powerful name of Jesus, because we possess the Holy Spirit (the One who possesses us), we have the power to have our minds, our thought life, our wills, transformed by the mighty power of God – the power of the Holy Spirit, the “dunamis” of God, the dynamite of God, the “explosive power of a new affection,” released within us – making us overcomers, “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:14-16, 26-27, 31-32, 37-39). For a long time I have been fascinated by that expression “more than conquerors” (i.e. “super conquerors,” who have the power to resist and overcome the evil one, the power which is much greater than the tempter’s limited power, for it is the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, and through us, as we yield ourselves to “the immeasurable greatness of His power,” the very same power that “raised Jesus from the dead,” far above all other powers (Ephesians 1:19-22) – the power that stands between us and the enemy of our souls, to guard us, to guide us, and to garrison our minds and hearts to resist the tempter, who only seeks to deceive us and destroy us – so we will be able to be “more than conquerors” when we “…put on the whole armor of God” in this struggle with the “powers and principalities of darkness,” the “forces of evil in this world,” “praying in the Spirit at all times,” so we will have the power to persevere being “strong in the Lord, in the strength of his power” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
When we face temptation, let us remember these words of Martin Luther in his great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our Helper He amid the floods of mortal ills prevailing…did we in our own strength confide, our battle would be losing, were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He…and He must win the battle! Tho’ this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us, THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS GRIM, WE TREMBLE NOT FOR HIM, HIS RAGE WE CAN ENDURE, FOR LO, HIS DOOM IS SURE; ONE LITTLE WORD SHALL FELL HIM” – that “little word” is the all-powerful name of Jesus!