Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
St. Matthew 2:13
by William Klock
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
St. Matthew 6:13
This morning I want to wrap up our study of the Lord’s Prayer by looking at the final verse: Matthew 6:13. But as we come to an end of Jesus’ model prayer, I want to remind you again to consider just how God-centred this prayer is. I know from my own personal experience and from what so many people have told me when I’ve talked with them about prayer, that what may be our biggest problem after just plain not praying in the first place, is that our prayers are so often so self-centred. They’re focussed on ourselves: on our problems, our needs, our wants and on the problems, wants, and needs of our friends and families. Our natural prayers lie somewhere between an organ recital and a trip to visit Santa Claus – they’re either litanies of bodily ailments or a chorus of “gimme, gimme, gimme.”
And yet as Jesus teaches us to pray, our focus is first on God: setting apart his name to give it honour and praise and then praying that his will and his kingdom will reign. In those first petitions we self-consciously submit ourselves – our bodies, our wills, and our desires – to his Lordship. Think about that in light of how we naturally tend to pray about what we want. Here Jesus shows us what we ought to want – for God to be honoured and for what he wants done to be done. That’s where Jesus says our petitions should start. And it’s only once we’ve done that – once we have that proper spiritual perspective – that we come to God with our personal needs. We pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” We ask for the necessities of life. We pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We ask God to tear down the wall that we’ve built between ourselves and him, brick by brick as we’ve continued to sin against him. And finally today we come to the last petition:
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:13)
Before we go on, I want to bring your attention to something that struck me this week. Even in these last three petitions in which we focus on ourselves, we see God. It struck me that these three prayers are profoundly Trinitarian. First we petition the Father, the Creator, for the gifts of his creation for our sustenance: for food, for drink, for clothing, and for shelter. Then we petition the Son, our Redeemer for the forgiveness of our sin. Finally, here, we petition the Holy Spirit, the one whom Jesus sent as our helper, to guide and keep us in the face of temptation and sin.
The hard part about this final petition in which we ask God to keep up from temptation lies in how we understand Jesus to mean “temptation.” Some people have asked if this somehow means that God causes us to be tempted or that God is responsible for our sin, or at least for tempting us to sin. And so to understand what Jesus is saying, we need to realise that Scripture talks about more than one kind of temptation. We can talk about “temptation” in the sense of being tempted directly to do something sinful and evil. But we can also talk about “temptation” in the sense of testing or trial, or an ordeal.
St. James talks about temptation in both of these senses in the first chapter of his epistle. In verses two and three he writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds [in the King James it says, ‘divers temptations’], for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” He’s talking about the kind of testing that God gives to his redeemed children. As an example: think of Abraham when God came to him and told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Or think of the kind of testing that God gives to us when we’re persecuted, or sick, or discouraged. God uses those experiences to strengthen our faith in him. He makes us put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. Because it’s easy to say that we trust him when things are going well. But sometimes he truly tests us to give us the opportunity to put that faith into action – he drops a heavy load on us so that our spiritual muscles can grow strong instead of withering away because we never use them. This is the kind of testing in which we can rejoice. We can even count it an honour to endure this kind of suffering.
But a few verses down that same page, St. James writes about the other kind of temptation. This kind isn’t from God. In fact he writes, “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” (James 1:13). He’s talking about temptation to sin. He goes on in verses 14: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We don’t rejoice in this kind of temptation. It comes from our own sinful natures, and James tells us that we need to fight back and triumph over it.
But sometimes temptation comes not from our own sinful desires, but directly from the devil himself. In 4:7, James tells us that when we find ourselves assaulted by the devil: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
That last kind of temptation is, I think, what Jesus is talking about in the Lord’s Prayer. He’s not talking about the trials that God sends or allows to come our way in order to test us. And he’s not talking so much about the times when our own fallen nature tempts us to sin. He’s talking about the times when we’re assaulted directly by the devil – from the “evil one.”
So what’s the solution? What’s the secret to resisting this kind of temptation? St. James gives it to us in that last verse we read. When it comes to the temptations of the flesh, St. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22 NIV) and he wrote to the Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). When temptation comes to us from the world, St. Paul tells us that we resist it by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove his perfect will for us (Romans 12:1-2). But when it comes to the devil, St. James tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
James’ advice sounds good taken at face value, but stop and think about what he says: “Submit…to God” and “Resist the devil.” What does that mean? How do we submit and resist? What does “submission” mean? And how we can we “resist” Satan when we realise just how savvy he is when it comes to tempting us. He’s the devil; we’re like babes in the woods. We need to wrestle with St. James’ advice and make sure we understand it. I think we’re likely to hear his words and promptly forget them if we don’t really understand what he’s saying – especially when we know that Satan is so much stronger than we are. Because we all know that in and of ourselves, there’s nothing we can do to resist him. We really do need to know exactly how we are to look for deliverance from the One who had already defeated Satan and who’s one day going to imprison him forever.
James says first to submit to God. So what does it mean to submit? It’s really not that hard – and we already talked about it when we looked at those petitions, “your kingdom come” and “your will be done.” It means that we surrender our will to God. But you’ll also remember that we talked about what that means too. If we submit ourselves to God’s will, it means we need to know what his will is. And to know his will means that we need to spend time getting to know God – talking to him – praying and reading his Word. It’s no accident that Jesus puts the petition, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” last in his model prayer, after we – as Christians – have already prayed, “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This means that even though we’re expected to resist the devil, even though we’re expected to fight back against the devil, the only way we can do it successfully is if we have first submitted ourselves to God.
Think about that. If you’re having trouble fighting temptation and sin, ask yourself if you’ve submitted yourself to God’s will. Ask yourself if you even know God’s will. And if you don’t, how much time are you spending each day letting him talk to you through his Word and how much time are you talking back to him in prayer?
Okay, so now what does it mean to resist? How do we resist? If you don’t have the first one down, you can’t even start on part two. We resist by God’s Word – by the Bible. The Lord Jesus told his disciples, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). What Jesus means is that holiness – purity of life – is ours to the degree that we feed on Scripture and study it. Remember David wrote in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” And remember that St. Paul, when we wrote about the spiritual warfare we’re engaged in, said, “take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). You can put on all the other armour of God, but if you aren’t steeped in the Word, you’re going out to do battle without a weapon. Without the Word, the best you can hope to do is curl up in your armour on the battlefield, hold your shield over your head, and wait to see how long it takes for the Enemy to wail on you and eventually find the weak spot in your armour and take you out!
How many of you have ready The Pilgrim’s Progress? If you haven’t read it, you really need to. It’s John Bunyan’s allegorical look at the Christian journey. Now think of that pathetic image of the knight without his sword, curled up on the battlefield waiting for his enemy’s inevitable fatal blow and contrast it with this image from The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which Bunyan describes the great battle between Apollyon (the devil) and Christian (and I’ll modernise the language a little bit):
Then Apollyon, seeing his opportunity, gathered up close to Christian, and wrestling him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian’s Sword flew out of his hand. Then Apollyon said, “Now I know I can conquer you!” He had almost beaten Christian to death so that he was afraid he was going to die. But as God would have it, while Apollyon was readying himself for his last blow, ready to put an end to this good man, Christian deftly put out his hand, reaching for his Sword, caught it, and said, “Don’t gloat yet, my enemy! When I fall, I will rise again!” And with that he made a deadly thrust, knocking him back, and giving him a deadly wound. Christian saw what had happened and thrust again, saying, “No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” And with that Apollyon spread his great dragon wings and few away, and for a season Christian saw him no more.
You see, Christian understood the truth of James 4:7 personally. He knew that his weapon was the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Without it he was a dead man, but with it he could vanquish even that great dragon.
But I want to finish with the example that Jesus gives us himself. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We ought to be able to learn something form Jesus’ own struggle with temptation.
Now, I have heard people ask how we can learn from Jesus’ example. They wonder how he could be tempted as we are since he didn’t have our sin-nature. I’ve heard people say that his temptation in the wilderness isn’t a good example because as we are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, he was only tempted by the devil.
Those are good points, but there’s a fine distinction here, and it’s on the basis of that distinction that we see it was necessary for him to be tempted in all points directly by the devil. Jesus did not have a sinful nature like ours to tempt him. He couldn’t be tempted by the world directly, because the sins of the world are pride, arrogance, a desire for dominance, and all of that sort of thing, and Jesus had no point of contact in himself for these temptations. If Jesus was to be tempted at all, the temptations had to come to him from a direct encounter with the devil, just as Adam and Eve had to receive their temptation from the devil; because before their fall, Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature either.
That said, as we read the account in Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ temptation, we should notice that each of Satan’s temptations does relate to one of these three areas. The temptation to turn stones into bread was a fleshly temptation; the temptation to throw himself down from the top of the temple in Jerusalem was a temptation to gain the world’s esteem in the world’s way; the temptation to worship Satan was an outright spiritual temptation that would have put the Lord in direct opposition to God, his heavenly Father. And so although all the temptations came from the devil, they were still temptations to the sins of the flesh, the world, and the devil. They really do show us that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are. If anything they were stronger than any we experience when we consider that Satan came to him personally.
So the real question is: How did Jesus come out on top of those temptations? Most people seem to think that he did it by drawing on his divine nature – that because he was God, he had more power to resist temptation than we mere men and women do. And while it’s certainly true that Jesus did have that divine reserve of power that we don’t, there’s nothing in Scripture to show that Christ ever resisted temptation by drawing on his divine nature. Jesus was both man and God. And everything in the Gospel accounts points to him resisting temptation as a man. And that’s why I think it’s especially important for us to look at his example when we face temptation.
So again, how did Jesus do it? How did he resist the devil’s temptation? Notice the first thing: he had just spent forty days fasting and praying. I think we tend to overlook that part of the story. And second, every time the devil tempted him, Jesus fought back with Scripture.
Satan came to him saying, “If you’re the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into bread.” He was tempting Jesus to put his physical needs over his spiritual ones, and Jesus answered back, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He quoted directly from Deuteronomy 8:3. That wasn’t enough, so the devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on top of the Temple’s highest point and challenged him to jump off, trusting God to save him before he hit bottom. It would have been an easy way for Jesus to show his divinity – to show that he was truly God – and to immediately gather a following. But Jesus quoted back Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” And finally, still not giving up, the devil asked Jesus to bow down and worship him in exchange for this world’s glory. It was a spiritual temptation. And yet Jesus quoted back at the devil, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” It was a quote from Deuteronomy 6:13.
You see, Jesus overcame temptation in the same way that we can and should overcome temptation: by prayer and through Scripture. Even Jesus had to study to learn and memorise Scripture. But in knowing Scripture, he knew the will of God. And when temptation came, he submitted himself to God and to God’s will, and he resisted the devil strong in the knowledge of what was pleasing to God – and in the process he not only resisted, but he rebuked the devil. If you want to be victorious over temptation, then learn to pray the way Jesus prayed (which is part of the reason for our study of his model prayer) and learn Holy Scripture the way Jesus knew it. Nothing else will work. Don’t curl up in that pathetic ball, waiting for the devil to find the weak point and drive his sword home. Pick up the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – and strike back!
Finally, let me say, that if we’re faithful to do these things, we can have confidence before God when temptation comes. We can pray that God will keep us from Satan’s temptations. I like James Boice’s paraphrase of this final petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Keep us from wandering into paths where we will be tempted by the devil; but if he comes, keep us out of his clutches.” And yet even as we pray this, we’ll know that “God is faithful, and he will not let us be tempted beyond our ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we confess that too much of the time temptation comes and we don’t even fight back. Remind us always that your desire is to equip us to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Help us understand the importance of finding our strength in you and give us a hunger for your Word – for the Sword of the Spirit – that we might follow Jesus’ example in beating back sin. We ask this in his name. Amen.