The Lord’s Prayer #7: And Do Not Bring Us into Temptation

Our Father in heaven,
your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

James 1:13-15

Wesley Hill, whose book on The Lord’s Prayer I’ve quoted once in a while throughout this series, is a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. In his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, he writes this about his experience of temptation: “I once faced a temptation that was so persistent and so overwhelming that I literally believed my whole world would go dark if I refused to give in to it. All I could do was scream to the Holy Spirit to keep me from it.”

Temptation. We all face it. We might not face the same sorts of temptations when it comes to the specifics, but none of us is immune. We’re going to look at three questions this morning: What is temptation? Where does temptation come from? And how do we handle temptation?

John Piper once said, “The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier.” I think Piper here points out something key for us about what it means to pray this line of The Lord’s Prayer. But what Piper says does raise another question we need to ask first: What is temptation? I think this is an important question because I think it’s possible to confuse experiencing temptation with actually sinning. But the Bible makes clear that they are distinct.

Remember our passage from James. One part of this passage says: each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. As sinful human beings—which means that our default position is to want our way and not God’s way—we have evil desires. But we don’t necessarily think of them as evil. We think fulfilling these desires will bring us happiness.

Of course, once we come to faith in Jesus and receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are no longer slaves to these sinful desires. God begins to go to work changing us, renewing us, even transforming our very desires. Even so, we can still struggle. Some will struggle more than others. So, that’s why it’s so important to understand: to be tempted is not to sin. And even if we look at The Lord’s Prayer, remember that the prayer for forgiveness is separate from the prayer not to be led into temptation. If they were one in the same, why have two distinct petitions? Not only that, but Jesus, as we know, was tempted. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. I think I should also say this. Whereas we can be tempted to give into sinful desires that come from our sinful nature, Jesus is tempted to use his divine prerogative to sidestep doing things God’s way and avoid suffering.

But there is something that connects how we are tempted and how Jesus was tempted. Let’s put it this way: temptation is the experience of being pulled to live our way and not God’s way. This the temptation underneath all other temptations: that of wanting and seeking anything other than God and his ways. One of the reasons I want to make this clear is because I’m guessing there are believers who feel guilty for being tempted. Maybe you have felt guilty because you were tempted. Maybe you’ve thought that you shouldn’t ever have desires that are wrong. And remember this too: when temptations do come your way, you can pray this prayer from The Lord’s Prayer: And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Pope Francis once caused a bit of stir when in a TV interview he suggested it might be time to change the wording of the sixth petition of The Lord’s Prayer: And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. This is what he said: “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. I am the one who falls; it’s not God pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.” To Pope Francis, I say yes and no. I say yes because even Scripture tells us that God does not tempt us to do evil. James 1:13 says: No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. And I say no because God does allow temptation to enter our lives. Otherwise, we would never experience temptation at all.

Think of the story of Job. Job is an example of a man who is faithful to God. Even God says he is a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil. But Satan says to God that this is only because everything goes right for Job. Nothing bad ever happens to him. So then Satan says to God: But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face. And God, in response, says: Very well, everything he owns is in your power. However, do not lay a hand on Job himself. He gives Satan permission to have go at Job. He allows Job to be tempted to curse him; but he doesn’t cause it. And consider Jesus again. He was tempted twice that we know about—at the beginning and end of his earthly ministry. And at the beginning it was at the hand of Satan in the wilderness. Yet we’re also told that it was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness.

So what do we take from this? Like Wesley Hills points out, God “applies pressure on His people to refine their faith and obedience, to make it stronger and more durable.” This is why some translate this line of The Lord’s Prayer in the following way: Save us from the time of trial. It means to pray that God would preserve us when we find ourselves tempted and tried in our loyalty to him and to his ways.

You’ll also notice that sometimes the last part of this prayer says deliver us from evil and other translation say deliver us from the evil one. In the end, the effect of the prayer is the same. But referring to the evil one reminds us that we do have an enemy. And while we can’t use “the devil made me do it” as an excuse when we give into temptation, we also need to realize that there are spiritual forces at work seeking to wreak havoc with our faith in God. Praying And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one means praying that God would preserve us when our broken, sinful, and evil desires assault us and pull us in wrong directions, away from him and his ways.

And of course, the fact that we’re invited to pray these words means that we have a loving heavenly Father who wants us to preserve and protect us in the midst of the temptations and trials of life—and that we can trust him to help us.

We live in a culture, I think, where people are often either too afraid or too proud to ask for help a lot of the time. We think we can or at least should be able to help ourselves. We even spiritualize this nonsense when we claim that “God helps those who help themselves.” The invitation to pray tells us otherwise. God helps those who cannot help themselves, who are helpless and afraid, who feel powerless to resist the attacks of temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it. The way out Paul talks about here is, I think, in part the prayer we’re given here in The Lord’s Prayer. Such a prayer drives us into the presence of Jesus, who understands completely what we’re going through. Hebrews 2:18 says: For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. Prayer is how we make use of this help. And here’s the thing. Even if we can say that we’re not prone to serious temptations to sin, we still pray these words so that this might continue.

Another thing to point out is this. None of this means we should be so silly as to put ourselves in the path of temptation because we believe God can help us withstand it. Going to a bar if you’re alcoholic or spending time alone with someone other than your spouse who you’re attracted to is, simply put, not very smart. One might even argue you’ve already given into temptation if you do. Consider your motives. Consider what’s going on in your heart. Avoiding situations or environments that give rise to temptation is not a sign of weakness but of wisdom.

Another thing to consider is this. Be careful about judging others who clearly have given into temptation. Stephen Brown once said: “When we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances.” So instead, if you’re in the position to do so, come alongside this person and offer them your encouragement and support. And even if you can’t do this, you can pray this prayer on their behalf. Remember, it asks: And do not bring us—not just me—into temptation.

And throughout all of our temptations, we have to constantly remind ourselves and one another that at the heart of the gospel that invites us to pray these words is a Savior who forgives, who pours out grace and mercy, who brings healing. 1 John 1:9 reminds us: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So if you’re really struggling with a particular temptation, and find it hard to resist, please remember the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that he carried all of your sins directly to the cross. Remember that his righteousness can now be yours if you throw yourself into his arms. And just like every other line of The Lord’s Prayer, this prayer—and do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one—points us towards Jesus himself, reminds us of who he is, and invites us to, as the author of Hebrews says, approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

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