“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil
This text brings us to the end of the series on the Lord’s Prayer. It is a
passage, as we have seen, that contains much more truth than we commonly think it does;
like a diamond it can reflect fresh light enhancing its beauty as we examine it more
closely. It is a passage that teaches us not only about prayer but about Christian living.
It is one of those passages in the New Testament that makes it so clear that praying and
living are two sides of the same coin. Our Lord Jesus is giving fundamental teaching about
prayer; but, he is also giving us fundamental teaching on those things for which we are
chiefly to live.
The Lord’s Prayer divides into two sections: the first teaches us things we need
to know about God and the second teaches us those things which are to know about
ourselves. Knowing God and knowing ourselves is, then, the theme of this prayer. Putting
these two things together sums up the entire corpus of things that we need to know in
order to live for God. Indeed, so fundamental is this that John Calvin, in his twenties,
began his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion in this very same way, by
suggesting to us that “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and
sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (1)
Knowing God and knowing ourselves is the sum total of what we need to know in
this life to enable us to be godly.
What do we need to know about God? We need to know Him as our heavenly Father, the
Lord’s Prayer says. Furthermore, we need to know what it means to hallow His name, to
seek His kingdom and to seek His will in every thing. Fixing our minds and hearts on these
three principles summarizes for us those things we need to know about God.
In the light of these truths about God, there are three things we need to know about
ourselves: our need for bread ѕ which is an acknowledgement of
utter dependence upon God for everything in this life; our need for on-going forgiveness ѕ because of (as yet) incomplete sanctification in this world
(expressed as it is in the prayer in terms which urge our willingness to forgive those who
trespass against us); and our need to be safeguarded against Satanic assault ѕ something which is determined to end our relationship with, and
commitment to our heavenly Father.
Provision, pardon and protection are the three horizontal features of this prayer
designed to ensure that we live the kind of lives God intends for his children. In a world
that has its complications, a reminder that there are only three things I ultimately need
in order to live for God’s glory is what this prayer teaches us. It is the third
feature, protection, in the form of deliverance from temptation and evil that we are
concerned with here.
The interesting thing about this petition is that grammatically it is in the form of a
parallelism. That is to say, a statement is made and then repeated and developed. The
first part of the temptation says: “Lead us into temptation.” The second part
develops to it and adds to it by saying, “deliver us from evil.” There
isn’t just temptation; there is also the evil one to reckon with. Additionally, we
have an example here of what the grammarians call litotes, that is, stating
something both positively and negatively so as to emphasize the point. Seeing this leads
us to consider the petition from both the negative and positive points of view.
Leading into Temptation
“And lead us not into temptation.”
The word temptation is now almost universally used in a negative sense, meaning to
solicit someone to do evil. That makes it difficult for us to read such passages as James
1:13, which states categorically that God does not “tempt anyone.” If that is
so, why pray for God not to lead us into temptation? This assumes that God does lead us
into temptation on certain occasions. The confusion arises because ever since the
seventeenth century, we have tended to use the word tempt in this restrictive negative
sense. But the word is capable of a positive rendition in the sense of
“testing”. And in the Greek the same word is used of both senses. James, in the
previous verse to the one just cited, uses it in this sense, the NIV and NAS translations
choosing to use the word “trial” instead of “temptation” (as the older
KJV did): “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (Jam 1:12). As J. I
Packer puts it,
…temptations are Satan’s work; but Satan is God’s tool as well as his
foe (cf. Job 1:11f.; 2:5f.), and it is ultimately God himself who leads his
servants into temptation (Matt 4:1; 6:13), permitting Satan to try to seduce them for
beneficent purposes of his own. However, though temptations do not overtake men apart from
God’s will, the actual prompting to do wrong is not of God, nor does it express his
command (Jam 1:12f). The desire which impels to sin is not God’s but one’s own,
and it is fatal to yield to it (Jam 1:14f). (2)
Jesus intends more than a prayer against our faith being tested for its authenticity by
this sixth petition. He has in mind situations that might solicit pressure upon us to
stumble and fall into sin. James alludes to this in a very similar way in the opening
chapter of his epistle whereby he uses the word in both of these senses. “Blessed is
the man who perseveres under trial,” he says. Here, he is speaking of the way in
which many things come into our lives that are trials or tests of our faith (it is the
same word that is used in the next verse for temptation). Peter adds the word of caution
that we should not be surprised by the painful trial that comes into our lives (1 Pet
1:12). James recognizes that he delights to prove to us that our faith is real and
genuine. The man who perseveres under the test, James is saying, is greatly blessed
because when it is over he will receive the crown of life.
James adds, however: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting
me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (Jam 1:13).
Here James means by “tempted” the particular solicitation that leads us to fail
the test and to be drawn into sin, and here God has no part in it. We are to pray that we
be saved from that. It is in this vein that we understand those warnings of Jesus:
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matt 26:41; cf. Mark
Think of it this way: there are situations we may find ourselves in where the exit door
is clearly seen and the way of escape evident. These are tests. Whenever God leads us into
these kinds of situation, he always clearly labels the exit route: “No temptation has
seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be
tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out
so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13). “Temptation is not sin,”
says J. I. Packer, “for Christ was tempted as we are, yet remained sinless (Heb
4:15). Temptation becomes sin only when and as the suggestion of evil is accepted and
yielded to.” (3)
However, there are situations where there appears to be no evident escape from the
temptation. The allurement seems devoid of a way of escape. These are Satan’s doings.
And the Bible yields a certain morphology to this kind of temptation. James, in the
passage we have alluded to, is very clear here:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot
be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own
evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil
desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth
to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (Jam 1:13-15).
James is addressing two issues: responsibility and morphology. As to responsibility,
the issue that we face is the same as that addressed in the opening chapters of the Bible
where Adam and Eve end up blaming everyone but themselves for their sinful behaviour. He
insists on unmasking the pretence, by insisting that we are responsible for our sins.
As for morphology, there is a deadly progression: from evil desire, to being dragged
away, to enticement, to conception, to birth, and finally to death.
This six-fold progression proceeds from the mind, to the affections, to the will, to the
outward action and to a condition of spiritual death and enslavement.
One gets the impression that James was thinking of the story of David and Bathesheba in
2 Samuel 11 in his use of conception and birth imagery. There, too, in the sordid tale of
David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, there is an evident
progression of sin that leads to death.
The story takes place at the time of year when men (like David) went forth to do battle
(2 Sam 11:1). His first mistake was to feel that he was above the responsibilities of an
ordinary believer, being able to relinquish his responsibilities. He took advantage of his
powerful office and thought himself above the demands that are made on individuals.
Walking one evening on his flat roofed house, he saw a beautiful woman, and instead of
averting his eyes as he should have, he pursued the matter, allowing illicit desire to
emerge. Bathsheba was a married woman but when he discovered this, it was already far too
late for him to turn back: he had already gone too far because his lust had already got
the hold of him. Intercourse resulted in Bathsheba’s pregnancy, the birth of a child
and its swift death. David had crossed the Rubicon the night he allowed his eyes to
linger; the point from which he could not return had been passed.
John Bunyan, in 1684, published a broadsheet, designed to be pinned to the wall of the
house in much the same way we attach sundry things to our refrigerators. The subject
matter was sin, and the piece called, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch Against Sin.
The second verse of the sixteen verse poem goes like this:
Sin rather than ‘twill out of action be,
Will pray to stay, though but a while with thee;
One night, one hour, one moment will it cry,
Embrace me in thy bosom, else I die:
Time to repent, [saith it], I will allow,
And help, if to repent thou know’st not how.
But if you give it entrance at the door
It will come in, and may go out no more. (4)
And Jesus is teaching us to pray that we may be protected when we find ourselves faced
with situations and enticements that would drag us away from loyalty to him.
The growing Christian grows in recognition of their frailties. Its one thing to have
the desire to have those things which are contrary to God’s will and never to find
yourself in those contexts that would fulfill those desires. Often, it is only the lack of
opportunity that keeps us from falling. When the desire and opportunity meet together, as
they sometimes do, then we are sure to fall. And we need to pray that these two things be
We need to recognize our weakness. We must never think that we cannot be tempted in
certain ways. We must never say, “That could never happen to me.” If we think
like that, we have not made much progress in the road of sanctification.
“Do not flatter yourself that you can hold out against temptation’s power.
Secret lusts lie lurking in your own heart which will never give up until they are either
destroyed or satisfied. “Am I a dog, that I should do this thing?” asks Hazael
(2 Kings 8:13). Yes, you will be such a dog, if you are like the king of Syria. Temptation
and self-interest will dehumanize you. In theory we abhor lustful thoughts, but once
temptation enters our heart, all contrary reasonings are overcome and silenced.” (5)
Deliver Us from Evil
“But deliver from the evil one.”
Jesus is now adding to this prayer. We can be led into temptation and be made conscious
of two enemies: the flesh and the cursed world. A corrupt heart and fallen world are
enough to lead us to ruin. But its worse than that. There is the cunning devil, Satan ѕ to give him his proper name ѕ who will
employ the world and the flesh to bring you down. (6) You need to reckon with the
devil. Twice in the New Testament, he is called “the tempter” (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess
Peter was told, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift
you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke
22:31-32). These words are meant to be of encouragement and warning to us, too. Every
Christian who is determined to live out-and-out for God can expect to meet the personal
opposition of Satan.
But, how will our heavenly Father deliver us from the evil one? Sometimes, he does it
by acts of special sovereignty. He removes the circumstances, or persons that have been
the means of enticing us into sin.
Sometimes, he removes the desire. When we find ourselves in certain circumstances which
are potentially soul destroying, we have no desire to yield to its allurements. The Holy
Spirit makes us immune to sin’s beckoning.
His more normal way, however, is not to bring us such deliverances as these. He allows
us to experience the full force of temptations attraction because he wants to engage us in
living the Christian life. He actually wants us to battle because it is through the
experience of battle that we often grow. Just as unused muscles atrophy, so spiritual
maturity is stunted by passivity. God wants to develop the skills of resisting the devil
so that he will flee from us (cf. Jam 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9).
But how, precisely, do we do this? And here we could expand at length. One thinks of
the monumental work on this subject written by William Gurnall, The Christian in
Complete Armour, in which he expounds on that passage in Ephesians where Paul speaks
of battling against Satan fully equipped with spiritual armour (Eph 6:10-20). Another, is
the classic treatment On Temptation by the puritan, John Owen.(7)
There is, however, a wonderful illustration of it in the Bible given to us to teach us
this very lesson. We can learn from Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness (Matt
4:1-11). At the very onset of His public ministry, Jesus was delivered from the evil
one.(8) By what means?
Several things are worthy of note in this incident that show us how Jesus had learned
to respond biblically to every temptation.
i. He recognized the devil’s subtlety. The devil came after forty days of
fasting. “Surely God wants you to eat. Why don’t you just turn these stones into
bread?” he opined. “Use these miraculous powers for self-satisfaction,” he
reasoned. Most temptations are subtle. In them, the evil one comes and says,
“It will be all right.”
And it will not be very long before he comes and says,
“It’s all wrong now isn’t it!”
Satan is a deceiver!
G. K. Chesterton once suggested the following: “If a rhinoceros were to enter this
restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the
first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.” And the devil is
like that! He pretends at authority, but he has none! We listen to him because he throws
his weight about; but, his voice is squeaky, and insignificant, if we but knew it.
ii. He reasoned with him. He charged him and rebuked him out of the Scriptures.
It is interesting that Jesus must have loved the book of Deuteronomy. It is from this book
(chapters 6 and 8, to be precise), that Jesus cites. (9)
He knew His Bible!
He was able to respond and say, “I will live in the way God has said.”
Deuteronomy, sometimes called “The book of covenant-renewal,” taught Him to
yield his entire life to God and his ways. Satan could have no part of it. No part! And
Jesus told Satan so.
iii. He recommitted Himself to His God-given destiny. Jesus had not come for
Himself: He had come for others, and especially for His Father in heaven. He had not come,
to do His own will, but the will of His Father (Luke 22:42). Christians, too, are to
follow the same example: “”Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter
the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven”
To say “No!” to Himself and “yes!” to His Father’s will.
The grace of God, Paul reminds Titus, “It teaches us to say “No” to
ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in
this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great
God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and
to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Tit
It is only as we say “No!” in this way to Satan’s enticements that we
have in our hands the assurance that our heavenly Father is pleased to deliver us from the
evil one. So long as it is unresolved issue in my life, I am always going to be
susceptible to that voice that says, “Try this and you will enjoy it.”
After Jesus had resisted him, the devil left Him (Matt 4:11).
He will leave us too if we follow this path.
Are you praying this?
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.
To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.