And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
In the last post of the iPray series we discussed the importance of forgiveness. Forgiving others frees us from the bondage of bitterness while also making room for us to receive forgiveness from God for our transgressions against him. As Jesus approaches the final stretch of his teaching on prayer, he smoothly moves from the concept of forgiveness to the concept of temptation: We can see Jesus’ words plainly before us, and the disciples had the advantage of hearing the instructions directly from the Messiah. But what did he mean?
The word temptation inherently has a negative connotation to it. Temptation is generally an urge or desire to do something—especially something evil, bad, or wrong. To the casual reader, Jesus’ words could suggest that God has a propensity to lead us into evil situations, or spaces where we he is tempting us. This is not what Jesus meant, as we know from James 1:13: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”
The book of James is clear about the nature and character of God when it comes to temptation. God is not susceptible to temptation. He is not prone or beholden to evil. Evil and wickedness are not in his nature, and therefore he would not pressure or tempt anyone to engage in evil acts.
But if God is not tempting people, then what is the source of temptation? The answer is our own personal lusts and desires, as James goes on to say: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15).
Temptation is sparked when our own evil desires lure us away from God’s righteous path and guidance for us. The more that we draw away to nurture those evil desires, the more it leads to sinful action. Furthermore, the more we continue to habitually live out these evil actions it results in death.
When we view temptation in the proper context, it looks less like God pushing us into evil and more like Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. As you will recall in the Gospels, Jesus carried out an act of obedience unto God when he was baptized by John. Upon fulfilling this act, the heavens opened, a dove descended upon Jesus, and then God declared “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The account in Luke tells us that immediately Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where the temptation would take place. This testing period involved Satan trying to draw Jesus away from his life of obedience with God through different vices. The end of the account in Luke lets us know that once Jesus successfully passed the test, the devil left him with the intent to return in a different “opportune season.” Temptation is not from God but is a natural process of living in a fallen world. The fuel of this temptation is the inherited and various evil desires that lie in all of us.
In this part of the prayer he taught his disciples, Jesus was acknowledging the reality that life is filled with tests and trials that try to draw us away from God’s will and draw us towards the fulfillment of desires that are displeasing to God. We should ask God to deliver us from the evil one, who preys upon our predisposition to evil urges. Jesus was drawing from his experience in the wilderness to prove that by depending on God, we can pass the test of temptation and thereby mitigate the need for forgiveness. As you pray and determine to do God’s will, know that he is able and willing to keep you from falling. With God, you will pass your seasons of testing.
God, in my seasons of testing please grant me the clarity to identify the root of these desires that displease you. Give me the courage to withstand the pressure to give in to these desires. Help me to readily rely on your strength and instructions so that I can remain delivered from the intentions of the evil one. In Jesus’ name, Amen.