Prayer – Lead Us Not into Temptation

The sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We will address the first half of this petition this week, and then follow up with the back half next week. Wilhelmus À Brakel, the 17th century Dutch theologian, noted that the first three petitions teach us to pray for “three great matters: God’s name to be hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will be done.” As the one praying for this, we are involved in how this prayer is answered. So Brakel points out that we must also pray for ourselves, that we would be in a position in which we can effect these petitions. The fourth petition addresses those things which are necessary for our body to function and be in good condition – our daily bread. The fifth petition addresses the fact that man in his sin cannot approach God nor do anything for Him. We are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. “Forgive us our debts.” And finally, the sixth petition prays for the weakness of our flesh, so that we might be preserved in a state of holiness and thus remain fit to effect these three great matters. “Lead us not into temptation.”[1]

The sense of the word “temptation” in the Bible is that of testing. This can be toward positive ends. God can test a believer, or in a sense “tempt” him. God tested Abraham when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Gen 22:1). He tested Israel with manna (Ex 16:4). These are trials and tests that are meant to refine and build up the believer. This is like the goldsmith refining and purifying his gold in the fire. There are also temptations that are negative. Jesus’ opponents tested him, trying to catch him in a trap (Matt 16:1, 22:18). Man can be enticed by temptation to sin (Gal 6:1, James 1:13-14). But to whatever end, temptation is a testing or trial.

As noted there are a number of different types of temptations. When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray about temptation, he was speaking of those negative temptations. Thomas Watson, the English Puritan and member of the Westminster Assembly, wrote that these temptations come both from within and from without. From within we can notice that the heart is a “kindling of sin, a breeder of evil. Our own hearts are the greatest tempters.”[2] Temptation from without come from other people, the world, but principally from Satan. He is a strongman bound. (Matt 12:29) He has been defeated by Christ, but he is still powerful and seeks to inflict as much harm as possible.

There was a story of a man who was attempting to poison Martin Luther. Luther had been warned by another and given a picture of the man who wanted to kill him. Luther was able to avoid the poison because when he recognized his would-be assassin’s face, he knew to take heed. Knowing the manner in which we face temptations today will help us to take heed and avoid falling into sin. John Calvin categorized temptations between the “right” and the “left.” Those temptations on the right are riches, power, honors, and those things which seem to dull men’s awareness. Calvin warned of the glitter of gold and things which seem good. They captivate and inebriate such that we will forget God. Those temptations on the left are poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions, and the like. When beaten down by these hardships, we can become despondent, giving up hope. We run the risk of giving up hope.[3] Watson lists 27 different subtleties of Satan. Reading them is an exhaustive list of the ways in which we are tempted to sin. He warns us that while Satan “does not know the hearts of men, he may feel their pulse, know their temper, and can apply himself accordingly.”[4] We will be tempted with good things at the wrong time or in the wrong way. We will be tempted when we are weak. We will be tempted when we feel strong. Augustine noted that “the whole of a saint’s life is temptation.”

But God will use these temptations for his wise and holy ends. He will refine us. They will keep us from pride. We will be better able to comfort those in distress. And they will make us long for heaven.[5] We must also remember that no temptation has overtaken you. God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability. There is always an avenue of escape (1 Cor 10:13). So, we must stand firm in the face of temptation. In the face of temptation, Jesus instructs us to pray. Brakel calls prayer a “whip for the devil.” We should use that whip and drive away those temptations that we might be fit for the task to which God has called us.

[1] Wilhelmus Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 Vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), 3.573.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer (London; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 258.

[3] Jean Calvin, John T McNeill, and Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 3.20.46.

[4] Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 262.

[5] Ibid., 282.