And Lead Us Not Into Temptation.
“And lead us not into temptation.” Matthew 6:13a
What is the difference between temptation and testing? How can a temptation to sin become an avenue for spiritual growth?
Does God lead his children into temptation? This is not an easy question to answer. We know what the word “lead” means-or at least we think we do. And we know what “temptation"-or at least we know what it is when we yield to it. If we are to pray “Lead us not into temptation,” does that mean God might lead us into temptation under some circumstances? If so, what kind of temptation are we talking about? And why would God deliberately lead his children into something he warns them to stay away from?
A Prayer For Spiritual Protection
On one level this petition appears to be very simple. Seen from one angle, it appears to mean something like, “Lord, keep us from trouble. Don’t let anything really bad happens to us.” But that still does not answer the central question the text raises: Does God lead his children into temptation? Let me give you the Churches answer. It all depends on how you define the word “temptation”. The Greek word for “temptation” has two basic meanings. By itself it is a neutral term. It can mean something positive or it can mean something negative. In its positive meaning it can be, and often is, translated by such words as “trial” or “testing.” In those cases it refers to a difficult circumstance in your life brought about by God in order to improve the quality of your faith and trust in him. In its negative meaning it refers to temptation in the usual English sense of the word-to seduce or lure or solicit to do evil. So this one Greek word can have two very different meanings. It can mean a difficult trial or it can mean a solicitation to do evil.
It all depends on how you define the word “temptation”.
Your answer to the question, “Does God lead his children into temptation?” is going to be radically affected according to which one of those meanings you think is predominant in Matthew 6. To make matters just a bit more complicated, this word was sometimes used with both meanings present in the same passage of Scripture. For instance James 1:2 says, “My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations" The Greek word for “temptations” here is the same word used in Matthew 6. The meaning is something like this: “Rejoice when you face trials and hardships and difficulties of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking in anything.” In this sense the word is very positive. James is telling us that God uses trials and difficulties to produce spiritual maturity in your life. Now, drop on down to verse 13 of the same chapter, "Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils, and he tempteth no man." Here the word translated “tempt” or “tempted” or “tempting” is the verb form of the same word used in James 1:2. The same word is used in a positive sense in verse 2 and a negative sense in verse 13. Here we have one Greek word with two different meanings used without any contradiction at all by the same biblical writer in the same passage. He assumed his readers would be able to pick it up and would clearly understand the difference.
God will never lead you to a place where you are forced to do evil.
One point is crucial for to understand: God does not solicit his children to do evil. God will not lure you into evil. He will not seduce you into evil. In that sense God will never tempt you to do that which is wrong. James 1:13 says that very clearly. God will not deliberately bring you into evil. He will never lead you to a place where you are forced to do evil.You may find yourself in a tough spot and under pressure you may choose to do evil. In your mind, you feel “forced” by the circumstances to do wrong, but even in those cases the choice is yours, not God’s. Said another way, God never sets us up to fail. To do that would contradict both his holiness and his love.
So, if the question is, Does God lead his children into temptation-in the sense of directly and personally seducing them to do wrong, the answer to that question must always be no.
But, I’ve already said that the Greek word also contains the idea of trials or testings. This is probably the primary meaning of the word in Matthew 6:13. Please notice I said the primary meaning-not the exclusive meaning. I think it probably means trials and testings. The negative is also present to some degree. But to say that raises a couple of questions. Number one- If it means solicitation to do evil and if we know that God does not solicit us to do evil, when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” are we not asking God not to do that which he said he would never do? That would make no sense. Number two- If we know that trials and testings are good for us, and if they are necessary for our spiritual growth, and we should rejoice in them, and if they build us up in the faith, then when we pray, “Lead us not into trials and testings,” are we not asking God to exempt us from that which is necessary for our own spiritual maturity? How can we ask God to lead us away from that which is ultimately in our own best interest?
What God gives to us as a trial or a test is almost always used by Satan as a temptation.
What’s the answer to this question? What’s the solution to this curious petition of the Lord’s Prayer? The key is the double meaning of the Greek word translated “temptation.” These meanings–which seem to be entirely opposite to us–are perhaps not really so far apart, which is why the biblical writers could use the word in both senses in the same passage. That fact gives us a clue to the interpretation of this passage of Scripture.
Tested By God, Tempted By Satan
Here is a key statement for understanding this part of the Lord’s Prayer. What God gives to us as a trial or a test is almost always used by Satan as a temptation. The very same event may be both a trial and test to you and also a temptation from Satan. Or if you will, God uses it to accomplish one thing in your life and Satan at the very same time is working through that event to try to accomplish something completely opposite. Very often God allows a trial to come for a positive purpose, but Satan tries to use it for his own evil reasons. The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness offers a clear example of this principle. We know that the devil came to Jesus in the wilderness on three different occasions, tempting him to turn away from the path of obedience to his Heavenly Father. Matthew 4:1 tells us that “Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.” Who did the leading? The Holy Spirit. Who did the tempting? The devil. Is there a contradiction here? Not at all. Did God know what was going to happen when he sent his Son into the desert? Yes, he did. He intended from the beginning to demonstrate that his Son would not yield to Satan’s false flattery. Was God tempting his own Son? No, he wasn’t. Was God putting his son in a place where his Son could be tempted by the Devil? The answer to that must be yes.
God sends a trial and Satan turns it into a temptation.
That is an amazing thought. At this point we need to think carefully and clearly. I do not believe that God ever directly solicits his children to sin. I don’t believe that because the Bible specifically denies it. But it is also true that from time to time God allows his children to go into a place where they will face severe temptations from Satan. Is God responsible for the severe temptation? No, he’s not. He does the leading; Satan does the tempting. From God’s point of view it’s a test. From Satan’s point of view it’s a temptation.
We see this pattern occurring in every area of life. God sends a trial and Satan turns it into a temptation. Let’s suppose a child of God contracts a deadly sickness. Could that sickness be a testing from God? Yes, it could. It almost always is a testing from God to purify motives, to cause the child of God to look away from the things of earth to the things of heaven, and to turn the eyes of the child of God back to the Lord. Many good things are accomplished through sickness in the life of the believer. Does Satan work through sickness? Yes, he does. And through that very same sickness Satan will be working to tempt you to despair, to anger, to bitterness, and ultimately to turn away from the Lord. What God intends for your spiritual good is the avenue Satan uses to pull you down.
Or suppose you lose your job. You say, “Could that be from God?” Yes, it could. If you lose your job, could God have a better purpose in mind for you? Yes, and he often does. He may have a better job for you. He certainly wants to build some spiritual character in your life. You may have fallen in love with the things of the world to the point where those good things have become an idol to you. In that case, it is good for you to lose a good job. And during that trial from God, Satan will tempt you to anger, despair and discouragement.
It works the other way just as well. Let’s suppose you get a promotion and a nice raise in salary. Now you are better off financially than you’ve ever been. Can a promotion be a trial from God? Absolutely. Prosperity is often a trial or testing from God to see how you will handle his blessings. Prosperity ought to make us more generous toward the needy. Having more ought to open our eyes to those who have less than we do. But that same prosperity often makes us greedy, selfish, and blind to the less fortunate.
Let’s take the case of a businessman on the 7th day of a long trip. He checks into his motel room, tired and lonely. . On top of the television is one of those boxes where they bring in those movies rated X or XX or XXX. The man knows that he has no business pushing that button. But when he’s alone and spiritually disoriented, he feels a strong urge to watch one of those movies. Does God know the box is there? Yes, he does. Did God allow his servant to go into that room? Yes, he did. Is it a test? Yes, it is. And if the man passes the test he will be stronger spiritually because he said no. Is it a temptation? Yes, it is. It’s a temptation to reach over and touch that box and give in to lust.
Those are just a few examples of how something God intends as a means of building you up is also used by Satan as a means of temptation to pull you down. I draw two conclusions from that fact. Conclusion number one is this: Testings and trials are a normal part of the Christian life. They are part of God’s curriculum for you. He puts difficult choices in front of you every day so that by following him and by trusting him in those circumstances you become stronger. Your faith becomes confirmed and you become an example to other people of victory over the world, the flesh and the devil. There’s nothing you can do to escape the trials of life-nothing at all. In the School of Grace, God doesn’t offer a “No Trials” degree program. All of us will be tested many times in many ways.
A trial becomes a temptation when we respond wrongly.
Conclusion number two: A trial becomes a temptation when we respond wrongly. That which was sent into our life in order to make us stronger is that which actually tears us down and makes us weaker when we respond in the power of the flesh. What God means for good, Satan means for evil. The Christian hangs in the balance between the tests and the trials from the Heavenly Father and the perversions of Satan as he twists that which God gives us and whispers in our ear, “Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.”
Could this be the reason why the biblical writers did not sharply distinguish what we want to keep separate? We separate trials and temptations as if they are far, far apart. The biblical writers had no problem using the same word to mean trials in one verse and then using the very same word to mean temptations just a few verses later. They understood what we have forgotten. Everything good comes from God, and everything he gives us is ultimately for our good and his glory. He does not sin nor does he solicit us to sin. But hidden inside every trial is the seed of a temptation that Satan uses to harvest a crop of evil in our lives.
One Author points out that this petition is the most natural and instinctive part of the Lord’s prayer. Since all of us are put to the test in one way or another all the time, we all understand what it means to pray for deliverance, and for “grace in seasonable aid.” Hebrews 4:15 points us to the Lord Jesus as the one who can help us when we cry out to him because he was “tempted in all things like as we are, without sin." He knows what we are going through.
Sometimes when we are in the middle of a hard time people who mean well will say to us, “I know what you are going through.” That is often a cruel thing to say. How can you be sure you know what another person is thinking or feeling? It is better never to say that because if you really do know what another person is going through, your heart will make that clear to them. And if you don’t, it’s better not to say anything at all.
When we pray we don’t have to worry that we will somehow shock Jesus. He’s heard it all and seen it all. He knows our pain, he sees our weakness, he understands what we are going through. Because he was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” he truly knows what we are going through.
C. S. Lewis on Temptation
And how good it is to know that he was tempted just as we are. Jesus faced every kind of temptation we can face. Basically every temptation falls into one of three categories: the concupiscence (lust) of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life (cf. 1 John 2:14-17). Jesus defeated the devil in those three areas. Where we failed, he succeeded. Where we gave in, he stood strong. Where we collapsed under pressure, Jesus obeyed his Father. He was tempted, yet he never sinned by giving in. I find great comfort in these words of C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity (p. 122):
A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in....Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.
This has enormous implications for our spiritual life. Because Christ was tempted and never gave in, we may be sure that he is never surprised by anything we say or do. We gave in too early so we never felt the full force of temptation. But Jesus let the waves of temptation rush over him and stood like the Rock of Gibraltar. When we pray we don’t have to worry that we will somehow shock him. He’s heard it all and seen it all. We can go ahead and be totally honest about our failures. He knows about it even before we tell him.
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is meant for Pathetic Losers. But that should not discourage us in the least. God does his best work with pathetic losers who will cast themselves wholly on His grace. Jesus told us how to live when he declared, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). In the Kingdom of God, all the values of the world are reversed. The way up is down. The last shall be first. The least will be the greatest. The servants will be the leaders.
When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are admitting that we have no power and no clue how to face the problems of life. God delights to help those who have nowhere else to go but to the Lord. May our trials make us more like Jesus day by day.