April 26, 2024

Lead Us Not into Temptation

Sinclair Ferguson
Lead Us Not into Temptation

Jesus knows how fierce our battle with temptation can be. Today, Sinclair Ferguson contemplates how the Lord’s Prayer equips us, in light of Christ’s triumph, to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil.


Well, it’s Friday again on Things Unseen. We’ve reached the conclusion of a week of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, and we’ve come to the final petition. I imagine you know that the doxology at the end, “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen,” was probably added by the early church. The last original petition is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliverer us from evil,” or, “from the evil one.” These may be two petitions, but if so, they are a parallelism. The second request fills out the first one: “Don’t lead us into temptation, but if we are led into temptation, deliver us from its evil,” or, “from the evil one.”

And there’s something about this petition that I think makes us ask a question, perhaps more than one question. But one question is certainly this: What is meant here by “temptation”? The Greek word that’s used here, peirasmos, can mean simply “a test” or “a trial,” or of course it can actually mean “solicitation to sin.” So, which is it here?

Well, we’re all weak, and no matter how strong we may think we are, there are situations in life that can very easily break us. And so, at one level, obviously, we want to ask God to protect us. At the same time, we know that difficult experiences will come. So, we ask Him to protect us from any evil in them. In a sense, we’re simply praying, “Father, make Psalm 23 come true in my life so that even if I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I’ll fear no evil because You are with me, and Your rod and Your staff comfort me.”

And if that’s true of trials, difficult experiences, it’s also true of temptations to sin. One of the older writers says that we are brought into temptation when desire meets opportunity. Sometimes there seems to be a desire in us, but we lack the opportunity to sin. And sometimes there’s the opportunity, and in God’s mercy, we lack the desire. But when both are present, then we’ve been brought into temptation, then we are in special danger. It’s this that we are praying about. We’re praying to be delivered from the strategies of the evil one.

But there’s another question I think these words raise in our minds. Why does Jesus teach us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation”? Does God ever lead us into situations of temptation? Well, He certainly leads us into situations that will test us. But James 1:13 makes it clear, doesn’t it, that God doesn’t Himself tempt us or solicit us to sin?

But if that’s so, what does it mean when Matthew 4:1 tells us that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? This is amazing. Jesus was led into temptation by the third person of the Godhead. And Mark’s account uses even stronger language: “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals” (Mark 1:12–13). Well, that little footnote, “He was with the wild animals,” gives us a clue to what was happening here.

Jesus was reversing the tragic and sinful act of Adam and Eve. They were tested by Satan in a garden of plenty. They were surrounded by a docile animal kingdom that was under their authority. But the second Man, the last Adam, in order to recover us, was led into a wilderness, the wilderness they had created. He was without nourishment for forty days. He was surrounded by wild animals, an animal kingdom now participating in the effects of the fall. What Jesus experienced under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, He experienced in order to bring us back to God.

But what, then, about us? There do seem to be occasions when God providentially places us in temptation’s way. He may have various reasons for doing so—perhaps to encourage us that we can be more than conquerors through Christ, perhaps to make us more conscious of our vulnerability than we actually have been, perhaps to bring us to look to Him more consistently, perhaps, as in the case of Job, to put His own power and glory on display. But the point we need to remember is this: even if God leads us into situations where there is temptation, He never ever leads us in the sense of soliciting us to sin.

Jesus Himself knew how fierce the battle could be. I think that’s probably why He taught His disciples to pray like this, that the Father would deliver us from both evil in the sense of falling into sin, and from the evil one who seeks to devour us. Didn’t Martin Luther say that “one little word shall fell him”? But what word can we use to fell Satan? Well, this word: “Deliver us from the evil one.” And He will, because His is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. And yes, well might we add, amen and amen.