And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:13 ESV
As Jesus wraps up His model prayer, He closes with what appears to be a somewhat strange petition. At first glance, it would appear that He is suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us. But that would be a direct contradiction of the assertion of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). But then Paul seems to muddy the waters when he writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). In all three of these passages, the Greek word used for temptation is peirasmos and it means “trial” or “testing.” It can refer to an internal temptation to sin or to trials that test the character. So what exactly is Jesus suggesting we pray? It would seem, based on the context of the whole prayer, that Jesus is promoting the idea that the believer recognize his or her complete dependence upon God. We live in a world that is hostile to us as His followers. Jesus told His disciples, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). He also warned them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). Not only do we have a hostile world to contend with, we have the prince of this world, Satan, as our mortal enemy. On top of that, we have to deal with our own sin natures. But Jesus seems to be indicating that a believer is one who acknowledges that his life is ultimately in the hands of God. It is God who leads, guides and protects His children. But that does not mean that all of life will be trouble-free and devoid of difficulty. Jesus Himself has warned us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
Life on this earth can be harsh and extremely difficult at times, especially for followers of Christ. This world is not user-friendly for those who are members of the family of God. But as God leads us, we must realize that He loves us and will not lead us so that we might sin. Yes, we may end up sinning, but that will be as a result of an internal, heart issue, not God. All of this reminds me of the well-known 23rd Psalm. In it, David speaks of God, comparing Him to a loving shepherd. “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:2-4 ESV). Notice that David acknowledges the leadership of God in his life. He speaks of God leading him beside still waters and into paths of righteousness. But also notice that David describes himself walking through the valley of the shadow of death. In other words, being lead by God is not always a walk in the park. Yet, we can walk without fear, because we know He is with us, guiding us, protecting us and providing comfort along the way.
In a way, Jesus seems to be trying to get us to recognize that God is always with us. He wants us to know that our lives are in His hands. And to pray, “lead us not into temptation” is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. As we walk through life, we must remain dependent upon Him for every step we take. We must rely on Him to “deliver us from evil,” which is why Paul said that God is the one who “will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The apostle John gives us these encouraging words: “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them” (1 John 5:18 NLT). As believers, we must realize that we are dependent upon God for everything. We need Him to guide and direct us. We need Him to protect us. We need His help to keep us from allowing the tests and trials of life to result in sin rather than our sanctification. Because we know that God loves us, we can rest assured that He will give us more than we can handle. We never walk alone. He is always there. Whatever we face, we do so with Him at our side and completely on our side. So with the psalmist we can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6 ESV).