“Lead Us Not Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil”


These two lines of the Lord’s Prayer really are one petition, each line informing the meaning of the other, rather than being two consecutive petitions. The concern of the one who prays as Jesus teaches is not mainly to be spared from evil done to us by others. When we ask God to deliver us from evil, we’re asking him to save us from our own participation in evil, from our own self-centered desires (James 1:14), from our own proclivity to succumb to temptation, and from the self-deception that infects our hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). You cannot trust your own heart to withstand temptation. If you think you can, it is because you, being a sinner, have deceived yourself. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We need to be delivered from ourselves.

It is true that the second line in this petition can be translated, “deliver us from the Evil One,” that is, from the devil. But the Evil One cannot truly harm us except by tempting us to sin, appealing to our own desires, enticing us to commit spiritual suicide. The real evil from which we need deliverance is when we make ourselves willing subjects of the devil’s domain and accomplices in his war against God. “Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling” (John Calvin). Thus far in the Lord’s Prayer we have already confessed our need for God’s forgiveness of our sins. So it shouldn’t be hard to confess that, apart from God’s intervention, we continue to be “inclined toward all evil” (Heidelberg Catechism #60), and to confess our need for God to “lead us not into temptation.”

This is the kind of leading we really need. Often we pray for God’s “direction, guidance, leading” through life. Our true need is for God to lead us in such a way that, whatever circumstances we face, we would know them as opportunities for relationship with God (even if they are difficult tests or trials) rather than hindrances to that relationship (temptations that culminate in sin). James uses the same language (Greek: peirasmos/peirazo) to talk about both tests or trials that result in spiritual good (James 1:2, 12) and evil temptations that result in sin and death (vv. 13-14), because the same circumstances can result in either. The good result depends not on us or on our circumstances, but on God’s intervention in our hearts by his Spirit. The one who prays this petition asks God to enable him to love God more than he loves the alternative—sin—into which he has a tendency to drift. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it…” (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”). If God is with us as our Savior, leading us into deeper relationship with himself, keeping our attention on Jesus, making our hearts responsive to him by his Spirit, then wherever we find ourselves, we will be delivered from evil. And that means delivered into glorious communion in the life of the Triune God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!

Biblically, what is the opposite of temptation/sin/evil? What are some common temptations for you, that you’re aware of? To what temptations might you be blind, self-deceived? Do you believe that you cannot trust your own heart to withstand temptation to sin? How do you feel about the idea that you deceive yourself? How do you pray against self-deception? How often do you find yourself praying for your circumstances to change, versus praying for God to keep you close to himself through any circumstances? What does it mean that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1)? How does that Gospel truth help us in our temptations? How does Jesus’ instruction to pray this way relate to several biblical commands to “flee” such things as “sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), the “desire to be rich” (1 Timothy 6:9-11), and “youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22)?

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