Understanding why you are tempted can help you overcome chronic, difficult temptations. The reason behind temptation may not be something you’ve ever thought about. This message helps us understand why we are tempted and what it means for us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Andrew Wilson was on a commercial flight into Queenstown when his plane shuddered and dropped 50 feet almost instantly, then did it again and, I’m not sure, possibly a third time. The cabin filled with screams and prayers to God – a God in whom many of the passengers did not believe.
Andrew was fascinated by those prayers. He said the most common petitions were of the “Deliver us from evil” variety. “Help!” “Save us!” and “Oh, God, please don’t let me die!”
The other kind he heard, though less frequently, was of the “Forgive us our sins” variety. “I’m sorry” and “God, forgive me.” So, apparently after crying out for rescue, people prepared to meet their Maker.
It occurred to Andrew that when people are not in a crisis, they usually stick to the “daily bread” variety of requests: “God, please give me this job.” “Fix my marriage.” “Keep my children safe.” “Provide for my family.” So, people pray for deliverance first, then forgiveness, and then physical provision. In other words, “we pray the Lord’s Prayer backwards … we say help, then sorry, then please do X for me, and then please do Y for others.”
There is nothing wrong with any of these prayers, but we won’t pray them well when we pray them backwards. There is a reason the prayer starts with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Only when we get that right, will we get the other requests right.
Today we have arrived at the final request of the Lord’s Prayer. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
When you are led into temptation, you are in a tight spot. Why anyone would choose to live there (and many do), I don’t know. It is a place of constant pressure. There is no room to move. But God can rescue us. He can deliver us into a large place where there is room to breathe, relax, and be restored. That is what God did for the psalmist: “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19).
That large place is the presence of God. With him, we have room to breathe. In his presence, temptation does not bother us. This is why we must learn, as David did, “to set the Lord always before me.” It is because he is right here – at my right hand – and not because of my own strength or piety, that temptation will not move me. When we are not in God’s presence, temptation will sweep our feet out from under us, cause us to fall, and we’ll hurt ourselves and others.
Let’s say a man falls into temptation: He lusts. Then he falls even further and commits adultery. He hurts himself terribly. It changes him, makes him a different, and weaker, man. But his fall not only injures him; it also injures his spouse – even if she never finds out about it. There will be a change in his relationship with her – to think otherwise is a diabolical deceit. And if she finds out, her trust will be broken, their children will be wounded. Their respect for their father – so important to their wholeness in this world and their life in Christ – will be devastated. Not only does he hurt himself and his family; he also hurts the woman with whom he is involved (and she hurts him).
God did not tell us to do some things and avoid others on a whim. His directions to us are not random. They are based on our design and are for our – and everyone’s – good. You might not believe that; I understand. You might rather think that what you do is nobody’s business but your own. If you want to drink to excess or watch porn all night or enter the hookup culture or get rid of the baby whose birth might result, it doesn’t affect anyone else!
But that is nonsense. Our lives are inextricably intertwined. We cannot violate God’s will and ways without hurting people – and deep down, we know it.
So, Jesus tells us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Now, why would we need to pray that? Would God “lead us into temptation”? Not according to James, who wrote : “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” (James 1:13). But if God does not tempt us, why would Jesus instruct us to pray this?
The confusion here is largely linguistic and comes from two sources. The first is the unfamiliar syntax of the phase, “Lead us not…” The Greek scholar A. T. Robertson calls it a “permissive imperative” and says that the idea is, “Do not let us be led into temptation.” “Lead us not…” means, “Do not let us be led.” We will be so led apart from God’s providential and timely intervention.
The second thing that makes this confusing is the word translated, “temptation.” The primary idea of the Greek word is a test or trial. When we read, “temptation,” we immediately think of an enticement to do something we know is wrong. But reading the word “test” does not evoke that at all. This one word carries both meanings and, though they intersect (as we will see momentarily), it is important to understand that God never entices us to do evil. He is not out to entrap us in some sin and then punish us for it. That is completely contrary to his character.
Jesus knows that trials are going to come; they “must come,” he says (Matthew 18:7). Aware of that, he instructs us to say to God, “Don’t let us be led into the trial.” I expect that God has answered that prayer on thousands of occasions just for the people in this room. Through his provident grace, we have escaped trials for which we were unprepared, trials that may have undone us. We’ve all faced trials, some extraordinarily difficult, but we’ve all escaped trials too – not because of our ingenuity but because of God’s goodness.
This is the sixth request in the Lord’s prayer. The first was, “Hallowed be thy name,” which recognizes God’s greatness. The last is, “Lead us not into temptation,” which recognizes our weakness. This request is made by people who “do not think more highly of themselves than they ought” (Romans 12:3). People who do “think more highly of themselves than they ought” don’t bother praying this prayer.
The Apostles James and John, the Sons of Thunder, seem to have thought more highly of themselves than they ought. They came to Jesus requesting the top two positions in his coming kingdom. When he asked if they were capable of going through the trials that would come – essentially, “Do you think you’ve got what it takes?” – they answered, “Absolutely!”
Their “Bring it on!” attitude was nothing but chutzpah. When the trial came, they (like everyone else) deserted Jesus – just as he said they would. They needed more confidence in Jesus and, until they had that, less confidence in themselves.
C. S. Lewis told us that “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. 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,” – and he said this in the middle of the Second World War – “you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. 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. We never find out the strength of … evil – until we try to fight it.”
When it comes to standing against temptation, don’t give yourself more credit than you’re due. Dallas Willard was right: “The excessive confidence people have in their own faith—usually it is when they are not suffering, of course—simply makes the danger worse.”
I have a friend who was always saying, “I trust my faith.” But that was a mistake. Trust your faith, and your faith will let you down. Trust your God, and he will never let you down.
So, God does not tempt his children to do evil. In fact, he often protects them from trials that would otherwise defeat them – more often than any of us know. But when a trial will serve them, when it will make them more than they could otherwise be for all eternity, he will allow it. Jesus is not telling us to pray: “Don’t ever let me be tried. Don’t let me feel bad or afraid or guilty. I am satisfied to stay the way I am for all eternity.” Instead, we ask to be spared the trial that might undo us, especially the final trial that will occur at the judgment of the wicked.
Please understand that praying, “Lead us not into temptation,” is not just asking for escape from pain, and failure, and shame, though it certainly includes that. Not everything that tries us is unwanted. Money, for example, has put many a man and woman to the test, which is something Jesus made abundantly clear. To pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” can also be a request to escape the success that would steal our hearts from God, the reputation that would make us proud, and the ease that would make us shallow. In other words, when we make this request, we may be asking God to keep us from the very things the rest of the world wants most! Do we really want to pray the Lord’s Prayer?
Every trial – whether the trial of a terminal illness or the trial of a promotion at work, the trial of poverty or the trial of wealth – can become a prompt to trust God or an enticement to turn away from him. This becomes clear when we understand the real point of temptation (and most of us do not).
We assume the devil gets off on making people do bad things – get drunk, have elicit sex, lie, steal, lust. But the devil doesn’t care about those things – they are just a means to an end – nor does he care about us. Understanding this is hugely helpful.
So, ask yourself: to what end does the devil tempt you? If you have sex with someone who is not your spouse, or go through the agony of getting caught, is he satisfied? No. Those things are just a means to an end.
That end, according to James 1:13 is to “drag you away” by powerful, personal desires or, “lure you away” by high and noble ones—the operative word being “away.” Away from what? Ask rather: “Away from whom?” The whole purpose of the temptation is to get you away from God who bought you for himself at great price.
The bait – sex, success, reputation, etc. – means little to our enemy. He changes baits more often than a tournament bass fisherman. He cares nothing about whether you commit adultery, or win the lottery, puff your chest out in self-righteousness, or beat your kid. It’s all the same to him as long as you move away from God. And if you have moved away from God, you are right where he wants you.
In the end, you – though he is happy to destroy you – are nothing to the devil but a means to an end. The devil’s principal target in every temptation, the person he longs to hurt – understand this – is God. Temptations are scams, we are the dupes, but God is the target the devil wants to defraud. When we give into temptation, we that is what is really happening.
I said that the baits mean little to the evil one, but that does not mean they’re not effective or even sophisticated. The tempter is so good at what he does that you may find yourself trying to get up even before you realize you’ve fallen down. Satan does not send out a notice letting you know that you’ve been chosen for his latest scam.
In his book, Tempted and Tried, Russell More refers to the work of Temple Grandin, the extraordinary scientist and animal behaviorist. Years ago, Grandin, who is a strong proponent of the humane treatment of livestock, developed a painless process for cows to be slaughtered.
Workers, Grandin said, should never yell at the cows, and they should never use cattle prods, which she said are completely unnecessary and even counterproductive. If the cows are simply kept contented and comfortable, they’ll go wherever they’re led. Grandin argued that the cows should never be surprised, and nothing should be done to unnerve them. They should not be hurt in any way … until their throats are cut.
Grandin designed a curving path for stockyards. It was so gentle that the cows “don’t even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground. A conveyor belt slightly lifts them gently upward, and then” … a blunt instrument strikes them right between the eyes, rendering them unconscious. They go from being livestock to being T-Bones and sirloins, and “are never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it.” Dr. Grandin labeled her invention, “the stairway to heaven.”
This is Russell More’s commentary: “Forces are afoot right now, negotiating how to get you fat enough for consumption and how to get you calmly and without struggle to the cosmic slaughterhouse floor. The easiest life for you will be one in which you don’t question these things, a life in which you simply do what seems natural …. You might feel as though your life situation is like progressing up a stairway so perfect it’s as though it was designed just for you. And it is. In many ways the more tranquil you feel, the more endangered you are.”
We are not smart enough to see the temptation coming that will strike us right between the eyes. So, let us pray: “Lead us not into temptation.” Now, look at the second part of this request: “But deliver us from evil” or, “the evil one.” The noun could be neuter (in which case it would be “evil”) or masculine (in which case it would be “the evil one”). We cannot be certain as to which Jesus intended—and we don’t need to be. Where the evil one is, there is evil; where there is evil, there is the evil one.
To be delivered is to be rescued, to be saved. Rescued from being a dupe, a tool of evil. Rescued from the consequences of sin (there are consequences), and, most importantly, from being separated from God. To be separated from God is to be separated from your only source of life and your only hope of joy. It is to be separated from meaningfulness and delivered to futility. It is to be cut off from your advocate on the Day of Judgment. No wonder we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
But it is hypocritical to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” when we are unwilling to be led in the other direction. In Bible college I knew a guy who, when a pretty girl walked by, would say: “Get thee behind me, Satan … You’re blocking my view.” Some people pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” with that same attitude.
A study from a few years ago tracked the top temptations Americans admit they face. (Interestingly, they admit what doesn’t shame them but are quiet about what does.) People surveyed said they struggled either “often” or “sometimes” with: worry or anxiety—60 percent; procrastination—60 percent; eating too much—55 percent; spending too much time on media—44 percent; being lazy—41 percent; spending more money than they could afford—35 percent; gossiping about others—26 percent; being jealous—24 percent; viewing pornography—18 percent; abusing alcohol or drugs—11 percent.
When those same people were asked if they had tried to avoid giving in to temptation, six out of 10 said no.  Jesus wants us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” not “Help me not to sin when I’m already there.” We will never succeed if we just want to avoid sin; we must also want to avoid temptation. To do so is a major step forward in the Christian life.
If it is a step you are choosing to take, I invite you to pray this great prayer with me now:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the glory, and the power forever. Amen.
 Andrew Wilson, “Backwards Prayers,” CT magazine (Jan/Feb, 2016), p. 30.
 Source: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 3, chapter 11; Cited in Sermonnotes.com.
 See especially Luke 16:10-13.
 Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried (Crossway, 2011), pp. 25-26
 Todd Hunter, Our Favorite Sins (Thomas Nelson, 2012), pp. 237-245.