us not into Temptation
(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 52
Question and Answer #127
Q. What does the sixth request mean?
A. "And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one" means,
By ourselves we are too weak
to hold our own even for a moment.
And our sworn enemies—
the devil, the world, and our own flesh—
never stop attacking us.
And so, Lord,
uphold us and make us strong
with the strength of your Holy Spirit,
so that we may not go down to defeat
in this spiritual struggle,
but may firmly resist our enemies
until we finally win the complete victory.
This last sixth request has on the surface what appears to be a contradiction - and let me very briefly outline the contradiction - and one way of resolving it.
Request is this
"And lead us not into temptation"
But does it make any sense to ask God not to tempt us? Does it make any sense to ask God not to lead us into temptation?
Can a holy and true God possibly lead anybody into temptation, seduce somebody into sin? If we interpret temptation as seducing to sin, we are giving God demonic qualities. The request does not make sense.
And then of course there is James 1:13
"When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;"
Now there is a different way of interpreting the word temptation - to use the word temptation in the sense of testing. Then the request says
"And lead us not into testing." or
“Lead us not into times of trial.”
But with this interpretation, James 1:2 puts us in a bit of a bind
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Now if we are children of God, one of our greatest heart's desires is to become mature in the faith, complete, lacking nothing so that in the end we will be able to stand before the Judgement seat and God will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So how can we rightfully pray that the Lord not lead us into testing?
And if the word testing is the correct interpretation - then why have we not started using that word a long time ago?
Answer lies in a couple of realizations
#1 Everyone will be tested. When we join in the journey of faith, we join in a program to prepare us for eternity. The only ones who escape that program according to Hebrews 12 are not really God's children at all. So we will get tested, and as James suggests, though it is difficult, we can rejoice when that happens to us.
#2 - The sense in which this testing can be referred to is "test beyond our ability to handle." Every temptation is actually a test. It is when we fail the test, we fall for temptation that we are tempted and we fall into sin. And the Lord has promised (1 Cor 10:13) to his children that he will never let us be tempted beyond our ability, rather he will always give us a way of escape. He will never give us tests that are to great for us to handle, he will always give us a way to walk the pathway of obedience.
So when we are praying this prayer, we're not asking that we not be tested, and we are not suggesting that God leads us into sin. Rather, with an attitude of humility and weakness we are asking God to preserve us as we go through the trials of life.
That is very similiar to Jesus Prayer in John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
This prayer is uttered by a Christian who knows that if he stands, he will stand in God's strength alone. Sometimes it takes some hard knocks in life to realize how weak we are and totally dependent on God for sustaining us through it all. Now the question is: Where do these hard knocks, that we need the Lord to deliever us through, come from?
The HC mentions them - the World, the Flesh and the Devil
We are particularly weak when it comes to the world - the culture we live in.
Our patterns of thinking are shaped by the culture we live in. The language we speak is the language that shapes not only how we think, but what we see and how we interpret what we see. If you came from some backwoods place in the world and were dropped into downtown Vancouver, you might be amazed at all the red green and yellow lights but you would not have a clue that some of them mean stop and others mean go and caution. Our culture shapes how we see the world, and part of that shaping is that our culture, our intellectual world has little room left over for God. If something can be explained, we don’t need God. And the faith of science is that we will eventually find an explanation for everything. Being skeptical with regard to faith is regarded as intelligent and mature. We are developing an intellectual pride that is blinding us to the acceleration of our problems, from violence, to war, to global injustice, to global warming to economic callapse. We have been mesmerized by progress but progress will have its price. Times of trial are coming. Australia is facing the worst drought it has ever experienced, to the point that there are now conversations with other parts of the world about taking ½ their population (11 million people) because there is so little water. Times of trial are coming. And if we think that they will not hit us, we are simply wrong. And when the trials comes in a context where culture and language have disqualified faith, will our faith stand?
The Second weakness the HC mentions is our flesh. Flesh is our own self interested, self preserving independent nature.
It is that flesh, that old human nature that puts ourselves, our pleasures, our entertainment and happiness before God or any one else. Because of it, we turn a blind eye to another's suffering because we know that to truly care for them is to suffer with them. Because of the flesh, we wound each other to maintain or better our own positions of status or power.
We can hide our selfish nature fairly well. When life is good, when we are rich, we can afford to be generous. But when we are challenged, when others wound us, when we feel threatened, its amazing how that old self preserving nature comes out. We discover that we are as hate filled, as murderous as the next person and we need the very help of God himself to live and walk by the Spirit and its fruits so that we do not fulfill the desires of the flesh. Lord, lead us not into those times of trial. Help us to live by your Spirit from day to day.
The third enemy the HC mentions is the devil. Now there is something that we have to understand about the devil - he preys on our weakness. He is described as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, like lions, wolves (John 10) he attacks precisely at our weak points. And his best offense is our ignorance to his techniques, our lack of awareness of his physical, emotional, spiritual attacks. We will focus more on defending ourselves from his attacks in the future.
For now we have one more question. What is our strongest defense against these enemies. We know that trials will come and it will only be by the strength that God provides that we will be able to stand? What is the best thing we can do?
The answer is very simple. Pray. Be in prayer. Walk in prayer. Drive in prayer while keeping your focus on the road. Intercede for one another. Pray - Lord lead us not into times of trouble, deliver us from evil. Live your life in prayerful communion with God and be assured that when times of trouble come, he will provide ways for you to stand up under it. I could spend time talking about the clear instructions of Paul to put on our spiritual armor, but even the armor of God is put on by prayer in the Spirit on all occasions through everything (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Pray: "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil."
Times of testing will come when we know that we are being attacked by Satan, as individuals and as a church. According to the scriptures our first level of countering the enemies within and without is prayer so that in these trials we might not fall.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.