Woe to us when men are tempted to change the words of God. The religious leader of the largest denomination of professing Christians, with influence over the beliefs of a billion members, is suggesting that the Lord’s Prayer teaches error and needs to be changed to his improved wording.
At issue is the idea that a loving Father would never need to be asked to not lead his children into temptation. It is an understandable quandary: Does a righteous and good God lead people into temptation?
To begin, we must consider carefully what the Lord taught about how to pray to God:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:9-13)
Within the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus instructed on how to pray in a manner and with words that would be acceptable to God. He sets the stage by criticizing the common approaches to prayer of the Jewish religious leaders. Prayer is a powerful means of getting what we want, and if God doesn’t answer, then it can still be used to get public attention from others. That was the context when Jesus walked the earth, and such distortions in how we are taught to communicate with God are just as common today, even to the point of changing the very words of Holy Scripture, in order to gain the public favor of those who frown at the idea of a good God having anything to do with leading people into temptation.
Luke also records this Prayer as follows:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Lu 11:2-4)
Although in Luke’s reference it appears much shorter in the above translation (NIV ’84), the main phrases are the same. And, depending on what early manuscripts are used, all the other extended phrases also appear in the Gospel of Luke. In other words, the prayer is essentially the same in both accounts, and in particular, the concluding phrase regarding temptation is identical. The Holy Spirit inspired both writers to document this prayer and in so doing confirms by two witnesses the authenticity and trustworthiness of phrase: “lead us not into temptation”.
So, what was Jesus talking about? What does God have to do with temptation? Does God actually lead people into temptation? And if so, how can that be right?
First of all temptation is a reference to the human inclination to sin. Since the fall of Adam, all have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness of God. We all are susceptible to sin. In our freedom to make choices, we are naturally inclined toward satisfying ourselves in ways that disobey and dishonor God. Although we could choose differently, we are easily tempted—we are easily enticed to think and do what is not right.
Even as Christians, filled with the Spirit of God, we remain vulnerable to the temptations of seeking the very same thing that Eve sought when she reached out for the fruit of the Tree that represented good and evil. All humans want to do life their own way, to decide on our own what is right for us, to even tell God what he should have said in Scripture. The Spirit in a believer doesn’t prevent temptation, rather it gives us the power to resist and submit to God’s will, timing, and ways.
God doesn’t make people sin. That is our own choice. He created us with the freedom to choose, and even though we remain fully capable of choosing either right or wrong, our innate desire to do it our own way has rendered us powerless to select anything other than what is wrong. In this condition, all it takes is a temptation that is tailor-made to what is desired by each person, and we will collapse in sinful indulgence.
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jms 1:13-14)
It is a divine truth that God neither tempts people, nor is capable of being tempted himself. To many, this seems to fly in the face of needing to then pray that God not lead a person into temptation, but the two concepts are not the same. Listen more carefully to what you have heard, if you want to know the truth, and not drift away from the salvation first announced by the Lord. Scripture declares that God doesn’t tempt people. It also declares that he leads people into circumstances with choices that can tempt them.
“Leading” is a reference to God remaining sovereign and in full control of the unfolding of life. His dynamic plan, which includes the Fall of Creation, the continued exposure to temptation, and the consequences of dealing with the resulting filth of sin remain entirely under his authority. God is in charge, even while sin does its dreadful work. God doesn’t tempt, but he does use temptation; just as God is not evil, but he does use Satan to accomplish his glorious plan.
Disturbing as this is to our fragile feelings, God allows Satan to tempt. The “evil one” is the culprit of temptation—he is the one who tempts people to sin, not God. However, do not be deceived into thinking that Satan and God are opposing powers competing for the attentions of humanity. God alone is God Almighty. Unlike the Tempter, God does not want people to sin. Rather, he allows the evil one to infect the path along which people travel. Incredible as it sounds, he allows it, for the ultimate purpose of doing good.
God knows our vulnerable and broken tendency toward sin, but he also has established a masterful plan that depends on his own resistance to temptation. His plan is to provide salvation through his own righteousness over temptation. This is the amazing context of the Lord’s Prayer—the temptation of Jesus.
Notice carefully the context of salvation. Jesus was baptized in water at the hand of John as a sign of repentance “to fulfill all righteousness”. He had not, nor ever would sin—thus he had no personal reason to repent—but on our behalf, he would take on the full weight of our sin and thus the consequence of divine wrath in Hell’s death. Under the sovereign plan of God, Jesus was led by God to face temptation, to completely resist the Tempter, and to set the way of overcoming temptation through faith in him and what he accomplished.
So, hear Scripture, and answer for yourself, ‘Does God lead people into temptation, but without tempting them’?:
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt 4:1)
This is how the entire ministry of Jesus began: God led Jesus through his Spirit to be tempted. “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord”, established the pattern of sinless perfection in the face of temptation immediately after being baptized. God led Jesus along a 40 day path in the desert for the specific purpose of facing temptation. By facing temptation, Jesus was exposed for who he was, God-with-us: the Righteous One who “cannot be tempted with evil”.
This is God’s purpose in leading people along paths whereby they can be tempted by the evil one, not to make them sin (which is what Satan is trying to get them to do), but rather to expose their identity. God doesn’t tempt people to sin against him, but he does lead people down paths that have been corrupted with temptation minefields. The purpose is to expose the truth.
So, if temptation exposes truth, why did Jesus say we should pray that God not lead us down such paths? Because of what he has already done for us! In our fleshly condition, even as faithful believers, we remain vulnerable to failure when tempted. Our identity doesn’t need to be tested, because we have a far, far greater evidence of righteousness: the presence of Christ himself, dwelling in us through his Spirit.
Our “identity is hidden in Christ”—so Scripture declares. Our sinful condition, that penchant to succumb to our natural desires, to fail when enticed by Satan, which still haunts our humanity, has been dealt with by Jesus by completely resisting the temptations experienced along the path that God led him. We now are granted the right to request relief from such pressure, and such exposure, and the likelihood of slipping into what we hate to do against God.
Those who prefer to follow the path of Eve in reaching out for their own way of doing life, will be led down paths littered with temptations, to expose their real heart’s desires. Prior to Christ’s first coming, Job was led by God through intense suffering at the hand of Satan, who vowed to tempt the man of God to sin. As a type of Jesus, he resisted the Devil, but the account makes it clear that as an individual he spoke about what he didn’t understand and was humbled by God. God led him to face temptation, but Satan was the one doing the tempting.
So it was as well with David, when God wanted at one point to judge the Israelite people for continually sinning. God already had evidence of sin in the people, but they would likely have had a hard time connecting the specific punishment to their personal sins that had been piling up before God over the years, so he intended to use David to cause a specific reason for God to bring punishment on the people for their sins.
God was going to lead David down a path that would expose him to temptation, that Satan could tempt him to disobey God by counting how many men among the people could be used as soldiers. Remember, much of David’s life is meant to reflect the Messiah. Listen to David’s prayer to God and think of how it represents Jesus:
“When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.’” (2 Sam 24:17)
God is light—by nature he exposes right from wrong. When we pray that God not lead us into temptation, we are pleading with him on the basis of what Jesus did for us. Like David, Jesus cries out to God, “I the shepherd have done wrong”, not by personal sin, but by taking on all the sin of those who put their trust in him.
God led Jesus to be tempted for us, so that by demonstrating his glorious success at resisting the Tempter, we don’t need to be exposed as sinners through temptation. He has taken the entire burden of our sin, as well as our condition to fall when tempted, and triumphed through the desert, upon the Cross, into Hell, and up from the grave to the right hand of the Most High. The hand of divine judgment, as David prayed, fell upon “me and my family”—meaning Christ, and meaning the Messiah that would come from the family of David—rather than the sheep.
That is the glorious truth behind Jesus’ instructions on why to pray that God not lead us into temptation by the evil one. Through faith in Jesus, we are asking that God shine his light of exposure on the identity of Christ, rather than on the weakness we still fight with tendencies toward sin. Those who show a life lived by dependence on being “led by the Spirit”, can pray that Jesus be exposed in us, rather than our sinful nature.
Of course, those who insist on satisfying their personal lusts and natural cravings, deny the internal presence of the Spirit, and should expect to face the overwhelming choices of temptation. God doesn’t tempt people to sin against him—that is not his purpose for allowing people to be exposed to such temptation. But, the wicked are assured that the path along which God will lead them will result in facing temptation fueled by the Devil, to their ultimate expose and destruction.
Humanity is being exposed. We are being tested by a holy God. As Scripture declares, “I the Lord, search hearts and minds.” From the beginning, God set before mankind, “blessings and cursings, life and death”, as a type of crossroads that forces us to reveal whether or not we trust and follow his leading word, or whether we insist on going our own way.
As world events continue to tumble toward finality, God intends to expose everyone to choices. God leads people to face temptation, for the purpose of revealing what lurks deep down in our hearts, motives, and minds–things that we cannot even see about ourselves. This frightening reality doesn’t need to apply, however, to faithful believers. Notice how Jesus speaks of what is coming:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (Rev 3:10)
To those who have ears to hear what the Spirit says in the above quote to Christians: life is heading toward one grand test that will reveal those who really belong to God from those who claim to be good. The Lord gives an amazing promise, but it doesn’t apply to all professing Christians. Listen to the words used: the great temptation is coming on everyone, but those who keep the New Covenant commands of Jesus and endure patiently, even though they personally have little strength on their own, won’t have to face this test.
Jesus faced this test for us. We don’t need to go through it ourselves, if we submit under him and show it by how we follow him. Consider the other words to the other Christians in these 7 churches–some believers are promised protection, but most are confronted with the warning that they had better repent and get back to obeying his words more carefully, or the Lord will come and fight against them himself–something far worse than facing temptations.
Protection from temptation is not automatic to those who profess Christ–it is a privilege that we are granted the right to pray for, in hopes that God will exchange the temptation of Christ in the place of facing our own test.
This never removes choices from challenging a Christian–we never have freedom taken away, we never become robots. Individually, we still face difficult choices and circumstances. We are warned that Satan is constantly on the hunt to find a way to break us, and apostasy in rebellion against God remains a very real threat to our eternity. We are warned against falling away and never being able to come back to repentance. We are warned against returning to the vomit of our independent desires against Christ. As such, we need to recognize that temptation lurks around every corner, and we must learn to submit our choices to the leading of the Spirit and away from following the common desires of our nature.
But this is different from being specifically led by God into dark shadows full of temptations. Regarding that dangerous path, we can cry out for relief from exposure, in the name of Jesus, if we are living out his commands faithfully as he expects of us.
As God reveals about himself: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” God doesn’t create sin, rather he takes full responsibility for establishing the environment that allows sin to operate. God leads people through a life that is exposed to the temptation toward choosing sin, but his purpose is to expose what is right, as only found in Jesus who resisted the temptation and revealed the righteousness of God.
That is what we pray for—relief from exposure to temptation, since we rely upon his identity and do not seek to have our own exposed independently.
In reflection, the entire prayer, taught by Jesus, is a reflection of his foundational temptation experience. Seeking our daily bread from God, rather than as tempted by Satan to produce it through our own effort and power, connect the prayer to that 40-day-fast of the Lord. To seek God’s kingdom to come according to his will and timing, is set in direct contrast to Satan’s effort to tempt Jesus to reach out for it now—and confronts our human desire to control and do things our way. Jesus’ purpose of providing a way for sinners to repent and receive forgiveness is central to his mission, and so we are instructed to repent in baptism and immediately be led by the Spirit to pray for that forgiveness in reflection of how we, like Jesus, grant forgiveness for those who have harmed us.
God doesn’t need ministers or priests to improve his words. They have been tempted, and by suggesting changes to his holy words, exposed as false teachers who don’t know the truth.
God promises faithful believers that he will not allow them to be tempted beyond what they can endure. It comes as a three-part assurance: 1) that the detail of whatever we are exposed to will remain common to man and not be something inhuman; 2) that the specific temptation will be restrained within boundaries that we can personally resist; and 3) that we will be granted specific grace that will enable us to fight successfully against falling into sin. These only apply to faithful Christians, however. Non-believers and false believers will likely face supernatural temptations that are beyond human ability to resist, in spite of the freedom of choice; that God will remove restraints on the temptation so that our personal strength and abilities will be overwhelmed by the exposure; and most significantly, he will withhold the power to overcome.
One of those powers of grace that enables a believer to “stand up under it” is the right to pray for relief by God from exposure to temptations targeted at us by the evil one. It is the request for “cool still waters” even through we may find ourselves traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death”. As believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are granted the privilege of seeking relief and protection from temptation. We can ask for deliverance.
Don’t be deceived into thinking that God doesn’t allow temptation. He allowed Adam and Eve to meet the Snake, knowing full well what they were up against and what would happen. He led his promised people for 40 years in the desert, to be tempted:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in year heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Dt 8:2)
He specifically let his own Son be led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days, as a mirror to the failure of Israel when thoroughly exposed as sinners on their path through the desert. And, he continues to expose humanity through the process of facing choices, including his church–those who profess faith in Jesus, but who still struggle with temptations natural to this fleshly existence.
You have a choice to make…accept the righteousness of Jesus that resisted temptation on your behalf, and pray for relief on that basis; or, reach out for the fruit of independence and be consumed by your own desires.
As for me, I will continue to pray:
Our Father in heaven…lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one!