Lead us not into temptation

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray.  One of the things He teaches us to pray is, “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).

This is a difficult verse to understand, because it seems to imply that God would lead someone into temptation.  This goes against what we know about the LORD, namely that he hates sin and does not want us to sin.  This is further complicated when we consider what James says, “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).

The key to understanding this phrase is to not separate it from the next one.  It’s not meant to be separated.  In fact, it’s meant to be understood together.  Here is the whole verse: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil“.  This is not a set of two supplications, but one, with literary purpose.  Notice the two prepositions: “into” and “from“.  It’s a rhetorical device called antithetic parallelism, which serves to emphasize the point.  This explains, then, why the Savior didn’t just say, “Lead us away from temptation”.

With that said, it’s also not an empty request to ask that God would not lead us into temptation.  Because we acknowledge that God is totally sovereign, we know that everything happens according to His will.  And so, it can be said that, in a sense, we are lead by Him into everything that happens.  Theologians distinguish between God’s active will and passive will.  For example, He causes Christians to become more like Jesus, and He allows unbelievers to continue on in godless living.  This is a helpful distinction, but after everything has been considered, when a sovereign Lord allows something, He has caused it to happen.  He could easily stop it, but He chooses not to for His perfect purposes.

And according to His perfect will, God allows Satan to tempt us, as He allowed Satan to tempt Job and even Jesus.  One of the reasons is so that we would continually realize our need for His salvation, and He shows His grace and mercy on us when He hears our cry and defeats the enemy on our behalf.  So, it is right for a Christian to want to be delivered from evil and Satan.  And so, we ask that God would, in His providence, not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

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