And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [Matthew 6:13 (NASB)]
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when in is accomplished, it brings forth death. [James 1:13-15 (NASB)]
When I was a little girl, I had a beautifully illustrated picture book of the Lord’s Prayer. I clearly remember the illustration accompanying these words: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” A beautiful angel stood at a crossroads in front of two children and blocked their way down the wrong path.
While we ask God to guide us away from tempting circumstances and situations, we also know that an angel doesn’t always block the way. Sometimes God allows or even leads us into temptation and trials. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by Satan [Matthew 4:1] and God tested the Israelites during their forty years in the desert to know whether or not they would keep His commandments. [Deut. 8:2] In the book of Job, God allowed Satan to tempt the man by mercilessly attacking him.
While God may allow us to be tempted, Scripture affirms that He never tempts us and He never will be the author or originator of evil. God can’t put evil desires into our hearts because there is no evil in Him. Nevertheless, God may bring us into situations that will sorely tempt us. When He does that, however, His plan always is for our good. Satan tempts in the hope of ruining us but God allows temptation to strengthen or test us. He doesn’t lead us into temptation to see us fail; he leads us into battle with evil so that we may be victorious.
We pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” because we know we are weak. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that a man who carries gunpowder on him wisely asks not to be led where sparks are flying. We may not be carrying gunpowder in our pockets, but things like pride, anger, fear, worry, despair, vanity, greed, and even lust are deep in our hearts and so we ask God not to lead us into situations where they might explode. But, in spite of our request, there are times that’s exactly where He leads us. That’s why, admitting our powerlessness to overcome evil on our own, we continue the prayer with, “deliver us from evil.” Life is a series of temptations and we ask God to give us the power and strength to withstand every temptation we face.
When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted, the Holy Spirit was with Him the entire time. When we find ourselves in that same wilderness, we have the Holy Spirit, as well. Rather than an angel blocking the way, the Spirit will deliver us from evil!
Temptation is the best school into which the Christian can enter; yet, in itself, apart from the grace of God, it is so doubly hazardous, that this prayer should be offered every day, “Lead us not into temptation;”’ or if we must enter into it, “Lord, deliver us from evil.” [Martin Luther]