The Lord’s Prayer: Lead Us Not Into Temptation…

The Lord’s Prayer: Lead Us Not Into Temptation…

Nov 22, 2017

9th in a series by Assistant Pastor Philip Lawton

Seventh Day Baptist Church of Shiloh, NJ

Check out Phil’s blog at


What is your biggest temptation? It might be those cupcakes that a coworker brought into work. It might be speeding. For some it will be a bottle of alcohol, for others heroin or meth. The answer to that question for over half of men would be porn. What I want you to see is that there are temptations all around us. Everyday. We cannot escape temptation. Yet for most, this is a petition to God for escape from a life of temptation. But that is not really what Jesus is teaching us.

If you look through many commentaries on this petition of the Lord’s Prayer you will find a discussion of two things. They will either conclude that this is a petition to be free of all temptation and trials (while also acknowledging that this is impossible). Or they will conclude that this is teaching us to pray that God will deliver us from temptation once we are already in it.

The first conclusion will reference James 1:12-15 and the second 1 Corinthians 10:13. Neither of these is what Jesus is teaching us here. To understand what Jesus is teaching us, we do need to look at these interpretations. But first, everybody’s favorite class: Greek!

Temptation or Trial

What muddies this whole discussion is that Greek uses the same word for trials and temptations. There are actually two words in this discussion: πειρασμός (n) and πειράζω (v). However, each carries both meanings. Only πειρασμός is used in the Lord’s Prayer. This petition could read, “lead us not into trials.” This of course brings all kinds of problems. Especially when we realize that some trials come from God.

James tells us that very thing. God will test (πειρασμός) us. But God cannot tempt (πειράζω) us with evil. This does not mean that we will not be put through trials. God may put us into situations where we will have to rely on Him. Just ask Abraham or Joseph. What James does tell us is that these trials are from God, but the temptation is not. More on that later.

I wanted to bury my head in the sand

or pull myself into my shell

and pretend that temptation didn’t exist.

But what do we do with the Lord’s Prayer? Couldn’t Jesus just as

easily be teaching us to ask God to not lead us into trials? This seems very unlikely since those very trials often come from God. Why would God teach us to ask Him to not do something that He will do?

One more insight from James. He does not stop by simply saying that God does not tempt us. He tells us that temptation is a result of our own desires. The difference between trials and temptations is us. What makes something a trial and not a temptation is not the circumstance. Abraham was tempted to disobey God and not take Isaac to be sacrificed. Yet we don’t say that God tempted Abraham to disobey. We say He tested Abraham. It’s not a question of the circumstance, it’s a question of ourselves. Do we let ourselves be pulled into that temptation or do we stand up to the test and endure?

Turtles, Ostriches, and Communes

When I was younger, I remember coming home from Conference and wanting to start a Seventh Day Baptist commune. For those of you unfamiliar with SDB General Conference, it is a week-long conference every summer where Seventh Day Baptists get together to do the business of the conference. As a kid, this meant that I got a week to spend time around other Christian youth. In essence it was a youth retreat with the same friends every year.

I loved how close to God I felt at Conference and I dreaded the inevitable fall after. I thought that if I could bottle that experience it would be easy to be a Christian. I thought that I would never be tempted to sin again. There are two things wrong with this. First, this is simply a false assumption. No matter how great the mountaintop experience, we will always come down. We cannot escape temptation forever. Second, we are called to actually be in the world. If we seclude ourselves, we may find it easier to live a holy life, but then what good are we on the mission of God to the world?

Jesus doesn’t say deliver us from temptation.

He says lead us not into temptation.

As I think back on this experience I realize that I was a lot like a

turtle or an ostrich. I wanted to just hide from temptation. I wanted to bury my head in the sand or pull myself into my shell and pretend that temptation didn’t exist. But doing that wouldn’t really change anything. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away.

This is exactly how many of us see this petition. We are asking God to remove all temptation from our lives. If this is the case, then we are saying that Jesus asked us to pray for something that can never be. Jesus wouldn’t do that. Temptation is part of life. There is a day coming when it won’t be, but that is not what Jesus is saying here.

Not Yet Delivered

If this is not a petition to never be tempted, maybe it is a petition to be delivered from temptation. This is a Biblical idea. Paul tells us that God will always provide us a way out of temptation. I often cling to this promise. It can sustain us in the midst of great temptation, but this is not what Jesus is saying in the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus doesn’t say deliver us from temptation. He says lead us not into temptation. These are two very different things. Deliverance means that we are already in temptation. This means that we have already succumbed and we need a way to get out. Why would Jesus teach us to expect to sin? This is like asking God to keep us from taking a cookie when our hands are already in the jar. Why not just ask God to keep us from the jar?

Resistance is not stopping ourselves

once our hands are in the cookie jar.

Resistance is never putting our hands

in the cookie jar to begin with.

So often in our lives we are reactionary. We don’t think ahead.

Something happens to us — then we pray. It is only when something goes wrong that we turn to God. This petition is proactive, not reactive. It is asking God to keep us from walking into temptation.

Temptation is Everywhere

Remember that question I asked you at the beginning? I did that because I wanted you to see that temptation is everywhere. It is not as if temptation comes up every once in a while. We are faced with temptation every day. Every day we have a choice to follow God or not; to believe or not; to obey or not.

We think temptation is occasional because we occasionally fall into it. (Or at least we think that we occasionally fall into it.) The reality is that we cannot escape temptation. It is with us wherever we go. Some things we are tempted with are easy to resist. You can put black tar heroine in front of me and I won’t pick it up — but if you change that to Mountain Dew, I am doomed.

Jesus is teaching us to ask God to help us not fall into temptation. He is teaching us that we are tempted every day. He is teaching us that only through God do we have the power to resist. Resistance is not stopping ourselves once our hands are in the cookie jar.

Resistance is never putting our hands in the cookie jar to begin with.

This is a petition to not be lead into temptation. Temptation is like the swamp of sadness in “The NeverEnding Story” — or the Dead Marshes in “Lord of the Rings.” Once you step into it you are doomed to never leave.

“Lead us not into temptation” means that we don’t even set foot inside temptation. It means that we acknowledge the temptation around us every day. It means that we seek God’s direction in where we should go. It means that we cling to our faith during

trials. “Lead us not into temptation” is what we pray before we are tempted, not after.

May you realize the temptations all around you.

May you pray for help before you are tempted.

May your trials never become temptations.

And may God lead you in the path of righteousness.


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