Part 7 / Matt. 6:9-13
In his classic work on holiness, JC Ryle writes: “True Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. . . . Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.” If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that to be true. We battle “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16) every day. Sometimes we lose and fall into sin. That is why we pray: “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). In Jesus we have “the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7). This is a glorious truth and a comfort to every battle-weary believer.
Forgiveness, however, does not give us an excuse to sin. Understood correctly, it motivates holiness. We do not want to fall into our former sins. We want to become more and more like Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13).
Those who have been forgiven are not suddenly immune to their former sins and our enemy knows this. Charles Spurgeon writes: “Very speedily after the penitent has received forgiveness and has the sense of it in his soul he is tempted of the devil, for Satan cannot bear to lose his subjects, and when he sees them cross the border line and escape out of his hand, he gathers up all his forces and exercises all his cunning if, perchance, he may slay them at once.” Our enemy is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The watchful soul prays: “lead us not into temptation”.
When we realize the seriousness of sin we will also pray: “lead us not into temptation”. The Black Plague ravaged London from 1665 to 1666. It is estimated that a quarter of the population (which numbered around 400 000 at the time) succumbed to the disease. With the horror of the plague fresh in their minds, Ralph Venning wrote a book in which he called sin “The plague of plagues”. Listen to what he wrote: “When sin has used man to break the law, it uses the law to break man, to undo him by condemnation and death… Sin is therefore exceedingly sinful and wicked. It is most immeasurably spiteful, poisonous and pernicious, because it kills men. And not only so, but it kills them by that which is good, and was appointed to man for life; it turns food into poison.”
The Bible consistently warns believers to avoid sin, and to give temptation a wide berth. Sin is not your friend; it is a wild animal “crouching at the door” and its “desire is for you” (Gen. 4:7). Sin kills and destroys. Thomas Brooks wrote: “A little hole in the ship sinks it. A small breach in a dyke carries away all before it. A little stab at the heart kills a man. A little sin, without a great deal of mercy, will damn a man!” Paul warned young Timothy: “as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim. 6:11). Jesus used even stronger language. He said: “if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt. 18:8-9).
Finally, when we are aware of our own weakness, we pray: “lead us not into temptation”. A believer’s maturity is not measured by how close we can get to sin without succumbing to it – a thrill-seeker trying to see how close he can get to the edge without falling off. Like a battle-hardened soldier, the mature believer does not go looking for a fight. Samson, the most powerful of Israel’s judges, could only resist Delilah for so long. David, a man after God’s own heart, fell into sin at the height of his power. In the words of 1 Cor. 10:12: “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Therefore, we pray: “lead us not into temptation”.
Trials and temptations
The word that Jesus used for “temptation” is used in two ways in the Bible. First, it is used to describe a test or a trial. This is how it is used in James 1:2: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. Later, in that same chapter, James writes: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (v. 12). These trials are tough, but they can also be beneficial. In James 1:4 we are told that they produce “steadfastness” and help believers mature so that they “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Our response to the trial determines whether it will produce sanctification or sin in our lives. The apostle Paul used Israel’s trials as an example. In 1 Corinthians 10 he reminds his readers how they responded to the tests they had to endure in the wilderness. They grumbled (v. 10) and put their trust in idols (v. 7), which led them into even greater sin (v. 8). We, like Israel, may be tempted to respond to our trials in unbiblical ways. That is why Paul reminds his readers: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). Sin is not the only option when we go through trials.
The second way in which the word is used, is to refer to being tempted to sin. Before he was arrested, Jesus told his disciples to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). This is most likely what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his disciples to pray: “lead us not into temptation”. We cannot escape all temptation. This is the mistake that the monks made: they believed that they could isolate themselves from the evils of the world, not realizing that they could not run from the evil within (see James 1:14). This is not a prayer for a monastic life. It is a prayer, however, for God’s grace in avoiding temptation and those situations where we are liable to fall.
Charles Spurgeon brings these two ideas together in his paraphrase of the petition: “Save me, O Lord, from such trials and sufferings as may lead me into sin. Spare me from too great trials, lest I fall by their overcoming my patience, my faith, or my steadfastness.” Every trail carries within it the temptation to respond in sinful ways. We will not be spared everything, but we can pray that we would be spared those things that would harm rather than help our walk with the Lord.
Let us pray: “lead us not into temptation”.