Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:13-14)
Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”
The newer translations certainly try to mitigate the impact of Jesus’ teaching. The NLT says “And don’t let us yield to temptation,” while The Message loosely interprets the text as, “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” The ERV says simply, “And don’t let us be tempted.” Is such a smorgasbord helpful?
Here are a couple of bits of information that might help us sort it out.
First, the word temptation can certainly be translated trial or test, in the sense of some situation that challenges us to choose our will or God’s will. An Old Testament example of this is in Genesis 22 where the KJV says that God tempted Abraham, the RSV says God tested Abraham, and the ASV says God proved Abraham by asking him to take the son of promise Isaac and sacrifice him.
The origin of the test is probably what is important here. Jesus was also tempted or tested in the wilderness. We are quite comfortable with this event being described as temptation because it originated with the Devil and was designed for evil.
Second, the last half of the prayer sentence probably should not be separated from the first, i.e., “but deliver us from Evil (or the Evil One). The contrasting clauses are supposed to suggest opposite ideas—or at least strongly opposing ideas. It seems easier to understand God delivering or rescuing us from Evil, so maybe that will illuminate the first part of the prayer
Putting these ideas together, it seems to me that Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray to be protected from the trials, tests, temptations that the Devil puts in front of us, just as he tempted Jesus. We might paraphrase it something like this:
And, Lord, you know me, you know where I am weakest and where I am stronger. Don’t allow the Devil to tempt me in the areas where I am the weakest and might fail. And when I must face temptation, Father, deliver me from it.
If this is the meaning in the text, then what does it mean for me? How do I pray this prayer in the middle of my world?
Here are a couple of my thoughts:
With these words, Jesus teaches us to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our lives. God has released Satan into this world for a time, but Satan is not omnipotent or omniscient. Even though God allowed Job to be tempted or tested, God knew Job, so the outcome was certain! Job may not have known the outcome, the Devil certainly did not know the outcome, but God knew what Job could bear and did not allow him to be tested (tempted) beyond what he would survive.
God has made us the same explicit promise. He is fully in control!
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
I’ve wondered many times if Jesus prayed the essence of these very words in Gethsemane:
“Father, must I really go through this test? Is there any other way to do this? You know it is not just the horrible physical pain that is coming towards me to test my flesh, but the mental temptation because I know even those who have been following me not only will abandon me, deny me, even betray me—but they are just clueless about what is really happening and why. They have hardly understood anything yet! Don’t let me doubt what I have done with them and left in their hands.
But the worst of all, Father—what I fear most—is the punishment for Sin—how can I stand to see you turn away from me? Can I bear, Father, to be in the dark?
Oh, Abba, please deliver me from the Evil One. Do not let me waver, not in my flesh, nor in my mind, and especially not in my soul.
Not my will, but Your will be done, Father.”
And so we who are His disciples still pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil!” And we know He will because He loved us enough to give His only Son!