“And do not lead[i][ii] us into temptation[iii]….” (Matt. 6:13) is one of the things Jesus taught to us to pray to the Father. Does that mean that God might lead us into temptation (if we did not pray for Him not to)? Clearly not!
We must always be careful when reading Scripture to put a verse in context. Every verse should be read in harmony with the rest of Scripture. The Greek word translated “temptation” here can mean either temptations or tests (or trials), and the meaning of it in a particular passage must be derived from the context. It can mean sufferings that test or try or allurements that tempt us into evil. “Of these the former is the dominant meaning in the language of the New Testament, and is that of which we must think here.”
To put it in a larger context, James states:
“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.” (James 1:13-14)
Temptation to sin comes from within; it comes from the sinful nature with which we are born, the outgrowth of “the flesh” that deviates from God’s character. God cannot be anything other than who God is, and God would not lead us into unrighteousness, the antithesis of who God is.
There are positive tests of faith (trials) that strengthen us, testing our faith and producing endurance that perfects our faith. (James 1:2-4) Then there are negative tests (discipline) that are the consequences of giving in to temptation. When we ask God to lead us not into temptation, we are asking for His mercy, asking that He not allow us to suffer the negative tests (trials, consequences) of our failures. But there is more.
Jesus taught us to pray for God to lead us not into (lead us away) from temptation. To ask God to “lead me not into temptation” is much like asking God not to allow me “to be tempted beyond what I am able” to stand and to “provide the way of escape” so I can be victorious in turning away from sin. (1 Cor. 10:13) Though the temptation comes from within when I am faced with “opportunity”, God is able to help me to resist, to rescue me and show me the way to avoid it (not be lured by it). He can also help me avoid those “places” in which I may be lured by the lusts that lie within me.
God does not tempt us, but He can intervene when we are tempted. If He does not intervene, we might be carried away, unable to avoid tempting situations and unable to withstand the temptation when we find ourselves in those situations.
In speaking of people who intentionally walk away from God, Paul says God “gave them over” to those “degrading passions” (lusts by which they were tempted). (Rom. 1:26) If God can “give people over” to degrading passions (letting them go, not restraining them), He can help us avoid and withstand them if we ask. He is not the source of sin, but He is the source of righteousness that enables us to overcome sin.
Jesus taught us to pray for God’s help when we are tempted – that He would not give us over to our own lusts, that He would not allow us to be carried away by them, that He would help us withstand them and show us the way of escape.
Father, forgive me for my failures and the sin that so easily entangles me. Forgive me God for the lust and other sinful attitudes that lure me away from You and Your righteousness. Strengthen me by Your Spirit to root out that sin, to stand against it and to show me Your good and perfect way.
[i] 1533/eisphérō (from 1519/eis, “into, unto” and 5342/phérō, “bring, carry”) – properly, bring or carry into (unto), underlining the envisioned purpose or results that naturally follow (from the bringing/leading into).
[ii] Greek negated aorist imperative means, “Never do this… not even once!”
[iii] 3986/peirasmós (from 3985/peirázō) – temptation or test – both senses can apply simultaneously (depending on the context). The positive sense (“test”) and negative sense (“temptation”) are functions of the context.
- Positively, peirasmós refers to the tests God uses to develop us – like when God (positively) tested Job by sending sufferings (Job 1,2). Positive tests are illustrated in the life of Jesus (Lk 22:28). For example, peirasmós is used of Christ’s test (“temptation”) in Lk 4:13.
- Peiramos can be used negatively, on two levels: a “chastising (negative) test” that God sends to restore the disobedient believer as His act of love, and a “temptation” which happens as someone drifts away from what is holy, i.e. becomes “too open” to enticement (allurement, cf. 1 Tim 6:9).
Which of the three possibilities (two being negative) is mainly in view in Mt 6:13?
Two possibilities seem automatically eliminated. God does not entice someone into temptation to sin (cf. Js 1:13) and secondly, it can not be a positive test – since this is something we should avoid! This narrows down then to one possibility – a “negative (chastising) test” brought on when a person becomes wayward (refuses to follow the Lord). An accurate paraphrase of Mt 6:13 would be, “Lead us not into negative tests – i.e. the kind that become necessary when we insist on ignoring You or straying from You.”
Reflection: Living in a healthy fear of the Lord avoids His chastising (negative) tests. But even these are redemptive, and call us to submit to Him once again. How much better however it is not to be “disciplined by God,” but rather to embrace holiness and avoid negative (chastising) tests.
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