“I can’t help myself.” “I feel overwhelmed.” “I can’t stop.” “I don’t know why I keep doing this.” “It’s so hard to say no, it’s so hard to stop.” If you’ve ever uttered any of these phrases then you know the power of temptation. We all know how hard it is to resist the lure of sin. So, how do we fight temptation? Matthew 6:13 offers us real insight that reminds us, we must depend on God’s help.
Jesus is here teaching us here how to pray, and specifically He is saying: don’t pray like a hypocrite. What does it look like to pray hypocritically? Jesus tells us: First it is to use prayer as an occasion to get recognition from others (Matthew 6:5); secondly, He says it is to heap up lots of words that you don’t really mean (Matthew 6:7). A hypocritical prayer is also one prayed opposite of the outline Jesus gives us here. That is to say, Jesus’ instruction on prayer is a call to pray in a way that recognizes our dependence upon Him. So we pray: “Your kingdom come your will be done, give us bread, forgive us.” Why? Because we need Him to do those things. We can’t do them. I can’t make His Kingdom come. I can’t make His will be done. I can’t supply my daily needs. I can’t forgive myself. I am dependent upon God. To pray hypocritically is to use prayer to get out of my dependence upon God. To pray hypocritically is to pray for something that will allow me to never have to ask God for help again. This is especially true of our prayers against temptation. To pray hypocritically about our temptations and struggles with sin is to pray without recognizing that God must win that battle! Matthew 6:13 teaches us how to pray and how to fight temptation: If you’re going to resist temptation, you need God to fight for you.
This is the sixth and final petition in the model prayer, and it begins with a rather peculiar phrase: “Lead us not into temptation.” What exactly does Jesus mean by this? After all, we know from Scripture that God doesn’t tempt anyone! James 1:13 states that plainly. So why exactly would Jesus teach us to pray that God not do exactly what He has said He won’t do? It seems strange. It’s helpful to note that the Bible often uses the words temptation and trial interchangeably. In fact the Greek word used here is neutral. It has no necessary connection to good or evil. In Genesis 22:1 tells us that God “tempted” Abraham. What does this mean? Well, we know from context that He is testing Abraham’s faith. In James 1:2-3 we read “Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet TRIALS of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” That word “trials” is the same word we find here in Matthew 6. But this raises a second concern with this petition.
God doesn’t lead us into temptation in the sense that we think of the word, but He does lead us into trials. God even lead Jesus into temptation. In Matthew 4:1 we read, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” God does lead us into trials, then. He even tells us that it is for our good – “consider it joy because the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3-4). It’s good for you that you should be tried. So what is Jesus doing here in teaching us to pray “lead us not into temptation?”
This petition has the structure of what is called a litotes. This rhetorical device is an ironic understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary. We use this type of construct all the time, like when we say, “I had a party and not a few people came.” Jesus uses the same construct in John 6:37 where He says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” What is Jesus doing here? He is stating “I will certainly keep all who come to me,” but He is doing it by negating the contrary view “I won’t drive them away.” In this petition we have the same construct, “Lead us…not into temptation”, but the opposite of that – “deliver us from evil.” The prayer, then, is intending to say – lead us in righteousness, God. Direct us to paths of obedience and faithfulness. Keep us away from evil. The request, then, seems less strange when we understand it as a whole. It is a call for us to pray: God, give me victory over temptation. Help me be obedient in times of trial. Deliver me from scenarios where I feel I have no other recourse but to sin against you! Don’t let me even go to those places. Keep me on the path of righteousness.
This petition of the prayer reminds us that just as we ought to consciously depend on God for physical sustenance, so we ought to consciously depend on Him for spiritual sustenance. God must win the battle! Fighting temptation is about more than willing good out of ourselves. It’s about more than taking practical steps to guard ourselves from sin. How does the Bible say we fight sin? We put sin to death by means of the Spirit, according to Romans 8:13. You cannot fight temptation on your own, you need God! Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that it is God who provides us a way of escape and it is God who provides us with the ability to endure. You can’t do it apart from His help.
We need deliverance! That’s really Jesus’ whole point in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to read the Sermon on the Mount as it was intended to be read. Jesus is not telling us here, do these things you can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He saying, YOU CAN’T DO THESE THINGS, that’s why you need me. Jesus came to deliver us from evil, and from the evil one, precisely because we can’t deliver ourselves. That’s why the gospel exists. The gospel is our deliverance from evil! Pray this prayer, then, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” – pray this prayer because it has already been answered! Pray this prayer because you can trust it will continue to be answered.