We come for a last time to the Lord's prayer — or rather, the last time in this series! Hopefully this series will mean you use the Lord's Prayer more than before, both word-for-word, and as a model.
We're looking at this request that God asks us to pray, the last request of the prayer:
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
I'm dividing what I want to say into three things that we learn from this request:
The desire of all real Christians is to be free from sin.
As we've said all through the series, this prayer is meant to shape our desires, and not just our words.
John 4:23-24 says:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
If we are to bring God the worship he is seeking, then our words must be in truth and in the Spirit, and both of these imply that we must mean the words we say, and really desire what we are asking for.
So, since God is looking for us to pray these words, he requires that we feel them — that we earnestly want to avoid falling into temptation.
Now last week we focused on forgiveness:
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
We thought that this includes an idea of repentance — by calling sin ‘sin’, and admitting it needs forgiving, we are well on the way to repenting for it. But this week's request is much more explicit that we want to leave every sin behind — that we don't want forgiveness so that we can stay wallowing in our sin.
The Christian's desire is to be free of sin. So, the first application is this: is it your desire too?
If not, it's a sign you are not really a believer. If yes, you should be encouraged. God has put that desire in you. But even here there can be some difficulties. It is possible to have the desire to be a better person for all the wrong reasons.
1 Timothy 6:5 talks about people who imagine that godliness is a means of financial gain — they are motivated to at least play the part of a Christian because they can gain in other ways. Probably more common amongst us is being motivated by pride and the desire for human approval.
So honestly assessing your desires can be difficult.
One test that may help distinguish genuine desires for godliness is this: how do you feel about the sins that no-one else knows about or is likely to find out about? If you don't care about those sins, if you only care about the things that other people see, that's a bad sign! But if you do, if you are grieved before God when you fall and no-one else knows, that's a good sign.
Or, to put it positively, what happens if you do something good that no-one sees? Do you think “what a waste!” — like the piece of homework that the teacher never took in?
Another test is: what is it about the resurrection that thrills you most? There are many good things to look forward to, and it is right to look forward to them all. However, some of those good things would be enjoyed by anyone. Anyone could look forward to a world free of death and sadness. But there are some things in glory that only Christians will enjoy. One of the best is this: “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”. Does that make your soul go "Oh at last!”?
We read Psalm 92 earlier — a psalm about the Sabbath day and the flourishing of the godly. Isaac Watts did a paraphrase of that psalm, in the hymn “Sweet is the work my God my King”. He extends those two thoughts — the idea of holy rest and believers becoming more established and godly — to thinking about the eternal Sabbath, when believers have been fully matured and refined. And he writes this verse:
Sin (my worst enemy before)
Shall vex my eyes and ears no more;
My inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again.
Does that resound with your heart?
The second thing I want to draw out from this passage is the difficulty of the Christian life. The fact that God gives us this to pray makes it clear we are in a spiritual battle.
I'm going to focus on the activity of the devil. Some translations have it “deliver us from evil”, which is a possible translation, but I think there are very good reasons to go with the NIV and translate it “the evil one” — referring to Satan himself. We must not underestimate the power and influence of Satan, who is called “the tempter” in Matthew 4:3.
In John 14:30, the devil is called “the prince of this world”. In Luke 11:21 he is called “a strong man”. He is very powerful.
And we must not imagine that his influence is limited to those who are unbelievers. He can be very active and influential in the church.
Acts 5 talks about a time when people were selling their property and giving the money to the church, and a couple named Ananias and Sapphira did the same. It says:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
So he has sold a house, and is bringing some of the money, but pretending that he is bringing all the money. If you read on, the issue was not that he kept some back, which he was perfectly entitled to do, but that he pretended he was bringing all the money, in order to appear more generous. It continues:
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
We're told here that Satan filled his heart to do this. Satan can have powerful influence within the church.
Specifically, Satan is dedicated to harming God's people.
Now, his dedication is not like the career man who puts in a good week, the first to arrive and the last to leave, but then makes sure he has a nice weekend off. No, we are talking a whole different level. Satan lives to wreak havoc amongst God's people. His dedication is all-out rage.
Revelation 12 describes what happens Christ has ascended and Satan has been cast out of heaven. It says:
“woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”
He is filled with fury. 1 Peter 5:8 puts it this way:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
The picture of a roaring, prowling lion sums up these first two attributes of the devil — he is a powerful and enraged enemy.
Thirdly about Satan: he is strategic. The animal the Bible uses to represent this is the snake — Satan is a cunning and clever enemy. He is not so enraged as to completely lose his wits. His terrifying power and rage is combined with great intelligence.
Ephesians 6 talks about the “schemes” of the devil. This week I've been reading Thomas Watson on the Lord's prayer. He talks about 20 different subtleties that Satan uses — the classic Puritan way of taking a thought and running with it for as many points as you can think of!
Today, I'm going to try to limit my examples to ones with explicit Bible support.
When tempting Jesus in Matthew 4, Satan waits until he is hungry before tempting regarding making bread — he waited for the right time.
In the parallel account in Luke 4:13, it says “when the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” Even for the Lord Jesus, there were moments when he would be more vulnerable, and Satan made use of those, as he will with us.
Talking about candidates for eldership, 1 Timothy 3 says this:
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Someone in a position of respect is especially vulnerable to the devil’s traps, and someone at the beginning of their Christian life will be especially prone to certain kinds of sins, like conceit. Satan uses those times of life and specific opportunities to trap people.
We can think of so many examples of temptations having power at certain times. David was tempted with Bathsheba when he was not busy, not where he ought to have been. I imagine that on most days, David would not have fallen into that sin. But the temptation came at that critical moment, and he fell terribly.
Remember Satan with Jesus in the wilderness. As we've mentioned, Jesus was hungry, and that wasn't wrong. But making bread for himself would have been wrong, because Jesus would have been being God for himself, refusing to trust his Father. So Satan used the physical, unsinful desire as a way in. And he will do the same with us.
In Revelation 12:9, he is called the deceiver of the whole world, or the one who leads the whole world astray. He is an extremely powerful deceiver, and he uses it within the church too, to bring false teaching and cause tremendous damage.
In one place it says that Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and perhaps there is no better way he can do it by using the words and truth of the Bible itself to tempt and deceive.
In the wilderness, Satan was able to quote the Bible to tempt Jesus. Words of scripture coming into your head do not mean that God is speaking to you — it could also be Satan. Jesus was able to refute him not simply with quantity of scripture quotations, but by using the Bible properly, with understanding.
In the wilderness, Jesus eventually says “Away from me, Satan!”, which reminds you of some similar words: when Peter rebukes Jesus for talking about going to the cross, Jesus responds “Get behind me Satan”. Peter had unwittingly become a mouthpiece for Satan.
So it can be for us today — another believer may say something that might be a stumbling block or temptation for us.
2 Corinthians 2:5-10 talks about the need to restore friendship to an individual who had been under church discipline. Paul writes in v10-11:
Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
This is clearly indicating that one of Satan's great schemes, one of the ways he outwits us, is by division that breaks down the love and support that ought to exist between believers. And you really don't have to look very far in the this country, in the churches we know of, and throughout history, to see that this has been a fantastically successful strategy. Satan is extremely good at tearing churches apart.
Ephesians 4:26 highlights the same thing:
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Anger and strife between believers gives Satan a foothold in our churches.
Arming ourselves against this strategy is hugely important. We must also remember that this doesn't happen overnight. You rarely start with all-out war in a church. Things build slowly. And one way that happens is simply by a growing distance between certain groups. Once different groups form, you can start to think of other people in the church as “them” vs “us”.
And this is something I am particularly worried about this amongst us. In many ways, we have enjoyed a great time of unity and peace for a good number of years, and we're so grateful to God. However, as elders, one of the things that we have been concerned about for some time is the split between the older generation and the younger generation that is evident in this church.
In many ways that's a natural tendency, and not necessarily sinful in itself. But as we've seen, Satan uses our natural tendencies, and it can lead to huge division in a church. You gravitate towards those who are like you, and suddenly you've got Corinth — “I'm of Paul, I'm of Peter, I'm of Apollos”.
This is one of Satan's strategies, and I think we need to nip it in the bud in our congregation. If you remove a weed when it is very small, it is relatively easy. If you wait months or years, you can have a monster that is very difficult to remove, and takes several good plants with it.
To address this will require us to do things that feel unnatural. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — you need to go and talk to a person you would not otherwise have chosen to talk to. Yes, that might feel uncomfortable, especially now that I've pointed it out so obviously! But the comfortable and easy is what Satan can use to sow distance and then division.
And this prayer, if we are praying it properly, will be leading us to unity, challenging our narrow focus. All the way through it is “us”, and in this request too: “Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil”. It’s not “deliver me“, or “deliver me and my little group” — it is broader than that. We need to be thinking congregationally as we pray this.
In fact, it is only as we are praying this corporately, including thinking about our relationships with others, that we will be delivered from evil, because God will use other believers to strengthen us.
So we’ve seen how powerful, dedicated and strategic Satan is. Lastly under the heading of the difficulty of the Christian life, we need to think about ourselves.
Not only do we have a powerful adversary, but there are corresponding weaknesses in us that he can use.
There is weakness that is not sinful. There is tiredness, and hunger, and all kinds of human limitation. As Jesus said to his disciples, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. As we saw in his own life, there were moments when he was more vulnerable, and not due to any sin, as he had none.
There is also sinful weakness in us. James 1:14 says “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Our hearts are flammable fuels, and Satan can light a flame.
All of Satan's power is compounded by the problems of our own weakness — simple human limitations, and then the vices that remain in us — individually and corporately — that he can gets his claws into.
Do you see what danger we are in? We ought to be crying out to God “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one!”
The good news is that we have a deliverer! And that is God.
God will deliver Christians from Satan. He has given us this prayer because he wants to answer it, and he is far stronger than Satan, and is able to answer it. His will for you, if you are a believer, is your sanctification — 1 Thessalonians 4:3. That means that his will is to set you entirely free from sin.
God's unshakeable purpose is to make us like his Son. “Those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Is that your heart's longing? Well, that is what God is going to do for you!
We need to address the issue of what exactly we are praying for here. The request says “lead us not into temptation” — does that imply that God sometimes lead us into temptation? And are we praying instead that we will never face temptation?
God tempts no-one, but God does bring tests into our lives. But unlike the temptations that Satan brings, his intention is not to trip us up, but to refine us. We are not asking to lead a life free from temptation, and we can see this from the example of the Lord Jesus, and Matthew 4:1, where these two are brought together so clearly:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
The text is quite profound, while being very simple and clear: God the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the express purpose that Satan would tempt him. It was Satan doing the tempting, and Satan wanted him to fail. But God's purpose was in it all along, and his intention was that Jesus would be tested and tried, and come through victorious. The way God was at work in Jesus life is how he will work in us too.
The good news for us is that Jesus did defeat Satan. He was not tripped up once in his temptations in the wilderness. And beyond that, he faced the cross. He endured the most severe temptation to abandon God's will, but he refused. We went through it for us.
The victory that Jesus won guarantees our victory too. His triumph was on our behalf. The same Spirit that supported him will support us too. We may slip and fall, but God's work is to change us more and more into Christ's image, so that we will not be crushed.
How does God deliver us? He uses various means to do this.
The first are things that are already done for you:
He gives us a new nature. A nature that wants to be rid of sin, as I said at the beginning.
He gives us a nature that is not enslaved to sin any more. The power of sin has been broken in your life, and you do not have to obey Satan any longer. He “breaks the power of cancelled sin”, as the hymn puts it.
He gives us the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within each believer and gives them power to obey God.
But there is still work to do, and there are other means that we must make use of in order to defeat Satan:
God will answer this prayer. But we must pray it!
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.