These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation." '
When was the last time you felt really tempted? And when was the last time you prayed with intensity and focus about your temptations? I don’t mean your sins (the fruit) but rather the temptations that precede your sins (the roots). John Owen said, ‘Let him who would spend little time in temptation spend much time in prayer.’
There are two kinds of temptation or test. This Greek word peirasmon is sometimes translated ‘temptation’ and sometimes ’trial’ or ’test’, depending on the context. The Bible talks about tests that come from God as something to rejoice about even if it’s hard at the time (see James 1.2-4 or 1 Peter 4.12-13). And sometimes the Bible talks about tests or temptations that come from Satan. They are to be avoided at all costs. ‘Watch and pray’, says Jesus, ‘that you may not enter into temptation’ (Matthew 26.41). This word ‘temptation’ is translated in different ways depending on whether it’s the good kind of test (from God) or the bad kind (from Satan).
There’s a similarity, you see, in that such experiences are in essence an opportunity for what’s inside you to come out. When God tests you he wants his graces in you to show, so he allows you to experience hardship so that you will shine and earn a reward in heaven. When Satan tests you it’s with the intention that your lusts will be fuelled and grow into sins. Calvin put it best:
’God... tests in one way, Satan in another. For the devil tries us in order to damn, condemn, ruin and destroy. God, by contrast, tries us in order to measure the sincerity of his servants by proving them, and also to increase their spiritual stamina, to mortify, cleanse and scald their flesh by disciplining it…’
I say all this to underline a vital point: God never tempts us to sin (James 1.13). It is his will to protect us from such experiences, and that is why we pray this prayer.
We need to go further and see that temptation from Satan has to be seen as a mortal enemy. Sadly, we tend to make light of temptation because the word has been cheapened. We say ‘Don’t tempt me!’ when talking about that extra slice of cheesecake. But in the Bible, temptation is seen as the great cause for all that has gone wrong in the world.
Temptation is Satan’s Weapon of Mass Destruction. He has one tactic and he uses it again and again and again. It was temptation that caused Adam to fall. Satan even attempted to use this weapon against Jesus, to no avail. But be sure of this: all temptation is the work of the devil, the world, and your flesh. Satan has no kingdom outside of his ability to cause men to sin. That is how far his rule extends and no further. His only power is the power to tempt.
And so to pray this prayer is, quite literally, to wage war against the Enemy.
But what exactly are we asking for? Various commentators have pointed out that it is not a prayer against temptation in the most general sense. The only sure way of being protected from all temptations is to leave this body and this planet. We are bombarded with temptations all day long, and that is part of life. Instead, it is a prayer for protection from something more intense which is that experience of entering into temptation.
John Owen talked about this at length. He wrote the following:
‘When sin knocks at the door, we are at liberty; but when temptation comes in and we allow it to speak with our heart, reason with our mind, entice and allure our affections [desires, things we love], for a long time or short time, then sin subtly and almost imperceptibly draws our soul to take particular notice of it: we “enter into temptation.” ’
In other words, entering into temptation happens when your lusts meet opportunities. Again, Owen wrote, ‘Temptation will give oil and fuel to our lusts… Temptation will lay the reins on the neck of a lust, and put spurs to its sides, so that it may rush forward like a horse into battle’.
Each of us will be vulnerable in different ways to different things. And not only that, but the circumstances surrounding temptation differ widely. Sometimes temptations creep up slowly, sometimes they slam us hard. Sometimes temptations come from outside us, sometimes from inside. Sometimes we’re tempted by the experiences of prosperity and comfort, sometimes by the experiences of hardship and adversity. Calvin spoke about this:
‘To the right are wealth, power, honour and the like, which very often by their attractiveness and brilliance dazzle men’s eyes and by their sweetness intoxicate them to the point where God is forgotten. To the left are poverty, disgrace, contempt, affliction and the like, whose harshness and rigour discourage and dishearten men, so that they lose all confidence and hope and end up utterly estranged from God.’
And therefore, we must pray.
The believer prays about temptation for two reasons: first, because they know they’re weak, and second, because they know God is all-sufficient strength to help us in times of temptation.
You’re weak and you need to know that or you will be given to pride and self-sufficiency. The Bible clearly shows our weakness in many ways. It shows us that our Enemy is smarter than us, that he knows the Bible better than us, that he can argue us into a corner if we let him. The Bible is also very direct and honest in revealing the faults of its many heroes, so that we look at the lives of men who are far greater than we could ever be and see so much abysmal failure. ‘How shall we stand if such mighty pillars have been cast to the ground?’ asked John Owen, and we too need to be sobered by this fact. Jesus spoke of our weakness when he said, ‘Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26.41). If any of us are truly honest with ourselves, experience alone will confirm that we are weak creatures, liable to fail if we are left to our own devices.
But God is all-sufficient help! The Bible shows us that the whole Trinity is backing us and helping us through temptations. The Father has promised to keep us:
‘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 Corinthians 10.13)
The Son is available and willing and sympathetic to us:
‘For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ (Hebrews 2.18)
‘Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Hebrew 4.14-16)
And the Holy Spirit is waging war against our flesh, and empowering us to live godly lives:
‘For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do… If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5.17, 25)
The sum of it all is that, while we are weak, we are also kept by the power of God so that we do not have to sin. The ultimate power to keep us from entering into temptation is the Gospel. John Owen counselled Christians to keep your heart full of ‘gospel provisions’. He said that your heart is like a castle. If an enemy approaches a castle and realises that it’s full of provisions and weapons, he’ll flee. In the same way, if your heart is kept full of gospel provisions, Satan will surely flee (James 4.7). What are these provisions?
‘[A] sense of the love of God in Christ, the eternal purpose of his grace, the savour of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a taste for the privileges we have through this: our adoption, justification, acceptance with God; fill your hearts with thoughts of the beauty of holiness, as the effect Christ intended in dying for us; and you will, in the ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security from the disturbance caused by temptations.’