Praying for Our Protection
By Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
What does it mean to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation? Will God purposefully lead us into situations that will tempt us to sin? The idea that God would lead us into temptation has confused and troubled many followers of Jesus throughout history.
What does it mean to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil?
In Theology of Hope Course Lesson 6, you’ll learn how and why Jesus teaches his followers to pray for protection from temptation and evil.
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Read Chapter 6 of the Theology of Hope: A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer below.
Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the 31 extensive footnotes!
Chapter 6: Praying for Our Protection
A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
After Jesus instructs us to ask our heavenly Father for our daily physical needs and for our forgiveness of sins, he instructs us to pray for our third basic need in life–our protection. “Pray then like this, Our Father … lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’” (Matt. 6:13).
This last petition expresses one primary concept: life is a battle that involves dangerous spiritual warfare that we cannot overcome by ourselves, so we must trust our heavenly Father to protect us.
What does it mean to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation? Will God purposefully lead us into situations that will tempt us to sin? The idea that God would lead us into temptation has confused and troubled many followers of Jesus throughout history.
The Greek word translated “temptation” (πειρασμόν) in this verse conveys the idea of an experiment, a trial, or a test that proves or gives evidence of something. The words temptation, trial, and test are used synonymously in the Bible for hardships we experience that help our faith mature. (Jas. 1:2-4)
In all forms of good education, teachers give students tests that are designed to help students learn and give evidence of their progress. Students don’t normally like taking tests, but they usually understand why tests are necessary.
Similarly, the Scriptures teach that God gives us tests, also translated “trials,” to help us flourish in our relationship with him and in our fulfillment of his kingdom purposes for our lives. However, like most students, we don’t enjoy taking God’s tests because they are often hard and painful.
God Leads Us Into Temptation
So does God lead us into temptation? The biblical answer depends on the meaning of the word temptation. The problem is that the same Greek word used for temptation (πειρασμόν) in the New Testament can have different meanings.
The Bible is filled with examples of God purposefully leading his people into times of temptation and testing. So, in this sense, our Father allows us to be “tempted” in that he allows us to be “tested” by leading us into difficult circumstances to help us grow. This is how Jesus uses the word “temptation” when he teaches the Lord’s Prayer.
James uses the same Greek word for temptation that Jesus uses, but with a different meaning. James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (Jas. 1:13) So, when God brings “times of testing” into our lives, he never tempts us in the sense of “enticing” or “luring” us to sin.
God leads us into circumstances in which we will be subjected to temptation. But God never leads us into the power and control of temptation to be subdued by it. James teaches that the origin of that kind of lure and enticement to temptation is not from God, but from our own sinful hearts. “Each person is tempted when he is lured andenticed by his own desire.” (Jas. 1:14)
Luke uses this same word to describe Jesus’ experience during his forty days in the wilderness before his public ministry. “When the devil had ended every temptation (πειρασμὸν) he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:12-13). In Hebrews 4:15, Jesus is described as “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Therefore, just as God led Adam, Abraham, Israel, and Jesus into temptations for their good and his glory, God also leads us into temptations. Paul sees these times of temptation and suffering as essential, continuing, normal experiences for all true followers of Jesus. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12).
In our Father’s great love for us, he brings trials into our lives. We should not be surprised by them but learn to accept them as a vital part of God’s normal plan to transform us into the image of his Son.
Asking God Not To Lead Us Into Temptation
Since God leads us into times of temptation for our good and his glory, then why does Jesus instruct us to ask our Father in heaven not to lead us into temptation? Why should we ask God to spare us these temptations if they are necessary for us to grow and flourish spiritually?
J.I. Packer writes, “Temptation may be our lot, but only a fool will make it his preference.” Peter and Paul did not ask God to lead them into temptation, and neither should we. Instead, they learned the opposite from Jesus–to ask God “not to lead them into temptation.”
In the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus contemplated God’s will for him to take the fullness of God’s wrath on himself on the cross for our forgiveness, his first response was to cry out, “My “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus is praying in essence, “Father, if it is possible, do not lead me into this temptation.”
However, Jesus soon realized that his Father’s will was to lead him to the cross, even though he would be tempted to turn away from his Father’s plan. Only by resisting this temptation and enduring the cross could he remain faithful and secure salvation for his people.
Only by overcoming this temptation could Jesus come to know “the joy set before him” and become “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). So he submits to this trial and prays, “yet not my will but yours be done” (Matt. 26:39).
While Jesus was experiencing his temptation in the garden, he reminds his disciples to pray that they will not enter into temptation. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41)
His disciples were especially vulnerable to temptation because they were so tired that they kept falling asleep. (Matt. 26:43) Jesus knew that although their “spirit” was willing to obey his instruction to watch and pray, the physical tiredness and weakness of their “flesh” (body) could easily lead them to disobey him.
The reason we ask our Father not to lead us into temptation is because we know how weak and vulnerable we are and how easy it is for us to fail God’s tests. And we know how horrible the consequences of our failure could be to ourselves, others, and God’s name.
However, when it is our Father’s will to lead us into temptation, we join with Jesus, in reliance on the power of his Holy Spirit and cry out to our Father for his grace and mercy to endure the temptation as we pray, “yet not my will but yours be done” (Matt. 26:39).
Asking God to Deliver Us From Evil
When God leads us into temptation, Jesus instructs us to plead with our heavenly Father to “deliver us from evil,” or we will almost certainly fail the test. The word translated “deliver” (ῥῦσαι) is a strong word that conveys the idea of our desperate need to be “rescued” from great danger when being tempted.
The Greek word translated evil can refer to evil in general or to the “evil one,” Satan, in particular. Jesus is most likely referring to both here. There are three sources of evil that are the enemy of our soul: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
But our primary foe is the devil, Satan, who is the personification and instigator of all evil. The Scriptures teach that Satan is a fallen angel who terrorizes the world through through all kinds of evil. He causes great havoc throughout God’s redemptive story, starting with Adam and continuing with Job, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles.
Satan uses two main strategies of attack to entice us to sin: 1) an outward attack using the world and 2) an inward attack using our flesh (our sinful human nature).
Satan’s outward attack is by means of the lure of a sinful world with all of its false promises of lasting satisfaction and joy. When Paul writes, “You once walked, following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2), he’s referring to ungodly societal beliefs, values, and behaviors that Satan uses to tempt followers of Jesus to disobey God.
Satan’s inward attack includes appealing to our sinful human nature with all its lusts, greed, and pride so that we look for true happiness and fulfillment in anything other than God. Jesus taught that all our external sins of the body come from the internal sins of our morally corrupt heart. (Mark 7:20-23)
Although our deliverance from evil must be the work of God’s Holy Spirit, the Bible teaches that we’re always to be active in this process. Lying behind our every human exertion is the Holy Spirit’s life transforming power. (Phil. 2:12-13)
So when we ask our heavenly Father to “deliver us from evil” in all its forms, we’re putting on our spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-18), humbling ourselves and resisting the devil (Jas. 4:7), and drawing near to God (Jas. 4:8) for his grace and mercy to protect us so we will “remain steadfast under trial” (Jas. 1:12).
God graciously gives us two invaluable promises in Scripture to help us overcome temptation.
His first promise is that he will not tempt us beyond what we can handle. Paul writes, “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” (1 Cor. 10:13a).  And God’s second promise is to provide us everything we need to overcome temptation. Paul writes, “But with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13b).
As we learn to endure temptation and draw near to God for help, we learn to trust in his promises never to tempt us beyond our ability and always provide for us a way of escape.
James writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7) Although Satan is fierce, God promises he will flee us when we resist him and draw near to God.
We should respect Satan but not fear him. Satan and God are not equal opposites. Satan is a false god. He is a creature in rebellion against his Creator.
It’s only in the context of our fighting against temptations that God leads us to new levels of dependence on him and in turn leads us to newer and deeper levels of joy, love, peace, and power. John Bunyan writes, “Temptation provokes me to look upward to God.”
Temptation itself is not sin. Temptation is the temptation to sin. Jesus was tempted (Matt. 4:1), but he never sinned (Heb 4:15-16). Temptation only becomes sin when we give into it. Sin occurs when we fail to resist temptation and allow it to lead us to disobey God in our thoughts, words, or deeds.
Martin Luther once said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
It is good for us to be without vices, but it is not good for us to be without temptations. Why? Without temptations we do not need God and will not be drawn into the riches of his love for us. When our Father leads us into temptation, he calls us into battle, shows us our desperate need for his Son, and empowers us by his Spirit to run to Christ to save us. In him alone will we find the grace and mercy to overcome our temptations and be delivered from evil.
 This is one petition that consists of two parts. These two clauses are linked by the Greek conjunction ἀλλὰ. The first clause, “Lead us not into temptation,” is amplified and applied by the second clause, “but (ἀλλὰ) deliver us from evil.” Luke’s record of the Lord’s Prayer does not include the second clause. (Luke 11:4)
 If this petition only means, “Do not allow us to enter into temptation” or “Do not let us yield to temptation,” why did Jesus instruct us to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation?
 Soon after God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden paradise, he tested them. (Gen. 3) In Genesis 22:1 we read that “God tested Abraham.” After God delivered the first generation of Israelites from bondage in Egypt, he tested them in the wilderness. (Num. 14, Ps. 95) The same Greek word translated “temptation” (πειρασμόν) in Matthew 6:13 is also used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (Septuagint) in passages like Numbers 14 and Psalm 95. God called Israel to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:27-28; 35:11) and to obey all his commands in order to have life. (Lev 18:5) But like Adam, Israel failed God’s tests. God’s commands for Israel to make sacrifices for sin were reminders of their failure of God’s tests to keep his demands and their need to look ahead for God’s promised Redeemer.
 Similarly, the same Greek word for justification (δικαιοῦται) in the New Testament has different nuances according to the context in which it is found. It means “declared righteousness,” but our works are proof, according to James, that our faith is genuine, that it is a true, living faith. James’s point is that we are justified, not by a dead faith, but by a faith that works. So God “declares” us righteous on the basis of that faith that works. The works do “prove” our faith, but the way they do this is by showing that our faith is real. So justification is by faith and NOT by works; but works serve as evidence that the faith is authentic. Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified (δικαιοῦται) by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16). James writes, “You see that a person is justified (δικαιοῦται) by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24).
 James tells us that “God cannot be tempted with evil.” God’s nature is “untemptable” (ἀπείραστός). Just as the Scriptures teach that God is not capable of changing, lying, or breaking a promise, God is not capable of being tempted or seduced by things that are evil. Therefore, God is not capable of tempting (evil luring) anyone to sin.
 In his Confessions, Augustine helps us distinguish between the two different meanings of the same word for temptation when he writes, “All men must be tempted; but to be brought into temptation is to be brought into the power and the control of temptation; it is to not only be subjected to temptation but to be subdued by temptation.”
 Our sinful human nature (flesh) by itself has the power to entice us to sin. However, Satan often tempts us through our sinful human nature. We’ll study how Satan tempts us through our “flesh” and the “world” later in this chapter.
 Paul presents Jesus as the second man and the last Adam. (1 Cor. 15: 45-47) When the first man, Adam, was tempted in the garden, he failed to obey God resulting in eternal death for humanity. (Rom. 5:12-14) But when the second man, Jesus, was similarly tempted throughout his life, he perfectly obeyed God resulting in eternal life for humanity. (Rom 5:18-19)
 The question is raised, “If God cannot be tempted and Jesus is God, how can Jesus be tempted?” The Bible teaches that Jesus is a divine person with a divine nature and a human nature. As the divine, eternal Son of God, Jesus cannot be tempted. However, in his humanity Jesus experienced real human limitations and temptations. (Luke 2:52, Mark 12:32, Heb. 2:17-18, 4:14-16)
 When Paul reflects on his many temptations, he writes, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
 Packer, J. I.. Growing in Christ, p. 196, Crossway
 This is not a serene or stoic prayer, but a prayer made “in agony and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
 The Greek words that Jesus uses here are “spirit” (πνεῦμα) and “flesh” (σὰρξ). Jesus’ statement “the flesh is weak” in this context is primarily a reference to the weak physical bodies of his disciples. But Paul uses the same Greek word “flesh” (σὰρξ) to mean our “sinful desires.” (See Rom. 7:18, Rom. 13:14, Gal. 5:13, 16-25.) Although the Bible refers to our physical bodies as being weak and susceptible to evil influence, it does not characterize the physical body as evil in itself. The physical world and our bodies were created by God as good and will be recreated good when Jesus returns to make all things new.
 Paul warns us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
 When our Father leads us into temptation, we are not thankful for the temptation itself, but for how God will use it for our ultimate good and the fulfillment his kingdom purposes though us. After James writes, “Count it all joy … when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas. 1:2), he then tells us the reason we count it all joy: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas. 1:3-4) Believers should grieve and mourn tragedies, terminal illnesses, and death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus was not joyful and thankful to God for his death. He saw death, like Satan, as his enemy that he hates and that he came to conquer. So he wept when he learned that Lazarus died. But Jesus gave thanks to his Father at the tomb of Lazarus for how he was going to use his death to display the Father’s glory by raising him from the dead. (John 11:38-44)
 Calvin writes, “We conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.” Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.
 At the crucifixion of Jesus, the religious leaders mocked him saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver (ῥῦσαι) him now” (Matt. 27:43). In Paul’s struggle with the temptations of his sinful nature, he cries out to be rescued using this same word. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver (ῥῦσαι) me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)
 There is debate among New Testament scholars regarding the meaning of τοῦ πονηροῦ. The use of the definite article (τοῦ) can refer to evil in general (neuter gender), the evil one (masculine gender), or both.
 The world, the flesh, and the devil are sometimes called the “Unholy Trinity.” Paul refers to all three sources of evil in Ephesians 2:1-3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh.” To invoke a threefold pattern found elsewhere in this book and series, Satan is “normative,” the would-be ruler of this world; the world itself is “situational,” the configuration of evil in historical events, and the flesh is “existential,” within ourselves as our fallen nature. A similar pattern appears in the temptation of Eve in Gen. 3:6, when she accepts the serpent’s view that the forbidden fruit brings wisdom (normative), is good for food (existential), and is pleasant to the eye (situational). But when Jesus was tempted, he rejected Satan’s claims: he would not obey Satan to satisfy his hunger (existential), to display his power to the world (situational), or to engage in false worship (normative).
 In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for Satan (שָּׂטָן) is a generic noun meaning “accuser” or “adversary.” In the New Testament, the Greek word devil (διάβολος), meaning slanderer, is used with Satan interchangeably as a synonym. Matthew calls Satan “the tempter.” (Matt. 4:3) John calls him “the ruler of this world.” (Jn. 12:31, 14:30) Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) and “the god of this world.” (2 Cor. 4:4) In Scripture, both good and evil are fundamentally personal, not abstractions or inanimate forces. God is personal goodness, Satan personal evil.
 When our Father, by the power of his Holy Spirit, led Jesus into temptation to prepare him for his public ministry, Matthew writes, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1).
 Church historian Richard Lovelace writes, “When ‘world’ is used in a negative sense in Scripture, what is meant is the total system of corporate flesh operating on earth under satanic control. Included are dehumanizing social, economic and political systems; business operations and foreign policy based on local interest at the expense of general human welfare; and culturally pervasive institutionalized sin such as racism. Much of the Christian community today is deeply penetrated by these worldly patterns of thinking, motivation and behaviour, and thus its spiritual life is deadened and its witness rendered ineffectual.” Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal.
 At its core, sin is more than disobeying God’s laws. It is a deep-seated, invisible, terminal disease. Paul describes the actions of our sinful hearts as the works of the flesh. (Gal 5:19-21) He writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
 The Scriptures teach that we overcome temptation by learning how to turn away from sin in repentance and turn to Jesus Christ in faith. Paul presents repentance as “putting off” the old self and faith as “putting on” the new self. (Rom. 6, Col. 3) In repentance, we pull our heart’s affections away from idols that can never satisfy so that we can place our affections on to the ascended Jesus Christ who alone can satisfy. Then we experience what the Puritans called “the expulsive power of a new affection.”
 God graciously limits the specific temptations we experience so that they are within our ability to resist and overcome. Calvin writes, “God alleviates temptations, that they may not overpower us by their weight. For he knows the measure of our power, which he has himself conferred. According to that, he regulates our temptations.” Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
 Paul writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-13).
 Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5: 8-9).
 “God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm. All that God decrees is that you confide in him, that you draw near him, that you trust him and distrust yourself, and so be helped; and with this help you will defeat whatever hell brings against you. Never lose hold of this firm hope even if the demons are legion and all kinds of severe temptations harass you. Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall and you will be afraid of everything.” Saint John of Avila, Sermons, 9, First Sunday of Lent
 John Owen, the Puritan theologian, writes, “”Sin will not die unless it be constantly weakened. Spare it, and it will heal its wounds, and recover its strength. We must continually watch against the operations of this principle of (indwelling) sin…in all that we do! … Let no man think to kill sin with a few gentle strokes. He, who has once smitten the serpent, if he does not follow his blow until it is killed, may repent that he ever began the quarrel in the first place; and so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, if he does not pursue it constantly to death; sin will revive, and the man must die.” On Mortification of Sin
 The Bible gives three practical directives we must learn regarding how to overcome temptation: 1) Starve it out: We must learn to starve our sinful nature of those things which nourish and feed it. Paul writes, “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). 2) Cut it out: We must learn to take radical action against indwelling sin. Jesus teaches, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:27-30). The Puritans called this our “mortification” of sin. 3) Crowd it out: We must learn to crowd out temptations by replacing them with things that are true, good, and beautiful. After Paul writes, “flee youthful passions,” he writes, “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Tim. 2:22). A well-cultivated, flourishing garden has much less room for weeds. The Puritans called this our “vivification” in holiness.
 Augustine writes, “When we say, deliver us from evil, there remains nothing further which ought to be asked. When we have once asked for God’s protection against evil, and have obtained it, then against everything which the devil and the world work against us we stand secure and safe. For what fear is there in this life, to the man whose guardian in this life is God?” Sermon on the Mount, 2.10, pp. 36-37
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