Archives For Theology

Pop Quiz: What is the Gospel? Part 1

By Dr. Steven L. Childers

“It is hard to believe that after two thousand years the Christian church is still discussing, even debating, “What is the gospel?” The gospel, the “good news,” is the fundamental truth of our faith, what we believe and proclaim to the world. If we don’t know what the gospel is, and if it doesn’t motivate everything we think and do and say, then what’s the point in claiming to be Christian at all?” – Dr. John Frame, Theology of the Gospel (Pathway Learning book and course coming soon)

See first how the Bible unfolds the good news in history.

In this first of two articles, you’ll learn how the Bible gives us a broad understanding of the gospel in several unfolding historical events that reveal the Triune God’s purpose for the whole universe and in particular the human race.

Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the extensive footnotes.


What is the Gospel? Part 1

A Biblical Exposition of Mark 1:1-15
Dr. Steven L. Childers

For more than two decades I taught a required seminary course for first-year, first-semester students, and I always began that class with a surprise pop quiz. To calm the students down I told them this quiz would not be graded, but it’s one of the most important questions they will be asked in seminary and life.

Then came the question, “What is the gospel?” I did this for more than twenty years and read hundreds of their answers. I never got a wrong answer. But most of the answers were incomplete. So, without further ado, it’s time for a pop quiz!  How would you answer the question, “What is the gospel?”[1]

The essence of the gospel can be summarized by saying things like “Jesus loves you,” and “God will forgive you if you believe in Jesus.”[2] But the Scriptures call us to go deeper in our understanding of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

The reason we all need to understand the gospel more deeply is not just so that we can be prepared to answer a quiz question, but so that we can know deeper levels of God’s love and forgiveness of us, experience greater levels of his power at work in and through us, and find unparalleled hope as we experience the inevitable pain and suffering in life.

So let’s look at how the Apostle Mark helps us understand the gospel in Mark 1:1-15 in which his first verse reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In these verses we learn that the gospel is primarily two things: 1) good news about God’s kingdom coming to earth, and 2) It’s good news about God’s king who is bringing it.[3]

Good news about God’s kingdom coming to earth
In verses 1-3, Mark begins his explanation of the gospel by quoting God’s promise to Israel through Isaiah (Is. 40:1-5) to send them a messenger to prepare them for “the way of the Lord” – the coming of God’s king and his kingdom on earth forever. And in verses 4-8 Mark identifies John the Baptist as this promised messenger.

To understand the good news that Mark is explaining about John the Baptist, we first need to understand the gospel’s backstory in history. The Bible teaches that history is not a meaningless cycle of events.[4] It is a grand narrative with a beginning and an end. Although the Bible contains a wide variety of literature, at its core it is one story that God means to so captivate us, that we are drawn into its plot to find our place.[5]

But in order to find where John the Baptist fits in this story, and our place in this story, we must first know where the story began, where it is now, and where it’s ultimately going. It can be helpful to think of the Good News of God’s kingdom coming to earth as a five-act play:

In Act One we find the story of creation’s perfect harmony, the picture of ultimate happiness and wholeness in the world that God created by establishing his kingdom on the earth where his will was done perfectly. In the beginning heaven and earth were one. It was literally heaven on earth and human flourishing in a paradise where we had a perfect relationship with God, ourselves, others, and our work.

In Act Two evil enters the story through Satan, who overthrows God’s kingdom on earth by tempting Adam and Eve resulting in the fall of humanity. Things are no longer the way they’re supposed to be as humanity and creation are now under God’s just curse and Satan’s rule. Now we stand before God guilty and condemned, and our hearts are corrupt. As a result, our world is also corrupt and filled with injustice and pain.

But, soon after the fall, God proclaims the gospel for the first time to Satan when he curses him for what he did to overthrow his kingdom (Gen. 3:15). In that curse, God promises to send a deliverer, called the “Seed of the Woman”, who will defeat Satan and restore fallen humanity and the world to be God’s kingdom on the earth again.

In Act Three God begins to bring his kingdom back to earth, first through individuals like Adam and Noah, then through Abraham and the nation of Israel under the leadership of people like Moses and David.

God did this by making a series of covenants with his people, promising to send them a deliverer who would bless them and make them a blessing to all the nations of the world. But the bad news is that Israel, like Adam, failed to obey God’s covenant obligations and turned away from God. As a result, Israel came under God’s curse and were brought into captivity by foreign enemies.

But God did not break his covenant promises to redeem and restore his fallen humanity and creation and establish his kingdom on the earth. Instead, while Israel was still in captivity, God declared through his prophets the amazing good news of a New Covenant. In this New Covenant God promised to fulfill all his own covenant obligations through a Son of David, a Messiah King, who would redeem and restore his fallen people and creation to be his kingdom on earth again.

Act Four
Four hundred years passed after the completion of the Old Testament until the time that John the Baptist and Jesus show up in Act Four. John’s ministry and message recorded in Mark 1 is at the beginning of this act. The time had finally arrived for God’s promised king to come and make all things new by establishing God’s kingdom on earth. So Israel needed to be prepared by repenting and being baptized by John.

In the next scenes in Act 4, recorded later by Mark, we see Jesus’ ministry of preaching and miracles proving he was the promised King who had the power to make everything right again. But he chose a very surprising way to do it – by dying in weakness on a cross. It was only by taking God’s just curse that Adam, Israel, and we deserve on himself that he could satisfy God’s holy justice and deal a fatal blow to Satan so that our relationship with his Father and our rule with him on earth could be restored.

Then in his resurrection he proves the success of his rescue mission by conquering death and inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth revealing himself as the first born from the dead of many on the resurrection day. Forty days after his resurrection, he ascends back to the Father and pours out his Spirit on his church for the advancement of God’s kingdom and will on earth until he returns to finish what he began.[6]

In Act Five we find the return of Christ and the consummation of his Kingdom on earth where all things that were lost because of sin will be restored in the new heavens and the new earth for eternity.[7] When Jesus returns, there will be a great division. As Judge, he will separate all who are not his followers from his presence in hell. But his people will be ushered into a perfect, new creation. Revelation describes it as a fully restored kingdom on earth where God’s people from all nations will experience heaven on earth again as it was at the beginning under God’s perfect will – but it will be even better than Eden because sin will no longer be possible.[8]

So, what is the gospel? It’s the good news about God’s kingdom coming to earth in all these acts in human history. It’s the good news that God’s creation, ruined by sin, has been redeemed by Jesus Christ and is being restored by his Holy Spirit into God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus called it the good news of the Kingdom.[9]

This means that we are living in a unique period of history – between the resurrection of Jesus in his first coming and his restoration of all things in his second coming. We’re between his inauguration of the kingdom on earth in the first century and his consummation of the kingdom on earth when he returns to make all things new.

God’s story is still being written. And the only way for us to make sense of our story is to understand how it fits into God’s story. With so many acts in the divine drama of history having already unfolded, and with the final act already firmly in place, God’s call on your life is to continue this story by aligning your purposes with his.[10]

This means that you are not an accident. You were born at this time in history for a reason. Even all your struggling and suffering is a vital part of God’s unique purpose for your life. You are designed to make a difference in the world. God has ordained your life to be a part of something much bigger than you ever dreamed or imagined.

God is calling you to make your own contribution to this supreme restoration project—which is God’s restoration of all things that have been lost in the fall and corrupted by evil–and that includes the restoration of people’s broken relationships with God, themselves, others, and creation–starting with your own.[11]


Editor’s note: Next week, in “What is the Gospel Part 2” we’ll study the heart of this good news about God’s kingdom – the good news about God’s King, Jesus Christ the Son of God.


Footnotes:


[1] One of my greatest joys as a seminary professor was spending an entire semester examining with these first-year students what the Scriptures teach about the gospel, and then, at the end of the term, passing back their written answers to them and telling them their final exam question is to compare and contrast their earlier answer with their answer now.

[2] In the Bible God has made the meaning of the gospel simple enough for a child to understand and yet profound enough for scholars to study it all their lives and barely tap the depth. A world-renowned bible scholar (Karl Barth) was allegedly once asked in a public forum discussion to summarize the core essence of all Christian theology in one single sentence. He wisely and famously responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

[3] For a more in-depth exposition of the gospel, see the Applied Theology Series Volume 5, “The Gospel in Theology” by Steven L. Childers and John M. Frame, published by Pathway Learning.

[4] The reason it’s so important for us to know the unfolding story of God’s purpose for the world is because our understanding of universal history is what gives our lives meaning. The way people understand the meaning of their lives depends on how they see the big picture of the human story and where they see themselves fitting into it. When we lose the bible’s true story about history, we lose the power to withstand other false stories that rob us of joy and meaning. There are different stories being told about the big picture today. One teaches that the world and humanity came into being through a mysterious and random convergence of mass and energy over billions of years for no reason and for no apparent purpose. The other story is about God’s good creation, the fall of humanity and the world, God’s redemption and restoration of what was lost in the fall, and of the coming consummation of his creation purposes when he will make all things new for eternity. The greatest battle today is the battle for the minds and hearts of people. This battle can only be won by recovering the overarching, life-altering, culture-transforming, story of the bible–called the good news of the kingdom.

[5] Historically Christians have understood God’s purpose for the world through the lens of the Bible. The problem is that a Christian can know all the stories in Bible, and even master Christian doctrine, and still not know this greater unfolding story of God’s overarching purpose for humanity and the world. Clowney called this “The Story in the Stories” that believers often miss. See Edmund P. Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology, 13-48, 155-198, IVP, 1995.

[6] Jesus’ ministry on earth did not end when he ascended back to heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Instead, that was just the beginning. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) Jesus is referring to the greater impact that his ministry on earth will have after his ascension to the throne of God through his people, the Church, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

[7] The early church father Augustine (354-430 AD) describes the essence of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ as restoring all things lost in the fall by using a series of Latin couplets that describe God as “Former and Re-Former,” “Creator and Re-Creator,” and “Maker and Re-Maker.” Augustine presents to us the essence of salvation in Christ as transformation, seeing creation as formation, the fall as deformation, and redemption as reformation. Likewise, in his theological writings from the late nineteenth century, Herman Bavinck concludes from Scripture that the essence of salvation is “Grace restores nature.” See Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006) 577.

[8] “Paul teaches that God’s redemptive plan encompasses heaven and earth. Its penultimate goal is to restore cosmic wholeness by unifying heaven and earth in the Messiah (Eph. 1:9–10); its ultimate goal is that once again, God would be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).  See John J. Hughes, The Transforming Power of Christ’s Love, in Scripture and the People of God: Essays in Honor of Wayne Grudem, p 138.

[9] This understanding of the gospel includes a robust biblical doctrine of creation that far transcends a narrow focus on what happened at the beginning. It’s a vision of God’s lordship over the whole universe he has made, both at the beginning, and for all time. It is a view of God’s salvation that is as wide as creation, reaching beyond the redemption of souls to the redemption all things (e.g. Paul’s teaching in Col. 1). See Herman Bavinck’s masterful exposition of this view of the gospel as “Re-formation” of fallen creation in his Reformed Dogmatics,Volume 4,Holy Spirit and New CreationThe Transformation of Creation, 716-727.

[10] Your purpose in life as an individual member of Christ’s body is linked directly to God’s purpose for his corporate body, the church—to be the embodiment of the rule of Jesus Christ on earth by demonstrating to all nations now a preview of God’s kingdom that has not yet come. This understanding of God’s mission gives a deep sense of purpose to followers of Christ in both their private and public lives. Sin takes not only private forms in individual lives, but also public structural forms in society. And no part of culture is neutral, so there is always an ongoing, cosmic battle with evil in all spheres of life. But the good news is that the supremacy of Jesus’ Lordship extends over every area of life; it is not restricted to the sphere of personal salvation or the church. As the former prime minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, famously said “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” See Abraham Kuyper. Sphere Sovereignty. In Bratt, James D., Abraham Kuyper: A Reader Eerdmans, 1998.

[11]Jesus’ union with his church is so strong that you, as one of his followers, now share in his ongoing ministry as prophet, priest, and king, in the world. In your prophetic role you proclaim and uphold God’s truth in a world filled with lies. In your priestly role you pray and intercede for others to experience God’s mercy and blessing. And in your kingly role you use all your resources to help make God’s invisible kingdom more visible, not only in human hearts, but over all things. Ref: Richard Lovelace, Renewal as a Way of Life, 131-158, Wipf & Stock, 2002.

[12] When the Apostle Paul writes the Corinthian church, he quotes what seems to be a standard summary of the good news in the first century: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Paul’s repeated use of the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” refers to God’s purposes revealed to Israel in the Old Testament Scriptures to rescue the world after Adam and Eve sinned. Here he builds on the good news of the Old Testament that “Your God reigns.” (Is. 52:7, Rom. 10:15) But Paul’s explanation of the gospel extends beyond Jesus death and resurrection in the past (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) to include Jesus’ present and future rule as the ascended King over all things by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 15:25-28) Jesus will continue his rule until he completes the mission that God the Father gave him to make all things new so that God would be “all in all.”

[13] Paul presents Jesus as the second man and the last Adam. (1 Col 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).


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Praying the Benediction

Steve —  September 17, 2021 — Leave a comment

Theology of Hope: Praying the Benediction

By Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Why does the traditional Lord’s Prayer end with a benediction that is not in most Bible’s today? Should we still pray this benediction? If so, how?

Why does the Lord’s Prayer end with a benediction that Jesus probably did not mention?

In the conclusion of the Theology of Hope course, you’ll learn why church leaders probably added this benediction to the Lord’s Prayer (based on King David’s temple prayer) and why you should pray it.


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Read the Conclusion of the Theology of Hope: A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer below.

Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the footnotes!


Conclusion

A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer 
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Conclusion
The traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer includes the benediction “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13). It’s not included in many modern Bible translations because it’s not in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.[1]

Church leaders probably added this benediction to the end of the Lord’s Prayer as a part of a public worship liturgy.[2] It seems to be based on King David’s temple prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13.

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.”

David shows the God-centered nature of his temple prayer by his repeated use of the second person pronouns “yours” and “you.” David repeatedly prays phrases like, “Yours, O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty … Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted …” We see echoes of David’s prayer in the benediction, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen”

The ultimate goal of the three horizontal petitions in the Lord’s Prayer–for our daily bread, our forgiveness, and our protection–is to see our Father’s answers to the three vertical petitions for his name to be honored, his kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Father uses our daily needs, sinful failures, and temptations to keep drawing us near to himself so that through his ongoing provisions of our daily bread, forgiveness, and protection, he sweeps us up into his higher purposes for the world to see his name honored, his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven–through us.

God’s primary purpose for creating the world is so that all the nations would glorify, worship and find their joy in Him. This is why we exist–to glorify God by enjoying Him and helping to extend the worship and enjoyment of God to all nations.

The Christian hope is that when Jesus returns he will make all things new so that God the Father will be honored and glorified in everything forever. (1 Cor. 15:24-25, 28) In the meantime, Jesus calls us to join with him and pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Footnotes:


[1] The traditional doxology is found in the majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts (Textus Receptus and Majority Text) including the Greek uncials dating from the 5th-10th century and the Greek minuscules dating from the 9th-12th century. This is why the doxology is included in the English KJV and NKJV versions. But the doxology is not found in the earlier and best Greek manuscripts, including א, B, D, f1, various Latin and Coptic versions, and numerous church fathers. It’s also not found in Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2-4. So, most modern English Bible translations do not include it or it’s placed in a margin or footnote, e.g. RSV and NIV.

[2] So, it’s fine for believers to use this doxology to conclude the prayer, but it should not be seen as belonging to Jesus’ teaching.


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Phone
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Mail
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Matching Gift
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Give a Gift of Stock
You may give securities either by transfer of the certificate of ownership or through account transfer arranged by your broker. In each case, you avoid the tax on any potential gain and receive a deduction for the full fair market value of securities. To give a gift of stock, email us at staff@pathwaylearning.org, call us at 407-682-6942, or write us at P.O. Box 2062, Winter Park, FL 32790.

Praying for Our Protection

Steve —  September 10, 2021 — Leave a comment

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

Introduction
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).[1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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)[5] 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.[6] 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)[7]

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).[8] In Hebrews 4:15, Jesus is described as “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[9]

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.[10] 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.”[11] 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.”[12]

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)[13]

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.[14]

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).[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

The Greek word translated evil can refer to evil in general or to the “evil one,” Satan, in particular.[18] 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.[19]

But our primary foe is the devil, Satan, who is the personification and instigator of all evil.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

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)[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.[24] 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). [25] 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.

Conclusion
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)[26] Although Satan is fierce,[27] God promises he will flee us when we resist him and draw near to God.[28]

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.[29] Sin occurs when we fail to resist temptation and allow it to lead us to disobey God in our thoughts, words, or deeds.[30]

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.[31]

Footnotes:


[1] 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)

[2] 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?

[3] 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.

[4] 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).

[5] 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.

[6] 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.”

[7] 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.

[8] 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)

[9] 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)

[10] 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).

[11] Packer, J. I.. Growing in Christ, p. 196, Crossway

[12] 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).

[13] 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.

[14] Paul warns us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

[15] 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)

[16] 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.

[17] 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)

[18] 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.

[19] 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).

[20] 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.

[21] 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).

[22] 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.

[23] 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).

[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.”

[25] 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

[26] 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).

[27] 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).

[28] “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

[29] 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

[30] 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.

[31] 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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