Friday, August 24, 2012

“Lead Us not into Temptation”

    "And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one" (Matt. 6:13: NKJV). When Jesus said these words He knew whereof He spoke. Only shortly before He Himself was faced with just such a temptation. "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (4:1). The experience was very real, and is still very much a part of the Christian life.
    The problem of evil is one of the knottiest problems of Christian theology. Why would God, Who is both good and all-powerful, allow the presence of evil in His creation? The Bible never gives us a direct answer to the question. Theologians have proposed a variety of solutions, but they are only guesses. The real reason is know to God alone. It should be noted, however, that the whole scheme of redemption, which presupposes the fall, glorifies God by highlighting His love, wisdom, mercy and grace.
    Several things from this petition of the Lord's Prayer are noteworthy. First of all, it is "the evil one" who does the actual tempting. The "evil one" is a patent reference to Satan, who sits at the head of the hierarchy of evil spirits. But it is also true that it is God Who is ultimately in control. And so the desire for deliverance takes the form of a prayer request directed toward God. It is He Who controls the circumstances of our lives; it is He Who determines whether or not we will be "led in temptation," and it is He Who will "deliver us from the evil one."
    Strictly speaking a "temptation" (Greek: "peirosmos) is a test, and it can be viewed from two perspectives. From Satan's viewpoint it is an enticement to sin, an attempt to draw us away from God. But from God's perspective it is a test of the genuineness of our faith, a public demonstration of who is real and who is not. In the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. God said that He humbled the Israelites in the wilderness, and would even allow false prophets to come and try to lure them away, "for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Dt. 13:3; cf. 8:2). Having thus tested the genuineness of our faith and love, He is then free to bless us in the end (Dt. 8:16). Sometimes we are enticed by sin; sometimes we are intimidated by others or by financial pressure; sometimes we are led astray from false doctrine. ". . .now for a little why, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . ." (I Pet. 1:6,7).
    Whatever the ultimate reason for it, the present reality of evil is an unavoidable fact. When a person becomes a Christian he is not immediately set free from trial and difficulty. He acquires a new spiritual life, but that spiritual life is lived in tension with the surrounding world, which is still fallen and largely unredeemed. As a result there is an inevitable conflict. The Christian is fighting a war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The byword of the Christian life is "semper vigilans," ever watchful!
    The Christian church in America has been largely free from persecution: we are blessed to live in a land whose constitution guarantees freedom of religion. But we have been overwhelmed by temptation of a different sort. The threat facing us is material prosperity coupled with personal freedom. The result has been a tragic moral collapse in too many cases. Satan has allured us with the enticing apples of consumer goods and endless entertainment. "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).

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