Tests & Temptation

Tests & Temptation

Grace Family,

Praying everyone’s remaining safe in these strange times! Pastor Jeff asked me to update the Lenten devotional blog because we had a question via YouTube regarding the sermon from March 22, 2020 (The Lord’s Prayer). It’s fitting that this week’s Lenten Devotional focus line is “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” because the question was: 

“I’ve been asked many times about the lead us not into temptation line. Is it at all saying it is possible for God to tempt us.. or lead us to evil.”

This is a GREAT question! 

For those who desire a short and direct answer, let me lead you to James 1:13, which says: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”

So, what is Jesus trying to tell us then? I believe Jesus recognizes the difference between testing and temptation and also understands that we, as humans, often blame God for whichever circumstance we may be in at the time. Therefore, Jesus is trying to get us to understand that both trials and temptations are going to be expected. So, as they come about, Jesus is trying to get us to recognize the difference, withstanding the temptation to place blame on Him and relying totally on Him to see us through to victory over the evil one. 

For those who would like a more thorough explanation, please continue reading.

First, let me start off by saying I have often found myself coming to this line in The Lord’s Prayer and just sort of accepting it for what it says. I mean, “Jesus said it. I believe it. Period.” But, if I’m being honest, the more time I spent thinking about it, the more I began to question what Jesus actually meant. So, I started to dig a little deeper.

In my research, I found that there is a common misinterpretation of the intended Greek use and our modern English use of this word. In English, our current definition of the word “tempt” is: “to entice or attempt to entice (someone) to do or acquire something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or not beneficial.” Our English use of this word carries with it a negative and immoral connotation…which, in all honesty, is not wrong. However, in Greek, the word “tempt” (or Peirazo), is more closely related to our modern English word for “trial, or test.” In all actuality….(and here’s the confusing part)…..both definitions are right. And both definitions are used throughout scripture.

Matthew uses this definition as he paints the scene in chapter 4 of his gospel. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” In this case the word “tempt” is being used both ways: as a test AND as an enticement. First, Jesus was undergoing a test and he was also undergoing enticement. The Spirit led Jesus through the test to prove the truth of who Jesus was. Secondly, the evil one was the one doing the tempting (or enticing) to try and get Jesus to turn from what he knew to be true. 

Another illustration comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13. Paul says: “So, if you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But, when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Paul understands the human aspect of temptation. We, as humans, are so easily ensnared and held captive by the immoral enticement for self-gratification. Yet, he also recognizes that, even though we’re being tempted, God is providing a way out.

We can also see a similar experience in Gethsemane, as Jesus was facing the impending crucifixion. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…..Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me…” (Matthew 26:38b & 39b). I’m certain it was awfully tempting for Jesus to succumb to the overwhelming test he was facing. God was the one allowing the test (and Praise Him that He did or we wouldn’t be where we are today). But, the evil one is the one enticing Jesus to question God’s plan. So, when Jesus uses the word “temptation” as he teaches us to pray in The Lord’s Prayer, he’s literally using it in both contexts and is trying to tell us how to deal with both: our full dependence on God.

All that to say, in The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is not saying that God is the one doing the tempting, nor is he the one leading us into any sort of immoral enticement (see James 1:13). God cannot be tempted…nor will he tempt us. Yet, Jesus recognizes that God allows us to be tested. I think this is where things get confusing for us….and this is where we need to recognize the difference between “testing and tempting.” 

So, what now? Simply put: understand that both tests AND temptations ARE going to come about! Make no mistake. It’s not a matter of “if they happen.” It’s a matter of WHEN they happen. And when they do occur, we have to recognize which is which. If we are being enticed to do something outside the will of God, we shouldn’t blame God for it. He’s not the one doing it. We need to seek God for direction out from under it. If we are being tested, we should recognize it for what it is, stand on what we know to be true and then look to God for how He’s working through it. Either way, Jesus is calling us to realize our full dependence on God through both testing and temptation for victory over the evil one. 

In closing, when Jesus tells us to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” essentially Jesus is saying: “Lord, we know there will be many tests….and there will be many enticements. Help us recognize which is which. In either case, give us the ability to rely totally on YOU for victory over the evil one.”

Prayerfully this makes sense. Like I said, it can be confusing when comparing our current understanding of modern English words with how those same words were intended to be understood by the authors. So, with regards to our focus on this line in The Lord’s Prayer this week, let’s focus on the fact that Jesus experienced both testing and enticement….and he understands how difficult these can be for us. He’s telling us to seek God for victory in both!

Praying your week is abundantly blessed! You are LOVED!

-Stephen