Lead Us Not into Temptation

How do we reconcile this petition with James 1:13, “no one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one”? So does God tempt people?

First point: Let’s remember that Jesus Himself was tempted. Matthew 4:1 records that “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Philip Keller points out that “To be tempted is not to sin. To give ground to the enemy and allow him to control us, contrary to the will and purpose of or Father, is to sin.”[1]

Second point: The Spirit, this verse says, “led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.” However, it was the devil who did the tempting, not God. James goes on in his epistle to explain, “each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed” (1:14). So the temptation comes from the devil, not God, and the failure to stand in the face of temptation comes from us, not from God. As J.I. Packer explains, “That God tempts no man means that He neither infuses evil into anyone nor is in any wise a partner with us in our guilt. The criminality of our sins is to be wholly attributed to ourselves, as James 1:14, 15 makes clear.”[2]

We should pause briefly here to look at the word translated “temptation.” The Greek word is peirasmos, and it can variously be translated “test,” “trial,” “temptation.” That means this word can refer to being tempted by evil (James 1:13-15), but it can also refer to the testings and trials that are a part of every Christian’s life. It is this latter meaning that has caused many Christians to stumble in their faith. Wesley Hill notes, “The Bible does feature numerous stories in which God, like a metalsmith, applies pressure on His people to refine their faith and obedience, to make it stronger and more durable.”[3]

Point three: God absolutely does allow trials and testings, and even temptations to come into our lives. Job, of course, is the classic example. But look at these verses:

  • Job 23:10 – Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
  • Psalm 17:3 – You have tried my heart;… You have tested me and found no evil; …
  • Psalm 66:10 – For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us like silver. 
  • James 1:3 – because you know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance.
  • 1 Peter 1:7 – These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Philip Keller points out, “Temptation in itself is not necessarily an evil experience. It is part and parcel of our Father’s plan for producing people of strong character and Christlike qualities. Temptation, from God’s standpoint, is our great testing ground. It is the disciplining we undergo as we mature. It can help us grow up into godliness under the guidance of His gracious spirit”[4] (cf. James 1:2-4; Heb. 12:1-17).

This is a tough lesson that takes a lifetime to learn: When temptation, trials, or tests come into your life, you have a choice. You can try to handle it—resist temptation—in your own power, or you can throw yourself upon the mercy of God, and allow Him to refine you, to make you more and more like Him in the process of enduring the trial/test. 

If you are tempted to rely on your own strength, a word of caution. Packer warns, “Whenever God tests us for our good, Satan, ‘the tempter,’ tries to exploit the situation for our ruin. ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8)…. The pressures in times of trial can be so appalling that no sane Christian can do other than shrink from them, just as they shrink from the thought of having cancer.”[5]

That’s why we pray that God not “lead us into temptation.” Frankly, we are weak, and prone to falling into error. We are quick to take an “easy” way out that ends in spiritual disaster far too often. But that’s also why God promises, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

What is that “way out,” or “way of escape,” as some versions put it? First and foremost, it is the Holy Spirit who is in you. But practically speaking, it could be a verse of Scripture you have memorized; it could be an accountability partner; it could be a roadblock or an open door due to circumstances. Just don’t ignore that voice within you that is saying, “NO! Stop! This is not the way you should go.” 

Pastor Warren Wiersbe encourages us by saying, 

“Throughout Scripture this one fact stands out: Every believer who was used of God was tested, and they trusted God and did not turn their trials into temptations. To the glory of God, they did the impossible…. So when we pray ‘lead us not into temptation,’ we’re saying to the Lord, ‘Give me the faith I need to accept this trial and use it for your glory. Deepen my roots, increase my faith, and help me turn this testing into triumph and not temptation.’ Then we rest on his Word, because that is the source and strength of our faith.”[6]

And do not bring us into places of pressing temptation, where we would lose our integrity and our soul would be endangered. – Philip Doddridge

Go Deeper

[1] W. Philip Keller, A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer (Moody Publishers, 1976), p. 134.

[2] J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Crossway Books, 1994), p. 507.

[3] Wesley Hill, The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father (Lexham Press, 2019), p. 48.

[4] P. Keller, p. 136.

[5] Packer, p. 196.

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, On Earth as It Is in Heaven (Baker Books, 2010), p. 122.

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