“Lead us not into Temptation” (Matt 6:13; Luke 11:4).
We are in a battle.
Yesterday, we recalled the very great debt that we owe to God for our sin, which needs to be forgiven because we have no means of paying it ourselves. Today, we turn from our past failures to the day which lies ahead of us, and we cry out to God to be kept from being overwhelmed by temptation to sin.
The world is full of distraction and attraction. Our hearts long for the New Creation but, because we cannot see the joy that will be ours on that final day, we are tempted to satisfy that longing in all manner of ways now. We seek happiness in relationships, in our professional reputation, in being well regarded by others for good works, in making money. Perhaps more likely, we look to some combination of all of these, and more besides. As Calvin said, our hearts are factories of idols.
Ephesians 6:11-12 reminds us that our temptations are a tool of the devil, and our battle for the unseen New Creation with Christ is against the unseen demonic powers who play on our longings. The world is full of good things which the flesh and the devil make out to be ultimately important things.
We are not alone
Wonderfully, as Hebrews 2:18 reminds us, we are not alone. Christ has shared in our humanity and has faced all the same temptations we do, and yet was without sin. Our longings are not sin, though the way we seek to satisfy them can be. Moreover, Jesus knows how hard it is to remain sinless. In Hebrews his experience is called suffering. It is more painful to resist sin than it is to give in; and Jesus never gave in. The battle was most fierce in the life of Christ.
For example, Christ was tempted at the beginning of his earthly ministry, in the wilderness. Just before the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 4, Luke 4), we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness without food. I imagine that he was desperately hungry, and the Devil tempts Jesus to turn rocks, of which there were plenty, into bread. He tempts him to prove God’s love for him. He tempts him to take dominion of the world without the cross. These must have been great temptations. But all three times Jeses resists the devil with the Word of God.
We also see the suffering of Christ in resisting the devil and submitting to God in the Garden of Gethsemene. Already Christ knows what is before him, the pain that will be his on the cross. He was in such anguish that he sweated blood. Yet he was determined that he would not rebel, would not allow his temptation to run away overcome the plan of God for our redemption.
Oh yes, Christ knows very well the struggle with sin.
Not a withdrawal from the world
We might be tempted to think that the safest approach is to withdraw from the world. After all, if we lived on a remote island, away from people, there would be a lot fewer temptations! There is a long tradition of monastic withdrawal from the world, but that was not the path the Jesus chose. He deliberately came into the world from a place of perfect contentment where the devil could not touch him, in order to secure the redemption of the world. We are not called to be monks and nuns, or hermits living in a cave. We are to be his ambassadors, proclaiming his victory, in the world.
Moreover, we need to be careful that we don’t fall into less-than-Christian ideas about the world itself. The world itself is not evil. The ancient Greeks were often very negative about the material world, and that has bled over into some Christians’ thinking about, for example, sex and marriage, which is why Roman Catholic priests are forbidden to marry. Once we recognise that good things can be corrupted (and they really are in our materialistic Western culture at the moment), we will be tempted (and I use that word deliberately) to consider the good things God made to be bad things.
No! God made the world and He made it very good. He filled it with beauty and wonder, and pours out his abundant blessings in his common and saving graces, day by day. We must not neglect or ignore these good things that God has given to us.
Avoiding temptation is not about avoiding the world. Of course, sometimes there are things that tempt us which it is wise for us to avoid. An alcoholic should probably avoid the pubs and bars, for instance. But even then, his temptations do not make pubs and bars inherently evil.
To love the world, without being in love with it
Rather, we have been called to be in the world, but not of it. We are to love the world, pouring ourselves out in loving service and gospel proclamation, without being in love with it. In other words, what we are praying here is that we will see the world as it really is. To see it as God sees it. To feel about it the way God feels about it.
We are praying that we can encounter everything that God has made with the same spirit, the same attitude, the same love as Christ did, who walked this earth without sin.
How do we do that? Paul tells us in Galatians 6:14 that we must consider the world crucified to us, and ourselves to the world. We are to kill our love for worldly things that in any way opposes, or distracts from, Christ.
We cannot drive out false loves without replacing them with true and better loves. If we are to put down our temptations, we must learn to love the things that tempt us in the right way, because we love God more. Far more. And so we need to come back to Christ: who he is, what he has done, is doing and, gloriously, will do for us on the final day. We must set our hearts and minds above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father (Colossians 3:1-4) so that our love for earthly things grows dim by comparison.
This is not a prayer for God to keep us from the things we often find tempting, as wise as it may be for us to avoid certain temptations. Rather, it is a prayer that we would no longer find tempting the things that used to captivate us because we are consumed with a greater love: Christ.
Questions for reflection:
1. What are the things that you tend to love more than you should?
2. How can you resist that temptation?
2. What can you do to ensure that you set your heart on mind on Christ and heaven today?
Our Father in heaven,
Give me grace today to love you above all things, through Jesus Christ, my glorious Saviour and Lord. Make dull to me the things of this world that once tempted me. Cause my love for them to diminish as my love for you grows, so that I may pass through this world, enjoying the beauty of it, without being corrupted by temptation. Keep me safe from the deceptiveness of sin,
In Jesus’ name,