Monday, March 26, 2007

lead us not into temptation (a sermon)

We've been doing a series on The Lord's Prayer during Lent. Here is the text of a sermon on the petition "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." I hope it helps in some way.


Lead us not into temptation
a sermon by Troy Cady

Everything wrong with the world is the result of evil. Marriages break up because of lust, self-centeredness, anger and apathy. The environment is destroyed due to greed. Friends become enemies because they are unable to forgive. Children live in fear because of competition, which exists because of pride, lust for power and control. Everything wrong with the world is the result of evil. This is why Jesus taught us to pray: “Deliver us from evil.”

Do we wish that things would stop being this way? That some day, all would be put right? Well, then, let us pray “deliver us from evil”, for when that prayer is answered the paradise that was lost (when sin entered the world) will be found again.

That’s why we can say this is what it all comes down to. It’s not rocket science, people! To be delivered from evil, is to be rescued from darkness. To be rescued from darkness is to walk in the light. To walk in the light is to walk with God. And to walk with God is to live. This part of the Lord’s Prayer is truly a matter of life and death.

In fact, when looked at in light of the closing phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, it could be said that this part of the Lord’s Prayer represents the climax of our petitions. The doxology “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” is a kind of denouement, like a chord held in tension and then resolved, a sigh of relief once the battle is over. If this is the case, then the petition “deliver us from evil” is the high point.

Viewed that way, we could view all the preceding portions of the Lord’s Prayer as building, building, building to this glorious moment of victory: deliverance from evil. And, in that light, you can see that God’s grace and forgiveness are prerequisites to deliverance from evil. You can see here that we need our Dear Father Ever Near Us. Further, we need God’s provision—physically, emotionally and spiritually. You can see that we need God’s forgiveness, if we are ever going to be delivered from evil.

That means at least two things: 1) Deliverance from evil is grace come to fruition. It’s all about grace! and 2) This progression tells us that there is only one thing better than Christ’s forgiveness: godliness, deliverance from evil. This is the end to which he grants us his grace: to change us from creatures of sin to conduits of virtue. See, the two go hand-in-hand: Grace is a foundation; holiness is a habitation. Forgiveness initiates, restores and preserves; godliness abides, remains and dwells. Put another way, there is only one thing that God desires more than the granting of his love to us: the giving of our love to him and others. But we can only love God fully when we are fully freed from evil. We can only become more like God when we become less like the devil.

Now: we are in the season called Lent. Lent is a time to refresh our commitment to walk in the way of Jesus. Because of that, we’re reminding ourselves how to pray as Jesus taught us to pray.

So far, we’ve looked at the context of this prayer: “Our Father in the heavens” or “Our Father ever near us”. Then, in that context, we’ve looked at some key petitions. In this teaching, we’ll look at the final petition: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

What I’d like to do now is plant some ideas in our heads that will help us understand the substance of this prayer, and then I’d like to talk about how we can cooperate with God in deliverance from evil.

First off, I have to admit: this part of the Lord’s Prayer has always perplexed me. Not so much the “deliver us from evil” part, but more the “lead us not into temptation” part. To understand why this has perplexed me, we need to look at some verses in James 1.

First, James 1:13-14 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.”

That makes sense to me. Naturally God would want to answer our prayer “lead us not into temptation” since James tells us that God is never the cause of temptation. But James also says in verses 2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Then, James goes on to say in verse 12, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

In this light we come to see that, though God is never the cause of temptation, he does allow us to go through tests and trials, so that we may have the opportunity to strengthen our faith.

To understand this more, however, you should be familiar with two words in particular and how the Scriptures uses these words. The two words are peirasmon and peirazo.

What you need to know first off is that both of these words carry the same cluster of ideas, but peirasmon is the noun form of those ideas and peirazo is the verb form. It’s sort of like “fish” and “fish”. One is a noun and the other is a verb. They both connote similar notions, even though they represent two different forms of speech.

In that light, you should know that both of these words share a peculiar feature: they can be rendered with several different English words. For example, peirasmon can be rendered as “temptation” (the word that Jesus uses in his model prayer), but it can also be rendered as “test” or “trial”. And, in a similar fashion, peirazo can be rendered as “tempt” (like when we are told that we should not say “God is tempting” us), but it can also be rendered as “test” (as in the verb form of that word—such as, “God is testing me.”).

Now, what I find interesting is how the same word is used interchangeably from one instance to the next.

As we’ve noted already, in Matthew 6:13 Jesus tells us to pray that we would not be led into peirasmon (that is, temptation). That seems to match up with James’ observation when he tells us that God does not peirazo (tempt) us. But, where it gets confusing is when we are told by James to “consider it joy” when we face peirasmon (literally, temptation), because the peirazo (literally, tempting) of our faith develops perseverance.

And thus, my perplexity: Which is it? Are we to pray to be lead out of temptations, trials and tests? Or are we to thank God for them as if they come from him?

The answer is “yes” (to both questions!). See, it all depends on the source of the temptation. And it is in this light that we can understand the substance of Jesus’ model prayer:

First, there is the “temptation” or, more accurately, the “testing of our faith” that is either initiated by God or that God allows us to go through.

Second, there is also a form of temptation that comes directly from the devil. This is the case in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. This kind of “temptation”, you can see, is more accurately described as an attack from our adversary, the devil.

Third, there is also a form of temptation whose source is in the human heart, due to the heart’s propensity towards sin and rebellion. This is the kind of temptation referred to in James 1:13-15 when it says that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”

With those three meanings in mind, what many Bible scholars believe Jesus is asking us to pray against is the kind of temptation that stems from the devil, and especially the kind that stems from our own hearts.

Now, since prayer involves a cooperation of our will with God’s will (as we see in the very content of the Lord’s Prayer itself), let’s talk about how we engage our will to cooperate with God’s will as concerns these two issues.

First, in the Scriptures it’s relatively easy to find out how we engage our will in confronting the attacks of the devil: through putting on the armor of God (the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God). And, further, we fight the temptations of the devil through prayer. We may simply ask God to “deliver us from the evil one”, invoking the power of the name of Jesus Christ as our authority. And God will answer.

This is how we are told to “take our stand against the devil” in Ephesians 6 and this is what we see Jesus modeling in his confrontation with the devil in the desert. We also see this modeled by Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion when he tells his disciples to “watch and pray” so that they will “not fall into temptation”. (Matthew 26:41)

But, what’s not so easy is: how on earth can we be delivered from the kind of temptation that finds its source in our own hearts, as James describes? How are we to engage our will in that battle?

Put simply, we are told to “flee”. The apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “flee the evil desires of youth”. (2 Timothy 2:22) But how does one actually do this? After all, wherever you go, there you are. You can’t escape from yourself. So, how to do this?

Here, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, coupled with the experience of some Christians in the ancient church, can be of help. See, in the desert Jesus fought evil and won. Jesus resisted temptation in the desert.

Put another way, in searching for an answer as to how we can overcome evil with good, we could ask: “Well…how did Jesus overcome evil with good?”

Often, I’ve answered that by saying: “Well, he knew the Bible really well. See, he answered the devil with Scripture.” And, of course, that is true: He could hear the voice of his Father (the voice of truth) reminding him who he was and what he was to be about.

But, if we stop there, we miss something even more crucial. The reason Jesus could hear the voice of the Father (not just in this instance, but in other instances as well) was because he practiced solitude. Solitude is the discipline whereby we cultivate a heart condition of detachment from evil and attachment to God. Solitude is God’s way of delivering us from evil. Solitude is God’s answer to our prayer. When we say to God “lead us not into temptation” he answers “practice solitude.” When we say to God “deliver us from evil” he answers “practice solitude.” See, it’s no mistake that Jesus’ biggest battle with evil took place in the solitude of the desert. And it’s no mistake that all of history’s greatest saints were people who practiced solitude.

In fact, there were a group of Christians in the early centuries that pursued the solitude of the body and the heart in radical ways. They are known today as The Desert Fathers because they lived alone in the desert for long stretches of time to do battle with the forces of evil, to detach from the world in order to attach themselves to God. In fact, one such person was Saint Anthony. Henri Nouwen says this of him (in his book The Way of the Heart):

“St. Anthony…is the best guide in our attempt to understand the role of solitude…After a period of living as a poor laborer at the edge of his village, he withdrew into the desert, where for twenty years he lived in complete solitude. During these years Anthony experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity opened to him. But he came out of this trial victoriously—not because of his own willpower…, but because of his unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When he emerged from his solitude, people recognized in him the qualities of an authentic ‘healthy’ man, whole in body, mind, and soul. They flocked to him for healing, comfort, and direction…He died in the year 356, when he was about one hundred and six years old.”

See, the Desert Fathers practiced solitude because they understood that to overcome evil they had to physically separate themselves from evil, to “flee”. But then, as they did that, they came to understand that their battle with evil was not so easily won. See, they discovered that there, even in the desert, they experienced evil, because they discovered that they carried those evil compulsions with them in their own hearts. At that point, they realized that they needed to experience a whole new dimension of attachment to God.

Sometimes I hear Christians suggest various tips for avoiding temptation. For example, it is necessary for someone who is an alcoholic to avoid going to bars because, should they do so, they would be putting themselves in the path of temptation. Likewise, it is necessary for someone who is addicted to internet pornography or gambling to take certain measures like refraining from using the computer in private, or signing up for a web-based accountability program. Or, if someone is under the destructive influence of another person, a measure of relational detachment from the destructive person may be needed in order to grow. This is often the case in co-dependent or abusive relationships.

But, this is just one side of the coin. Our attachment to God needs to go one further. We need to do the hard work of the solitude of the heart. The purpose of physical detachment from the world is to provide the conditions in which we can experience spiritual detachment from evil. And that is the harder part, is it not?

That’s why solitude is necessary to resist temptation, but so is the following: grace.

Jesus teaches us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Keep in mind that this part of Jesus’ Prayer follows hard on the heels of pleas for God’s forgiveness. And, let us not forget, it proceeds out of a context that God is our loving Father, who surrounds us with His grace, who draws near to us with His love. And, on top of that, God gives us everything else we need, our daily bread. Through grace, provision and forgiveness, God gives us everything we need to be delivered from evil.

Let’s bring this all together now. What Jesus’ and St. Anthony’s examples teach us is that we can only be delivered from evil in the context of experiencing God’s grace first-hand in the place of solitude. This reminds us of two big things:

1. Solitude and grace go hand-in-hand. It is in the context of solitude that we experience God’s grace. We need solitude to experience God’s grace. We need to “come away” in order to “come to” God. You’ve got to leave one place to go to another. If grace provides all we need to overcome evil, solitude is the discipline we must practice to grab hold of grace. But, I’d like to also point out one last thing:

2. Remember, in the place of solitude we come to remember that, in our battle with evil, God is for us, not against us. And He has not left us alone. He is in you and you are in Him. And if you are in Christ, your sin does not separate you from God anymore. We do not have to do a bunch of good stuff to get to God. No, God is on our side, God stands beside us, with our sin out in front of us. And, we work on it together.

See, it’s all grace. Yes, our sin is there and our evil desires must be dealt with, our hearts must be changed. But, we are not in it alone. And our sin does not come between me and God anymore. No, because of Christ’s forgiveness, I am with God and God is with me.

So, hear this: God is right by your side. And, with His arm around you, He looks you in the eye with love and says, “Do you see that sin there? What are we going to do about it? Let’s get rid of it, shall we? Come away from it. Stay here with me. Know that my grace is more than enough. Come, my child. Together, we can do this. Just trust me.”

Lord, grant to us your grace. Lord, deliver us from evil. Amen.

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