An excerpt from my sermon, “The Father’s Love“:
God does lead us into temptation. He does! He leads us into situations where we will be tempted and tried. He doesn’t tempt us, but He leads us into these situations. But Jesus’ request [in Luke 11:4] is that He will not take us too far–that He will not take us into a place that will overwhelm us. You see, God leads us into those positions, so that we grow–so that we grow to look more like Him. He brings difficulties, trials, temptations into our life to grow us, so that we will look more like our Dad.
The beautiful danger of the spoken word is that once it is said, it can never be unsaid. As a Pastor and preacher, this truth weighs upon me often. Above you can see an excerpt from my sermon from last Sunday at Faith. I was preaching on the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11, aiming to describe the love of the Heavenly Father that is revealed in this prayer. Due to the amount of content in my sermon, I felt somewhat rushed for time and in retrospect I wish I had been more clear in my discussion of Jesus’ request “lead us not into temptation.” This blog is an attempt to do that in a more nuanced way.
When Jesus asks His Father, “lead us not into temptation,” His request raises an important question: Does our Heavenly Father lead us into temptation? Otherwise, why would He ask that He not do it? Any time we ask a question about how the Heavenly Father relates to us, we would do well to seek our answer in how the Heavenly Father relates to Jesus. If the Gospel is true (and I believe that it is), God feels and acts toward us in the same way that He feels and acts toward Jesus. The first question we must answer then is this: Did our Heavenly Father lead Jesus into temptation?
In Luke 4:1-2, we find our answer:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Also, Mark 1:12-13 says:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.
These passages show us very clearly a situation in which the Holy Spirit, acting in concert with the Heavenly Father (see the preceding passages referencing the relationship between the Father and the Spirit), leads Jesus into temptation. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that God tempted Jesus. James 1:13-14 is clear about this:
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.
While God led Jesus into temptation, He was not the tempter–Satan was. This event in the life of Jesus reminds me of what the Westminster Divines said about God’s providence in their Confession of Faith V.2:
God is the first cause, and in relationship to him everything happens unchangeably and infallibly. However, by this same providence, he orders things to happen from secondary causes.
That is, God in His foreknowledge knew that presented with the right conditions, Jesus would be tempted. In this case, Satan (a secondary cause) tempted Jesus. But why would God put Jesus in this position? Why would God lead His child into a place where temptation would occur? The book of Hebrews is helpful at this point:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers (Hebrews 2:10-11, 1984 NIV).
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18, 1984 NIV)
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him… (Hebrews 5:8, 1984 NIV).
Jesus’ temptation was instrumental to His own growth as the High Priest and Savior for God’s family. It’s hard to think of Jesus needing to “learn” or “develop,” but the author of Hebrews seems to understand Jesus’ humanity as necessitating His own growth and development (cf. Luke 2:52), so that He would be made “perfect” or elsewhere translated “complete” for His task.
So if you buy the axiom that “God treats all His children the same because of the Gospel,” you can expect that God will lead you into temptation. He will bring you into situations where secondary causes will tempt you to sin. But why? So that you will grow to be more like your older Brother and, perhaps more significantly, your Heavenly Father. God’s goal in your moments of temptation is to purify and strengthen you, so that you will persevere in faith (cf. Rom 5:3, Jas 1:2-4).
Jesus’ request, then, to “lead us not into temptation,” in my reading of the Lord’s Prayer means this:
“Heavenly Father, hallow your name–prove yourself to be faithful to your Word by keeping this promise: You will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. Instead, You told us that when we are tempted, You will also provide a way out so that we can stand up under it. Gracious God, lead us not into temptation, but if you desire to do so, help us to grow through it, to overcome that temptation as our older Brother Jesus did, and to become more like You through it.”
In Jesus’ request, we find a promise from God: that He will not lead us into temptation, in order to crush our spirits or pull us inexorably and irretrievably into sin. Instead, because we are His deeply loved sons and daughters, He will not leave us unaided and will guide us through into a persevering faith.
I hope that this is more clear than I was on Sunday. Feel free to post your comments or questions below. Also, if you’d like to read another explanation of this request of Jesus, I encourage you to check out the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 195.