The Prayer of Jesus – Lead Us Not Into Temptation
“Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:12, 13
The Hard Prayer of Jesus!
Well embedded in the prayer and thus sometimes hidden from sight, lies the most challenging aspect of the Lord’s Prayer and the one we stumble over the most.
I am talking about this unsettling business of forgiveness.
The need for forgiveness. And then forgiveness requested, forgiveness received and forgiveness offered, and how all of that is tied together.
It’s hard enough to have to admit your own need for forgiveness, but then to tie forgiving others with being forgiven hits a cord deep inside of us.
This is not to mention the related business of being tempted into sin, which is the reason why we need forgiveness in the first place.
All of this makes this the most challenging part of this prayer.
And I am sure that more than once people have been stopped dead in their tracks as they turned the corner in the prayer and came up against the aspect of forgiveness.
In fact, the story is told of the author Robert Louis Stephenson kneeling down to pray the Lord’s Prayer during the part of his life when he lived in the South Pacific and stopping abruptly mid prayer and leaving his house.
When asked by his wife what he was doing his only response was that he was not fit to pray this prayer that day.
She had no idea what was going on in his head that day, but obviously he got stuck around that whole question of forgiveness. As many people do.
William Barclay writes: “No one is fit to pray the Lord’s Prayer so long as the unforgiving spirit holds sway within his heart. If a man has not put things right with his fellow-man, he cannot put things right with God.”
We’ll unwrap this further in a few minutes but first we need to confront our own need to receive forgiveness from God.
As hard as it sometimes is to forgive others and sometimes even self, it’s even harder to admit our own need for forgiveness from the one who matters most, namely God.
Sin in The Modern World!
That prayer, “Forgive us our sins”, can only be prayed by those who have a deep awareness of their own sins, shortcomings and failures.
It may be easy for you to admit that you have sinned but it isn’t easy for everyone. Many stumble over this notion of having sinned, especially those who have lived decent lives.
If you haven’t done the top three sins of sex, drugs and rock & roll then how can you be a sinner, right?
Actually, the most recent data suggests that neither sex nor drugs are very high on the list of sins.
“A survey conducted by the Barna Group, concludes that the moral struggles that vex most Americans aren’t the salacious acts that drive the plotlines of reality television shows. Most Americans are too worn down or distracted to get snared by those vices, the survey concludes. The top three sins seducing most Americans: procrastination, overeating and spending too much time on media.” John Blake, CNN
In fact, Blake in his article goes on to say:
“The survey said that 60% of Americans admitted that they’re tempted to worry too much or procrastinate; 55% said they’re tempted to overeat, and 41% said they’re tempted by sloth, or laziness. The sex, drugs and rock and roll-like vices fell dead last in the temptation categories: 11% of Americans said they were tempted by drug abuse; 9% were tempted by sexually inappropriate contact.”
My point is that you need to admit that you have somehow sinned regardless of what that sin is before you can ever pray, “Forgive us our sins”!
So what are sins and what does it mean to sin?
Well, while we only have the English word ‘sin’, there are actually a number of Greek words that nuance out far better the meaning of sin than just in the English language.
1. Sin is Anomia
The first and most common word for sin is ‘anomia’.
Anomia means willful, reckless and intentional with an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Boundaries mean nothing. Lines in the sand get wiped over.
It’s the willful going after what you want, come hell or high water.
This behavior of going after what you want clearly is sin.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2
This is the bully, the grabber, the taker and the user; the one who takes what they want regardless if it’s theirs or not. This is anomia.
Well, anomia is not me, you say. I know boundaries; I know what’s off limits, and right from wrong. So how can I be a sinner when I live for the most part an upright, moral life?
2. Sin is Parabasis
That’s where the next word ‘parabasis’ comes in. Anomia or willful transgression is not only word for sin. ‘Parabasis’ is another word for sin.
Parabasis literally means nudging up against the line. It’s coming so close to the line that sometimes your toes are on the other side.
When have we not stepped over the lines? Not that we shattered them to smithereens, but come up close enough so that our toes end up on the other side.
These are the fine lines that we sometimes cross over, the bending of the truth, the not keeping true to the spirit of things, the telling of white lies and the turning of blind eyes.
This is not recklessly crashing through boundaries but pushing up against them, and on occasion slipping through them.
“Do we always stay on the right side of the line which divides truth and falsehood? Do we never twist or evade the truth? Is there never an unkind word in our lives?” Barclay
It’s the very stuff Jesus riled against when he talked about the lines of murder and adultery becoming blurred.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Matt. 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
When you look at it this way, who has us hasn’t crossed the line? That’s what ‘parabasis’ means. That’s also what sin is.
3. Sin is Paraptoma
Then sin can also be ‘paraptoma’. If parabasis is pushing and stepping over the lines then paraptoma is slipping across the lines as though you’ve slipped on ice.
Oops, didn’t mean to. Wasn’t intentional. Not testing borders. It just slipped out. I just lost my footing on the ice and slipped across.
Would never do this in our more sobering moments but in a moment of weakness and a moment of passion we crash through what otherwise would be boundaries.
That’s what sin as ‘paraptoma’ is!
“We speak of words slipping out; we are swept away by some impulse or passion which has momentarily gained control of us and which has made us lose our self control. The best of us can slip into sin when for the moment we are off guard.” Barclay
It’s the very thing that Jesus said would happen to Peter.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
For every one of us there is a patch of ice. While not intentioned, we slip up and fall on our face. That is what ‘paraptoma’ as sin is.
4. Sin is Harmartia
Then there is ‘harmartia’. At its core, sin is not just slipping up, pushing boundaries or even willful transgressions, but it’s all about falling short of God’s ideal for us.
The most common word for sin is harmartia, which simply means missing the mark. This speaks to a common reality of falling short of what we could have been.
Who of us doesn’t feel that we have fallen short, and that we could have done more, and could have been better somehow.
It’s the three stages toward regret starting from ‘she will surely do something in life’, and then coming to ‘she could do something if she set her mind to it’, until finally arriving at the ‘she might have done something if only she would have’ stage.
These are the regrets over the ‘could have been’s of life. The sense that we are not what we could have been.
“When we realize that sin means the failure to hit the target, the failure to be all that we might have been and could have been, then it is clear that every one of us is a sinner.” Barclay
We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!
Please Forgive Me!
With these definitions in mind, it’s obvious that all of us are sinners, right? From the willful transgressor to the pusher of boundaries or even the slipper on ice, all of us fall short of the mark.
So we pray “Forgive us our sins”, and everything about God says that God will forgive us.
There is no sin too great or grave that God will not forgive.
There is no sin committed so often that you can exhaust his forgiveness.
I love the words of Psalm 103 where it says,
“God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:10-12
No matter how stained or vile a sinner may be, God’s forgiveness will always be available.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Here is the clincher: Settling the matter means not only coming to God for forgiveness, but also forgiving those who sinned against you.
Let all God’s people say “ouch”!
That’s why it says, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
There’s no ifs or buts nor any exclusions. This is the clearest language anywhere in the New Testament. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
I don’t know how else to unwrap this. There are neither nuances to this nor multiple interpretations.
In some of his clearest words ever spoken, Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
If you refuse to forgive someone, it’s like you are saying to God not to forgive you.
If there is one thing that keeps you locked in a prison on earth and out of God’s holy heaven, it’s when there is sin in your life that has not been forgiven.
And to be forgiven means not only to ask for forgiveness, but also to forgive those who have sinned against you.
“If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Who of us have not had people that we’ve had to forgive? You live long enough and there will be those who will hurt, offend, betray and turn against you. Guaranteed.
And you can become either cold and callous and let it slide off you, or you can soak it in like poison and sit in its stew. You can even become vindictive, strike back and take matters into you own hand. None of which I would recommend.
Instead, forgive those who have sinned against you. Forgive again and again until the open wound becomes a distant scar.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matt. 18:21-22
This was not meant as a count-down that somehow at the 77th time you can stop. The language suggests ongoing and never ending, until the need for forgiveness fades away.
The same offender, the same offence. For some of us it will take 77 times before the wound heals into a scar.
We offer forgiveness not for some modern day self help mumbo jumbo, but because in light of the fact of how much God has forgiven my deep offences against Him, how can I not then turn around and forgive what others have done against me?
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
That actually brings us to the last aspect of the Lord’s Prayer, the one having to do with temptation.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:13
I can’t help but wonder if the two aren’t somehow hinged together; that forgiving those who have sinned against us and not being led into temptation are somehow connected.
Now I realize there are many more temptations in life than just the one that turns hurts into lingering hurts, and being sinned against into a festering root of unforgiveness.
But surely among the temptations of life is precisely this temptation to sit in our wounds, not to extend forgiveness and to keep stewing in the murky soup of our hurts.
Lead me not into that temptation but deliver me from the sin of unforgiveness.
Yet having said that, it obviously goes further. This is a prayer to be delivered from all the things in life that can become temptations to us.
It is the prayer to be delivered from our slippery patch of ice.
Where’s your slippery ice? Where are you prone to fall down most easily? Where is your weak point and the buttons that set you off?
For each of us it’s different. What may be slippery ice to you may not even fizz on me and vice versa.
The most troublesome thing of the Lord’s Prayer has always been this idea that God could somehow lead us into temptation.
It clearly says, “Lead us not into temptation” and yet everything we know about God says that God doesn’t lead us into temptation.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1:13, 14
So how do you frame this up against you saying to God “Lead us not into temptation”?
The answer is in actuality understanding what is happening.
You know the saying, “Stuff happens”? Well, it’s true, stuff does happen.
By ‘stuff’ I mean the stuff of life; the good, the bad and the ugly. Especially the bad and ugly stuff of life can easily become temptations to us.
The struggles of life come our way as they do for all of us.
They can either become opportunities for great temptation with an eye toward us falling down on the ice, or these same struggles can become great tests of faith for which we have the wherewithal to withstand.
These struggles of life are absolutely neutral. They are neither good nor bad. They are what they are. These struggles of life – including when someone hurts or injures you – have upon them a huge tug of war either toward good or toward evil.
So let’s say a struggle comes your way. On that struggle, sits God with all the powers of heaven to help you see it as a test for which God gives you what you need to pass it.
On that same struggle sits the Devil, with all the powers of hell to have it become a temptation and a snare to you, to trip you up and to have you fall into sin.
It’s like a teeter-totter with God on the one side and the devil on the other side, both exerting influence on you to have this struggle either be a test that you pass with flying colors, or a temptation that will lead to sin and death.
Within that epic struggle, we pray not to be led into temptation but to be delivered from evil.
It’s the prayer that says for God to help me not to turn a struggle into a temptation or an occasion to sin, but to be delivered from it. Hopefully, the struggles of life would cause me to tap into everything that God has given me for godliness so that I can stand up under it!
This morning, in these closing moments, with these words of truth ringing in our ears, our gaze comes upon the Communion Table and the emblems on it.
When we see the life-giving sustenance of bread and wine, it is the Lord’s invitation to take from Him everything you need to live this life as an overcomer!
In all the struggles of life that you face, the Lord makes available His very best so that you can overcome, passing the test and being promoted to the next grade.
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.