Pope Francis recently suggested we should not pray, “Lead us not into temptation”; but rather, “Do not let us fall into temptation,” because God does not tempt us. Is the Pope right?
James says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does he tempt anyone” (Jam. 1:13). So, I appreciate the Pope’s concern.
However, as multiple Catholic and Protestant scholars have pointed out, the Greek text can only be read “lead/bring us not.” “Let us not fall” isn’t an option.
Further, Jesus’ prayer reflects a pattern that we already see in the Old Testament. Consider the following four verses:
- Psalm 119:36: Incline my heart…not to dishonest gain.
- Psalm 119:133: …Do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.
- Psalm 141:4: Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness….
- Isaiah 63:17: Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways….
All these verses ask God not to do something that we wouldn’t expect God to do in the first place. Does God incline people’s hearts to dishonest gain or evil things? Does God cause people to stray from His ways? The answer involves understanding
- inherited depravity and grace,
- what it means to come “into temptation,” and
- praying for what God has promised.
First, inherited depravity and grace. According to Romans 3:10-18, the natural state of fallen men is one wholly inclined to evil. Apart from God’s gracious restraint of our evil and His drawing of us, there would be none that does good, none that seeks after God. Our hearts are already inclined to evil naturally. The only thing keeping them Godward is grace.
If God withdraws His grace, we immediately revert to depraved thinking and behaving. So, the prayers from the Psalms and Isaiah are all essentially prayers that God would not withdraw His gracious working in our hearts by His Spirit, or in the case of Isaiah asking why God had withdrawn His grace.
“Lead us not into temptation” is praying, “Don’t withdraw your grace that keeps us from being inclined to sin.”
Second, coming “into temptation.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus advises His disciples “pray…that you enter not into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). This can’t mean, “Pray that you won’t be tempted.”
Jesus had already predicted the scattering of the disciples and told Peter that Satan had requested permission to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31; Matt. 26:31-35). Temptation was coming.
They needed to pray so that they wouldn’t sin when it came. They didn’t pray. They fell into sin. To be lead “into temptation” is to be brought into a situation where we will commit sin. Jesus led the disciples to the garden. But Jesus also warned them they needed to pray. God’s grace was available, but they didn’t make use of the means of receiving that grace.
“Lead us not into temptation” is implicitly asking God to guard us from sin. He often does this by alerting us when we need to seek more grace than usual.
Third, God teaches us to ask Him for what He has promised. God promised to provide obedient Israel with the “rain in its season” (Lev. 26:4; Deut. 11:14). Yet, He commands obedient Israel to ask for the rain (Zech. 10:1).
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, God promises that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our capacity to resist.
“Lead us not into temptation” is requesting God to do what He has promised to do.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.