The Lord’s Prayer is a fascinating, deeply complex, and surprisingly simple prayer. This series articles pairs a stained glass window from a small church with each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In each post, we will see how the symbols in the window help us to understand what Jesus says to us when he commands us to pray this chief prayer. Check out the previous posts in this series
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Look up our selection of Lord’s Prayer jewelry to remind you of this wonderful prayer.
Temptation is everywhere. Our sinful nature constantly desires to stray from God’s will, so we chase after the things that we should not. This next petition for the Lord’s Prayer deals with the problem of temptation. We ask God to protect us from what our sin desires and to lead us into a holy life.
This petition leads to confusion for many people who read it. They see, “Lead us not into temptation,” and they read it to mean, “Don’t lead us into temptation.” That reading of the petition assumes that God might lead someone into temptation. It imagines that God might capriciously send us into sin. God tempts no one. He does not try to lead us into sin and evil.
“Lead us not into temptation” does not mean “Don’t lead us into temptation.” The word, “not,” does not negate the word, “lead.” It negates the phrase, “into temptation.” That means the petition we pray means something like, “Lead us away from temptation.”
The First Temptation
The window for this petition recalls the very first temptation in the Garden of Eden. You can see the snake that spoke to Adam and Eve along with the apple, representing the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all know how the story went . The snake tempted Eve with the fruit, and both she and her husband fell to that temptation. Every temptation to sin and every fall to temptation flows from the headwaters of that single sin. We inherit this sinful condition, causing us to desire sin even when we don’t want to.
Because of this first sin, death entered the world. St. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Again, he writes about how sin brings death in all of us through Adam’s sin. “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam’s sin lead us all to sin. Because we all sin, we all face death.
The First Salvation
But Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death by becoming a New Adam. Again Paul writes, “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19). Through Jesus Christ’s obedience to the Father, we have Christ’s righteousness. He gives it to us by grace, through faith. God takes our sin, and he gives us his righteousness.
But the gift does not end with the entryway into eternal life. God’s grace through Jesus Christ supports us against temptation now. The author of the Hebrews quotes this passage, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds” (Hebrews 10:16). We have the Holy Spirit in us, teaching us God’s will and guiding us to do it. He gives us the blessed gift every time we hear the word proclaimed and receive his grace in the sacraments.
How Sin Tempts Us
When Martin Luther explained the meaning of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he wrote that there are three sources for temptation with which each Christian struggles: The flesh, the world, and the devil.
The flesh is our own sinful inclinations. The flesh is that voice in your head that tells you to sleep through the day of work. It whispers to you to steer toward that sinful website, because it feels so good. It tells you to skip your obligations and do whatever makes you feel good.
This kind of temptation is especially difficult for us to fight, because Western society tells us that our internal desires are good. People say things like, “Do what feels right,” or “listen to your heart.” Our feelings and emotions are supposed to be the true guide to expressing our true self. The culture tells us to listen to our heart, but all our heart only says one thing, “SIN!”
Jesus’ greatest temptation didn’t happen when he faced the Devil in the wilderness. I believe it happened when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying that the cup be taken from him. Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him, and he knew how painful it would be. All he had to do was walk away. Slip into the garden and go somewhere else. But he didn’t. He obeyed his Father, and gave us eternal life. This obedience is a gift he gives you and me.
The world also tempts us, but not by increasing our desire for sin. It tempts us to judge others for their sin. We look at how terrible the world is, and we get angry, impatient, and outraged. It was true in the 16th century, but it’s even more true in the age of the Internet. Our vast communications networks allow us to find a new outrage every single day. No matter what your worldview, you can always find someone to condemn, someone who makes you feel righteous and just in comparison.
Christians are not immune. As Western society devolves into barbarism, we often sit in our churches railing at their immorality. We tend to divide the world into the good guys, who are in the church, and the bad guys, who are the terrible sinners in the world. But there is truly very little difference between the church and the world. Both sin terribly. Both are repeatedly unfaithful in myriad ways. Both deserve to be condemned eternally. Only the church, however, has the righteousness of Christ given through faith. Confession and forgiveness reminds us that we are sinners, just like the rest of the world. It keeps us humble before God and each other.
Lastly, Satan tempts us to despise God and his gifts for us. He does it by driving us toward despair over our state before God and by making us proud so we believe we don’t need God’s grace. When we feel guilty, he tells us that God could never forgive someone who has done that sin. He might be able to forgive the small sins. He might be able to forgive medium sins. But your sin is just too big.
He also tries to build us up. He tells us that we don’t need to go to worship to receive God’s grace. God loves you just the way you are. As long as you’re nice, happy, and aren’t Hitler, everything should be just fine. At least you’re not as bad as some people we know.
Dealing With Temptation
When we pray this prayer, God delivers. He gives us two things that God gives us to lead us from temptation. The first is the Sunday morning worship service. There, we receive God’s grace through his word and sacraments. We are encouraged by our brothers and sisters in the faith. We receive strength to remain faithful.
The second is the Spirit’s strength to remove temptations from our lives. Martin Luther once wrote, “It is impossible to keep the devil from shooting evil thoughts and lusts into your heart. But see to it that you do not let such arrows (Eph. 6:16) stick there and take root, but tear them out and throw them away. Do what one of the ancient fathers counseled long ago: ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘keep a bird from flying over my head. But I can certainly keep it from nesting in my hair or from biting my nose off.’”
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