The final petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). The first half of this petition raises two interesting questions: (1) Does God ever lead us into temptation? (2) If not, why do we ask him not to?
The answer to the first question is a resounding “No!” James 1:13 identifies evil desire as the source of temptation, not God: “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. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
But if God does not tempt us, why do we ask him not to lead us into temptation? (Isn’t that a bit like asking a prohibitionist not to drink beer?) The answer to the second question lies in understanding Greek vocabulary. In Matthew 6:13, the Greek word we translate as “temptation” is the noun, peirasmos. James uses this same noun and its corresponding verb peirazo several times (1:2, 12–14). The noun ranges in meaning from “period or process of testing, trial, test” to “temptation, enticement,” depending on the context. (For language mavens, the English word pirate derives from these Greek words.)
Now, while God never leads us into temptation, he sometimes leads us into trials. The difference between the two lies in their ultimate source and intended outcome. The ultimate source of temptation is the devil—“the father of lies” (John 8:44). Its intended outcomes are a loss of faith in God, together with the loss of all the blessings which unbelief entails.
By contrast, the ultimate source of trials is God. Their intended outcomes are an increased trust of him through trying times, a growth in character, and the reception of all blessings which such faith entails. That is why James is able to counsel believers with these counterintuitive words: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Such trials, successfully endured, make the sufferer “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2, 4).
Unfortunately, such trials are hard for us to bear. So much is at stake, and we are such weak creatures! When trials happen, therefore, we need to remember Paul’s promise of divine help: “No temptation [or trial—the word is peirasmos] has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [or tried] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted [or tried], he will also provide you a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
When trouble comes, the devil wants us to fail but God wants us to succeed. So, we pray to God: “Lead us not into trials, but [if you do] deliver us from the evil one.”