If the devil played baseball what position would he play? I believe he would be a pitcher. Orel Hershiser, who pitched the Dodgers to a World Series victory in 1988 once discussed his philosophy of pitching. He said,
“There are two theories of pitching. One is that you try to convince the batter that a particular pitch is coming and you throw something different.The other theory that you don’t hear as much, but that I use is that if the batter expects a particular pitch, you throw it, but you throw it in a place where he can’t hit it.” That is: Know what a batter wants or expects and throw the ball almost there. If he’s a highball hitter, throw it a bit too high. His eagerness will prevent him from laying off the pitch, but because of its location it’ll be hard to hit well.”
Doesn’t that sound like the way the Devil uses temptations against us? Think about it. He knows just what kind of pitch that we’re a sucker for and then throws it our way. But, it’s just a little higher or just a little bit more outside than where we like it, and most likely we’ll bite on it every time because it looks so good and it feels so right. But what’s the result? A big swing and a miss. A strike out that ends with us skulking back to the dugout wondering what went wrong.
Jesus said that temptations to sin will come. It’s not a matter of if you will face temptation, but a matter of when. It’s easy to become self-righteous when you see or hear of the temptations that others struggle with. To think, “if I were in their place I wouldn’t give in.” But the truth is that none of us here this morning has a perfect batting average against Satan when it comes to resisting temptation. Which is why Jesus asks us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
So let’s clear up some common misconceptions floating around out there about temptation. The first misconception is that temptations are from God. Jesus calls us to pray to God, “Lead us not into temptation.” But have you ever wondered about that? Is Jesus saying that God will lead us into temptation? Why would God deliberately lead his children into something he warns them to stay away from? The easy answer, is that no God doesn’t lead anyone into temptation. We know this because the Bible tells us so. James chapter 1 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) James says very clearly, “Temptations to evil don’t come from God.”
So then why does Jesus tell us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation?” This is a case of something getting lost in translation. The Greek word for temptation has two basic meanings. It can mean a difficult trial that comes from God, or it can mean solicitation to do evil, which comes from our own sinful desires or Satan. What we know of as temptation. You can see in the first chapter of James how this one word is translated in both ways depending on the context. For instance James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers when you face trials of many kinds.” The word for trials here is the same one used by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer that is translated as “temptation.” James is telling us that God uses trials and difficulties to produce spiritual maturity. Then in verse 13, James uses the same word in its second sense. He writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
The big picture here is that we are to expect trials from God. They mature us in our faith. But what God gives to you as a trial or test is often twisted by Satan into a temptation. The very same event may be both a test for you from God and also a temptation from Satan. God is using this trial to accomplish one thing in your life, and Satan at the very same moment, is using that trial to accomplish something much different.
For example, let’s say you get a promotion and a nice pay raise. Now you’re better off financially than you’ve ever been. You could see this promotion as a trial from God; a test to see how you handle blessings. God is giving you an opportunity to become more generous and selfless. But with prosperity also comes the temptations to greed and selfishness. This one event can be both a trial from God and a temptation from the devil. In this prayer we pray that God would deliver us from the evil that often results when face temptations.
A second misconception is that temptation itself is sinful. In those moments when you are tempted, often your own guilty conscience will work overtime and you can wind up feeling like you’ve fallen even when you successfully turn away from temptation. The moment of temptation itself is not sinful. We know this once again because the Bible tells us so. The book of Hebrews states that Jesus himself was tempted in every way that we are and yet was without sin. If temptations were inherently sinful then Jesus wouldn’t have been able to be tempted and remain sinless. Yet that is exactly what he did. This should be incredibly comforting. We can take all of our struggles to Jesus, knowing that he has fought those battles for us already, and won.
Temptation itself isn’t sinful, but having said that the line between being tempted and yielding to temptation is razor thin. Probably the best and most well-known Biblical example of this thin line is King David and his encounter with his friend Uriah’s wife.
The story takes place at the time of year when men (like David) would go off to war. David sent his army out, but he stayed behind. Walking one evening on his flat roofed house, he saw a beautiful woman bathing on her rooftop. This was his moment of trial and temptation. But David was tempted in that moment. He could have turned away, but he lingered. Instead of averting his eyes as he should have, he pursued the matter, allowing lust to get a stranglehold on him. Bathsheba was a married woman, but when David discovered that truth it didn’t matter to him because his lust had already gotten a hold of him. He committed adultery with Bathsheba. Then when she became pregnant with her husband away at war, David committed murder to cover up his sin. Desire gave birth to sin which gave birth to death. Jesus and David both faced temptation. Jesus turned from it while David turned toward it.
Probably the sneakiest misconception about temptation is that they are irresistible. Many people caught in sin feel that temptation is irresistible. You can develop a certain fatalism towards temptation. Where you wind up saying to yourself, “No one is perfect. Everyone gives in.” And instead of fighting temptation you simply give in. Temptation is not irresistible. The two great dangers when it comes to temptation is believing that you can’t fail or that you can’t help but fail. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that,
“No temptation has seized you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Another way to put it is this: God will not lead you to a place where you are forced to do evil. You may find yourself in a tough spot, and under pressure you may choose to do evil. In your mind you feel “forced” by the circumstances to do wrong, but even in those cases the choice is yours. God doesn’t set you up to fail. The way out that God provides in each and every temptation isn’t a mystery. It’s Jesus. Only by trusting and relying on him will you find the strength to turn away. And what’s more, if you do stumble and fall Jesus stands ready to lift you back up. If you confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. In Jesus, every battle with temptation has already been won.
In this prayer you are called to recognize that God does not tempt you. The devil and your sinful nature does that all on their own. You are also reminded that the moment of temptation itself is not sinful. That Jesus was tempted just as you are and yet was without sin. When you face temptation and you pray for help, it is a great comfort to know that Jesus understands exactly what you are going through because he’s been there himself. And finally, as you pray this prayer you are called to lean on Jesus. Temptation is not irresistible. Jesus’ victory over the devil is your victory as well. But when you fall, flee to the One who has already defeated the devil. He who was tempted for you is never tempted to leave you. His conquering of sin is your conquering of sin, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension are all yours.
So we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” Our Father, but lead us into the One who conquered the tempter for us; Jesus Christ our Lord.