Chapter 7 - The Sixth Petition
"And lead us not into temptation"
This sixth petition also begins with the word and, requiring us to mark closely its relationship with the preceding petition. The connection between them may be set forth thus. First, the previous petition concerns the negative side of our justification, while this one has to do with our practical sanctification; for the two blessings must never be severed. Thus we see that the balance of truth is again perfectly preserved. Second, past sins being pardoned, we should pray fervently for grace to prevent us from repeating them. We cannot rightly desire God to forgive us our sins unless we sincerely long for grace to abstain from the like in the future. We should therefore make it our practice to beg earnestly for strength to avoid a repetition of them. Third, in the fifth petition we pray for the remission of the guilt of sin; here we ask for deliverance from its power. God’s granting of the former request is to encourage faith in us to ask Him to mortify the flesh and to vivify the spirit.
Before proceeding further, it may be best to clear the way by disposing of something that is a real difficulty to many. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man" (Jas. 1:13). There is no more conflict between the words "And lead us not into temptation" and the expression "neither tempteth He any man than there is the slightest opposition between the teaching that "God cannot be tempted with evil" and the recorded fact that Israel "turned back and tempted God" (Ps. 78:41). That God tempts no man means that He neither infuses evil into anyone nor is in any wise a partner with us in our guilt. The criminality of our sins is to be wholly attributed to ourselves, as James 1:14, 15, makes clear. But men deny that it is from their own corrupt natures that such and such evils proceed, blaming their temptations. And if they are unable to fix the evil on those temptations, then they seek to excuse themselves by throwing the blame upon God, as Adam did: "The woman whom Thou gayest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat" (Gen. 3:12).
It is important to understand that the word tempt has a twofold significance in Scripture, though it is not always easy to determine which of the two applies in a particular passage: (1) to try (the strength of), to put to the test; and (2) to entice to do evil. When it is said that "God did tempt Abraham" (Gen. 22:1), it means that He tried him, putting to the test his faith and fidelity. But when we read that Satan tempted Christ, it signifies that Satan sought to bring about His downfall, morally impossible though it was. To tempt is to make trial of a person, in order to find out what he is and what he will do. We may tempt God in a legitimate and good way by putting Him to the test in a way of duty, as when we await the fulfillment of His promise in Malachi 3:10. But, as is recorded for our admonition in Psalm 78:41, Israel tempted God in a way of sin, acting in such a manner as to provoke His displeasure.