The Lord's Prayer
Deliver Us From the Evil One (Mt. 6:13)
by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith
The last of the three petitions concerning ourselves is the prayer
that we may be preserved from temptation and evil. Older English translations
follow the King James version and translate "deliver us from evil"
but the Greek contains a definite article. The translation should be
"deliver us from the evil one," which is found in more recent
English versions such as the New King James, the New Revised Standard
Version, and the New International Version. The expression refers, of
course, to Satan himself, but it should be understood to include also
those who work for him.
A Spiritual Warfare
The correct translation makes explicit what even the incorrect translation
implies -- we are praying for help in a spiritual conflict with an evil
supernatural being. This conflict is one of the important presuppositions
of the Lord's prayer. It is included in our prayer that the kingdom
of God may spread and His will may be done, though in our day the fact
that we are to be fighting for the kingdom of God is a neglected truth.
Perhaps the tendency for modern Christians to forget the reality of
our spiritual warfare would be at least partially remedied by praying
the Lord's prayer daily with the correct translation.
Satan is an enemy who hinders the building of God's kingdom and seeks
to ruin those who do God's will. As a real personal spirit and the ultimate
enemy of God, he works by tempting people to sin and rebel against God,
as he tempted Adam and Eve. With a host of demons under him and the
majority of the human race unwittingly doing his bidding, he has great
power and influence. Though we may sometimes forget to pray about our
warfare with him in our daily prayers, our Lord included a petition
against Satan in this basic instruction.
Why does God allow His enemy to continue to persecute His own people
and tempt men to sin against His majesty? The answer has to do with
the way that God deals with free moral agents. He could, as we have
pointed out before, sanctify us instantly by the mere act of His will.
But this would mean that we ourselves would not have cooperated with
the work of our own spiritual improvement. It would mean that the work
of changing our hearts proceeded entirely from the outside, with us
being observers after the fact. Sanctification, instead of being a process
of growth would be a mere mechanical change. For a moral agent, this
is clearly not the most appropriate process.
Just as God allows us to sin so that we will understand the nature
of sin and forgiveness and turn wholly unto Him, so also He allows Satan
to tempt us as he tempted Adam and Eve. We learn to choose what is good
because we understand good and evil by personal experience. We are led
to hate the evil and to love the good.
Satan, therefore, is an instrument in the hands of God, used for the
purification of His church. When he tempts us to sin, he actually stirs
up what is hidden in our hearts so that we ourselves can see it clearly.
God led the children of Israel in the wilderness for forty years in
order "to know what was in your heart" (Dt. 8:2). Not, obviously,
that God Himself did not know, but that it was not manifested. He brought
it out into the light where the problems could be dealt with. He does
the same thing with us. He exposes the evil of our hearts to us so that
we can see it clearly, learn to hate it, and reject it to choose righteousness.
The example of Peter is relevant here. We read in Luke that "the
Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that
he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith
fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
(Lk. 22:31-32). Peter enthusiastically affirmed that he was ready to
follow Jesus to death (vs. 33), to which Jesus responded that Peter
would deny Him three times that very night. Why did God allow Satan
to tempt Peter to deny Christ? Because that sin was in Peter's heart
-- not to mention the rest of the disciples who sinned in a manner similar
to Peter -- and it had to be purged in order for Peter to be the kind
of Christian leader God had chosen him to be.
When Peter sinned and confronted the horror of his own heart, he repented
so deeply that he never repeated this kind of sin again. As our Lord
said, he was able to return and strengthen his brothers because the
true faith that was in his heart won the spiritual battle because of
the prayers of Christ, who also prays for us. Every temptation to sin
brings out what is evil in us so that we may eliminate it from our hearts.
Temptation also drives us unto God and strengthens our faith. It leads
us to pray and purifies us.
Another aspect of Satan's work of purging sin can be seen in the parable
of the soils. Satan not only purges sin from true Christians, at the
same time and through the same temptations, he also purges the church
of false believers. The first soil is prevented from ever even really
hearing the Word of God. But the second and third soils both initially
respond with joy and receive the word (cf. Lk. 8:13). The second soil
is the kind of "Christian" who cannot stand persecution and
whose faith fails in hard times. The third soil is the kind of ÒChristianÓ
who cannot resist the temptations of this world and whose faith gradually
succumbs in the face of prosperity. These two very different kinds of
trials were both used to test David's faith. He did well in persecution
but found prosperity more difficult. In the end, like the true Christians
of the fourth soil, David persevered through both and bore fruit for
the kingdom of God.
What We Pray For
When we ask that we may not be led into temptation, the petition has
multiple possible meanings. The Westminster Larger Catechism suggests
three different meanings for this petition. First, we ask God that He
not allow us to fall into temptation, for we should all know our own
weakness. If David and Solomon were both unable to withstand the temptation
of riches, should we not pray, as it is written in Proverbs: "give
me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be
poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." (Pr. 30:8-9)?
This petition may also be understood as a request that God would preserve
us in temptation, for it is a fact that we all must face temptation
to some degree, since through temptation God sanctifies us. The point
is not that He "tempts" us to sin, for, as James said, we
are tempted only when we are led astray by our own lusts (Jms. 1:13-14).
But God allows Satan to tempt us and He uses that to humble and discipline
us. It is important, therefore, for us to pray that in temptation our
faith would not fail, that He would show us the way of escape that we
might endure the trial (1 Cr. 10:13).
The third thing that is involved in this petition is a prayer that
we, like Peter, might be led to repentance in the event that we do sin.
We know our own weaknesses and our need of God's grace. We know that
we will, in fact, not be sinlessly perfect, that we will have to repent
again and again until the day we stand before God. Paul expresses this
in Romans 7:14-25 where he cries out to God for salvation from the sin
in his heart. He knows that he loves God and His law, but the reality
of his sinfulness is so deep that he sees sin contaminating every good
deed that he attempts (vs. 14-23). This is a truly miserable condition
and he cries to God for salvation (vs. 24). His prayer illustrates another
meaning both of the prayer for forgiveness and the prayer for God to
save us from temptation.
In each of these three meanings, therefore, we are praying that God
would not allow us to fall in the warfare against sin. This means that
the final petition is a prayer that we might persevere. For we must
take the warfare against sin and Satan very seriously. We do believe
that those who truly trust in Christ for their salvation cannot finally
fall. But we also believe that those who truly trust in Christ for salvation
are preserved only by the grace of God, that their preservation is not
"automatic," but is based upon the fact that they continue
to excerise faith, that they pray to God and seek His grace to the end.
For unless God Himself hears our prayer and preserves us, we will certainly
not be able to maintain our faith. Either persecution or prosperity
might undo us. We pray, therefore, with a consciousness that the battle
we fight is real and that we are desperately weak. Unless He saves us,
we cannot be saved. This, of course, is the very same faith by which
we are justified. Not only in the beginning, but daily so long as we
live, we come to God casting ourselves wholly on Him, seeking our salvation
from His grace alone, for we have no other hope or help.
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