Maybe you've seen the bumper sticker that reads, "Lead me not into temptation. I can find it myself."
Jesus taught us to pray, "And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13 NKJV). But what does that mean? Is it implying that God would lead us into a path where would be tempted? Or, worse yet, does it mean that God would tempt us?
Certainly not. The Bible tells us, "When you are being tempted, do not say, 'God is tempting me.' God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death" (James 1:13–15 NLT).
So, when we pray, "And do not lead us into temptation," we are asking God to guide us so we won't go outside his will and place ourselves in the way of temptation. Essentially, we're praying, "Lord, don't let me be tempted above my capacity to resist. Give me common sense. Help me to see the pitfalls, the areas in which I can be vulnerable, and help me avoid them."
No one is above temptation's pull. You might think that after you have studied the Bible for a certain amount of time or have been a Christian for a number of years that you'll always be able to identify temptation. But that isn't true. The problem is that we often rationalize temptation.
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We'll say, "This isn't a sin. It's OK," and then we'll list so-called reasons we have worked out in our minds. But if we could see our own temptations as clearly as we see the sins of others, it wouldn't be as hard for us to identify them.
For instance, we may see someone who has given in to temptation, and it seems so obvious and so foolish to us. We think, "How could he possibly do that?"
On the other hand, when we do the same thing, we're somehow able to rationalize it. But then one day when our house of cards collapses, we see our sin for what it is.
Thankfully there's a litmus test, if you will, for determining whether we're being enticed to sin. First, pray about it. Can you ask God's blessing on the thing you're about to do?
If you can't pray about it with a good conscience, then you're probably putting yourself in the way of temptation.
Second, ask yourself how it would look if another Christian gave in to it. If you saw a Christian friend doing what you're thinking about doing, would it seem like the right thing? If not, then it's probably wrong for you to do as well.
The problem is that we'll give in to temptation, and then we're hooked. And we don't even realize it.
For example, when someone is handing out samples at the grocery store, they aren't doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They know that once you've tasted whatever it is they're offering, you will want to buy it. It's a very wise investment on their part.
That is how sin is. We take just a little nibble, and suddenly we're pulled in, hook, line and sinker.
As the classic hymn puts it so accurately, "Prone to wander – Lord, I feel it – prone to leave the one I love."
The Bible compares us to sheep, and it's a sheep's nature to wander, to go astray. In the same way, it isn't in our nature to do the right thing. We must remember that about ourselves.
Pastor John MacArthur wrote that when we ask God to not lead us into temptation, "it is an appeal to God … that in whatever we see, hear, or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, He will protect us from sin."
That's why it's a good idea to pray something along these lines: "Lord, I know my own sinful vulnerabilities, so I ask you to keep me from the power of sin. Help me to make the right choices and avoid anything that would pull me away from you."
The apostle Paul wrote, "The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure" (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT). Flee from temptation and don't leave a forwarding address.
Maybe there is some sin in your past that has remained unconfessed. It may be something you did years ago but have never called it what it is. You've said, "It is not my fault. I did this because of my upbringing" or "I did this because I had no choice in the matter."
There may be something in your life that you need to look at and say, "That was a sin, and I've never brought it before God and admitted it. I need to come clean." And if there was someone you hurt with that sin, then make restitution if possible.
Perhaps there's a sin you're committing now that you don't think is a sin. Pray about it. Bring it before God. The psalmist David prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life" (Psalm 139:23–24 NLT).
Are you willing to say, "Lord, shine the spotlight of your conviction in my heart. And if there is anything there that does not belong, would you please show it to me so that I can confess it as sin and get rid of it"?
Sometimes we don't want to pray that because we're afraid of what God will show us. But if there is something there, why wouldn't you want to get rid of it? The only sin that God will not forgive is the sin we will not confess.
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