This is part of a series on the Lord’s prayer, culture and spiritual warfare in which we look at the subversive prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples and how that prayer engages in the war of ideas with the philosophies that pervade our age.
Part 7 – Hedonism and ‘Lead Us Not Into Temptation ‘
In 2017, a new music festival named Fyre Festival was organise on an island in the Bahamas. The idea was that the festival would be the height of luxury, with delicious food and drink, top of the range accommodation and quality music, surrounded by beautiful people on an island paradise. It was a perfect illustration of the hedonistic vision that so many of us buy into. Hedonism is a philosophy of life that is all about maximising pleasure and minimising pain. If it looks good and it feels good then it must be good.
The Bible has a slightly different perspective. Joy and pleasure are both seen as good, and it is taught in the psalms that there is pleasure forevermore at God’s right hand. However, the idea that whatever looks and feels good must be good is challenged. Often things that look good and feel good do not lead to the joy and pleasure that they promise. In fact they lead to destruction. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean that it is. This can be illustrated in the story of Eve seeing that the fruit was ‘good for for food and a delight to the eyes‘, only for it to lead to death and expulsion from paradise. It can be illustrated through David when he saw ‘the woman was very beautiful’ and sent for her only for it to lead to adultery, murder, and strife for the rest of his reign as king. It can even be illustrated from Fyre Festival itself, which failed to live up to the billing and led to hundreds of influencers paying fortunes for their ‘living hell’ in cheap tents with soggy mattresses, limited amounts of awful food and no performances at all.
When we attempt to define for ourselves what is good, we inevitably get it wrong and are led astray from the road to life. This is the nature of temptation. As Michael Milton defines it, “Temptation is the intentional enticement of a person, by some bait – usually pride, always self-gratifying – to disobey God’s revealed word.” The idea of bait tells us that what will draw us in is something that looks good to us. None of us would be suckered in by something that did not look appealing, and yet what we are drawn to is so often not good. This is the trap of hedonism. One of the first lessons to learn in growing to maturity in Christ is that not everything that looks pleasing to the eye is good for the soul.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches two petitions around the area of temptation. The first is that we would not be led into it. We should not seek situations of temptation and we should pray that the Lord keep us from those moments. At the same time we recognise that God can and does use times of temptation as part of our spiritual formation, so we also pray the second petition for when we do find ourselves in those situations, that the Lord will deliver us from evil. As Martin Luther says, “Temptation … apart from the grace of God, it is so doubly hazardous, that this prayer should be offered every day, ‘Lead us not into temptation;’ or if we must enter into it, ‘Lord, deliver us from evil.’”
So what do we do when we are tempted? Historically, three different sources of temptation have been identified, and in each case the response need to be slightly different.
Temptation From the Flesh
Firstly, there is temptation from the flesh, meaning our own sinful nature. Though our sinful nature no longer rules over us when we are in Christ, it is still something that we must do battle with. Paul writes in Galatians 5:17 that, “… the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” In such a situation, the Biblical response is to RUN. Paul tells the Corinthians to ‘Flee from sexual immorality’ (1 Cor 6:18) and this idea is vividly illustrated by Joseph when Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce him (think how different David’s story would have been had he ran from that palace roof when he saw Bathsheba rather than lingered and allowed himself to be drawn in).
Temptation From the World
Secondly, temptation from the world. The Bible uses the word ‘world’ in different ways, some positive and some negative. In this context, we mean the systems of thought and life commonly held in the world but often hostile to God. This is what John is talking about when he writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). This time fleeing is not the correct response. Jesus sent us into the world and even prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). Instead, the strategy here is not to conform but be transformed by the Spirit (and praying this subversive prayer is a part of it). To resist the temptations of the world we need red hot spiritual formation. Surface level, superficial Christianity is not strong enough for what is required.
Temptation From the Devil
Finally, there are specific moments of spiritual attack such as we see at numerous moments in the Bible (for example, Adam & Eve in the garden and Jesus in the wilderness). On these occasions the focus is on what God has said. Satan puts question marks where God has put full stops. He asks Eve, ‘Did God REALLY say?’. He says to Jesus ‘If you are the Son of God,‘ despite the audible voice of the Father having declared that is exactly who Jesus is. In response to such temptations Jesus STOOD his ground, confident in God’s word. Paul tells us about the armour of God that we have to fight against these temptations from the devil. In these moments we are to stand and fight. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
When temptation comes we must fight to resist it, but in this prayer Jesus goes further. He has just been in an intense season of temptation himself, and instructs us to pray that God will not lead us there! We know that God does not tempt, but there may be moments when God leads us into the arena to fight this battle, just as the spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for his own temptation. When this happens, the second petition kicks in. That God will deliver us from evil.
How does God deliver us? Here are three ways:
(1) God always gives a way out – In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes, “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.” God never allows us to face a temptation where he has not provided us with an escape route.
(2) God helps us in the fight – By the strengthening of the Holy Spirit and by the community of believers he has put around us, God stands with us when the moment of temptation comes..
(3) God uses it for our good and for his glory. – He uses these moments to develop our character, to show his grace to us and give us cause to praise his name.
Jesus taught us a subversive prayer. We pray it in a hedonistic culture that says what looks good is good. We pray it knowing that the flesh, the world and the devil set things before our eyes that appeal to us but will destroy us. We pray it seeking the sovereign hand of God to lead us away from those moments, and we pray it seeking the powerful presence of God to deliver us when those moments arrive.
Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come; Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.