I’m told by the revisionists that the phrase is more accurately rendered, “Do not lead us into the time of trial.” I’m not enough of a linguist to dispute the fact. I only did enough NT Greek to get through the exams at Oxford in order to be a country vicar, however I have this sneaking doubt that the revisionists are correct. It sounds too politically correct to me.
These people generally downplay sin and the devil and all that supernatural stuff, so such concepts as ‘temptation’ smacks too much of devils in red long johns with pitchforks and a little angel with a halo whispering in your other ear. I will try not to get into the byway of pointing out that it is the liberals who dislike literalism who are often far more vividly literal in their imagination about what historic Christians believe than we historic Christians actually are.
Back to the point…I’m sticking with ‘lead us not into temptation’ not because I think God would ever lead us into temptation anyway, but because ‘lead us not into temptation’ implies an action that God is leading us someplace else more positive. Not just taking us out of temptation’s way, but actually leading us into a better place and a place that is more positive and free and good and whole and wonderful.
That reminds us that sin is nothing positive. It is an absence of something good or a deformation or perversion of something good. The devil never created anything (except perhaps the double knit polyester leisure suit). All he can do is twist and pervert the good that God has created. Since this is the case, ‘lead us not into temptation’ means that God wants to not just lead us away from the evil, but towards the good. Take an example of greed: let’s say we are tempted to be greedy and hoard money. God doesn’t want to simply deliver us from that temptation. He wants to lead us away from it to something good–namely generosity and bounty and spending on good and wholesome things to share with others in love.
So when we pray, ‘lead us not into temptation’ let us also imagine the good that God is leading us into. When we do this is immediately transformative because when we envision the good that we are being led into it helps us to see the emptiness, boredom, squalor and perversity of the sin we were being tempted into. Let’s say we are tempted by pornography–just asking God to lead us away from this will do some good, but envisioning the fullness of a really wonderful loving relationship and the fruitfulness and joy of a good marriage and the purity and power of our human sexuality transformed will show the pornography for the squalid sordid putrid poisonous stuff that it really is.
‘Lead us not into temptation’ then is a phrase of great power for it opens the door to the fullness and bounty and blessing that God has in store for each of the redeemed. ‘Lead us not into temptation’ becomes a prayer, ‘Lead us into life and love and liberty and the full, pure and abundant life that you promise.