Chapter 1: A Serious Limiting Clause

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” But I need quote no more. All Scripture is full of the truth that justification cannot possibly stand alone, but must have its end and fruit in sanctification and complete deliverance from sin and death. Nevertheless, the relation between the fifth and sixth petition, is such that the former is basic for the latter. Justification is the basis of sanctification. In the gift of justification we have the right to be sanctified. We are justified in order that we may be delivered from sin and death. We are pardoned in order that we may be liberated. We are forgiven in order that we may be freed from the power and pollution of sin.

There is still another relation between the fifth and sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In the objective sense, as we said, the forgiveness of sins is the ground of the deliverance from evil; and justification looks forward to sanctification. But also subjectively, that is, in the experience of the believer and in the application of these blessings to the elect, the two are most intimately related and can never be separated. In the life and consciousness of the Christian justification never exists alone, without sanctification. He that believes that he is justified is already in principle delivered from evil. Although in the objective sense justification is the basis of sanctification, yet in principle the believer is made holy and is principally delivered from evil before he can ever lay hold on the blessing of the forgiveness of sins. It is the regenerated, called, and believing Christian that longs for, seeks, and receives his justification in Christ Jesus our Lord. For it is only the beginning of a sincere love of God and the consciousness of a deep sorrow after God that makes the believer cry for forgiveness. But by the same token, the prayer for forgiveness of sins cannot be his final request with respect to sin. As long as he8 is in need of the prayer for remission, he has not reached perfection. He is still sinful, and he still transgresses the good commandments of his God in thought, word; and deed. With this condition he can never be satisfied. The very same sorrow after God that makes him bemoan his sins and impels him to cry out for forgiveness also causes him to hate sin, to. realize the danger of falling into temptation while he is in this world, to seek strength to fight against the powers of evil within him and round about him, and to long and pray for the state in which he will be completely delivered from the dominion and corruption of sin and serve his Father in heaven in perfect righteousness. Hence, the petition for forgiveness of sins already looks forward to, and must needs be followed by this other prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” 

The question now is: what is the idea of temptation? 

According to the Heidelberg Catechism, temptation is the occasion and cause of a very bitter spiritual warfare against “our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh,” that never cease to assault us. 

The Greek term that in the New Testament is translated by the English “temptation” does not always have the same connotation. In James 1:2 we read: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” In this passage the word could better have been translated by our English “trials,” as is evident from the fact that in vs. 3 the text continues as follows: “Knowing, this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” The meaning is that temptations, or rather, trials, test the faith of the believer, give to that faith a. tried character, and thus bear the fruit of the spiritual grace of patience. The same is evidently the meaning in vs. 12 of the same chapter. There we read: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” The same term that in the above passages is translated by “temptations” occurs in I Peter 4:12, but is there correctly translated by the term “trial.” There we read: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” This is also true of I Peter 1:6, though there in the Authorized Version the term is translated by “temptations,” while the Revised Version renders it more correctly by “trials.” In this passage we read: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” But on the other hand, there are also several passages where the word evidently means temptations in the evil sense of the word. Thus it is clearly in James 1:13, 14: “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! But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Here the term is evidently used in the unfavorable sense of the word, and has the same meaning as in Matt. 4:1, where we read: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil.” There are more passages in Holy Writ where the word, is properly translated by “tempt” or “temptation,” while in some cases it is difficult to determine what is the proper rendering. 

It is evident from the above passages that the term “temptation” has two different connotations, one favorable, the other unfavorable. Or perhaps we may say that the concept which is denoted by the termtemptation may be applied in a favorable and an unfavorable, in a good and an evil sense of the word. It may be conceived from two different points of view.

Fact is that temptation and trial are closely related concepts. They are materially the same, only they differ with respect to their aim and motive. It is perhaps safe to say that for the people of God all temptation is also trial, and trial is at the same time temptation. Yet there is a good deal of difference between the two. First of all, we may note that one cannot speak of trial with respect to the wicked. Trial presupposes something good in man which is put to the test and which is improved, purified, and strengthened by the testing process. Gold and silver are tried, in order to purify them, to separate the foreign elements in them, and to enhance the beauty of their luster. But one does not test a lump of clay or a piece of stone. The wicked, therefore, cannot be said to be tried, for there is no good in them. They are totally depraved. But God’s people are tried in as far as they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, in order that the power and beauty of the work of God’s grace may become manifest, they may be purified, and strengthened in their faith, so that the trial of their faith may be to the “praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” I Peter 1:7. The wicked are indeed tempted, but never tried. For while trial aims at (the bringing to light the beauty of the work of God’s grace, temptation appeals to the sinful nature of the wicked and causes him to manifest himself in all the corruption of his nature. However, it will be evident that the very same means whereby the people of God are tried also constitute for them temptations. For there is but a small beginning of the new obedience in them, and all the rest is flesh and corruption. What therefore is a trial of their faith is at the same time a temptation for their sinful nature. When, for instance, a believer is threatened with the loss of a profitable position in the world unless he in some way becomes unfaithful and denies his Lord, his faith is being tried; but the same situation is an appeal to his sinful nature to deny Christ and keep his position. It certainly was a fiery trial of their faith when in the early church believers were sometimes confronted with the choice of confessing that Caesar was lord or being thrown into a pot filled with boiling oil. But of course, the enemy meant this horrible threat to be a temptation for their flesh, to bow the knee to Caesar and to deny the sole lordship of Christ. And thus it is always: what is a trial for our faith is a temptation for our flesh. 

But this is not all. 

We must make a further distinction between trial and temptation. 

Trial always presents the truth; temptation is always a lie. Temptation always presents the way of sin and iniquity, of backsliding and unfaithfulness, of denying Christ and violating the covenant of God, as something desirable, as a good that is worth striving for, as preferable to the way of obedience, righteousness, holiness, and faithfulness to Christ. When God places the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in paradise, and gives man the so-called probationary command, He proves, He tries, Adam. But He tells him the truth, “The day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” But when the devil tempts man in paradise, he presents the lie to him. He contradicts the Word of God, causes the woman to see that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise; he tells her, moreover, that they shall not surely die, but that God is jealous in the evil sense of the word and knows that when they eat of the tree, their eyes shall be opened and they shall be as God, knowing good and evil. And thus it is always. It is never a good, a thing to be desired, to walk in the way of iniquity, to pursue after evil, to violate the Word of God, and to serve mammon. That truth is always presented as truth in trial. But temptation always makes use of the lie, that there is a good apart from God, in the way of sin. Temptation is moral, ethical deception; trial deals with the truth. 

We must make still another distinction between trial and temptation. 

There is between the two a fundamental difference in motive and purpose. Hatred of God and hatred of one another, hatred of that which is good and delight in sin and corruption,—these are the motives of temptation. And the purpose of the tempter is always God’s dishonor and the damnation and destruction of the believer. It makes no difference who it is that assumes the role of tempter in regard to you. It may be your husband or wife, your brother or sister, your dearest friend: in the capacity of tempter he hates God and you, and seeks your destruction. When your best friend tempts you to depart from the way of truth and righteousness and to follow after the lie and vanity, he is your enemy, and you should never hesitate to say to him: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” But trial is always motivated by love, by the love of God and of one another. And the purpose of trial is always your own good and salvation. Temptation, then, is that lying appeal to our sinful nature that is motivated by enmity against God, His cause, and His people, and which aims at God’s dishonor and destruction. Such, in brief, is the idea of temptation. 

Chapter Two: God’s Sovereignty Over Temptations 

We must not overlook the fact that in the sixth petition the believer is taught to pray emphatically, “Lead us not into temptation.” 

The meaning of these words is not, and cannot possibly be, that the believer implores his Father in heaven that he may never be tempted or tried. For that would be impossible, as long as we still have but a small beginning of the new obedience, as long as we are still in the flesh and in the world, and as long as the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Hence, the meaning cannot be either that the child of God prays to his Father in heaven that he may not be led into the circumstances and situations that ‘constitute temptations. Also this would require that the Lord remove us from the world. As long as we are in the world, we are surrounded by temptations. The three factors, or agencies, that work together to bring us into the temptation are always present. For, as we said before, they are the well-known triumvirate of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. 

The devil is the arch-liar and deceiver. And he is Satan, the opponent of God and of His people. And although he no longer has the power to deceive which he did in the old dispensation, and although he can no longer enter into heaven as he did before the coming of Christ (cf. Job 1Rev. 12), because Christ is now in heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God, exalted in the highest heaven, and clothed with all power in heaven and on earth, yet the devil has great power, and constantly seeks to deceive and devour the people of God. He does not do so personally and individually, for he is by no means omnipresent. It appears that only in crucial moments of history the devil appears in person on the scene of temptation to deceive the people of God. He did so in paradise, in the form of a serpent, to induce our first parents to fall away from the living God. He did so in the case of Job, when God gave him permission to torment that servant of the Lord. And he did so in the case of Judas Iscariot, in whose heart Satan entered, that he might betray his Lord. But for the rest we do not read that Satan appears personally, although most likely in the days of Antichrist and of Gog and Magog he will take a personal part. But he has many helpers. He is the chief of the demons, and they obey him, and evidently go wherever he sends them. And therefore, there is a host of wickedness in high places, according to Scripture, against which we have our battle. 

Secondly, there is the agency of the world in its evil sense; the world of which the apostle John writes: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” In a thousand ways that world, in the midst of which we have our life and walk, tempts us to leave the way of righteousness and to follow after the lusts of the flesh. Sometimes it attacks us by its vain philosophy, attempting to toss us to and fro by every wind of false doctrine. Then again, it tries to entice us by its treasures and pleasures, offering them to us if we will only forsake the way of truth and. righteousness and become unfaithful to our Lord and our Father in heaven. Again, it threatens us with the fury of its wrath, deprives us of name and position in the world, mocks and blasphemes, or even erects scaffold and stake, to terrorize us into the denial of the name of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. That world too, therefore, is a powerful agency of temptation. And the child of God can never avoid it.