In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to make this regular request: “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13a). Perhaps because “temptation” sounds so ominous, believers and non-believers alike typically view it as a noticeable, passing, one-time event.
We certainly see these types of temptations in the Bible: Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:1-7), Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), Ananias and Sapphira in Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-6). In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus seems to be talking about occasions of temptation or testing.
But in the classic work Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, Richard Lovelace expands this event-only view of temptation which ignores other scriptural teaching:
[Temptation] is largely misunderstood as having mainly to do with the efforts of demonic agents to entice believers into isolated acts of serious sin . . .
Most commonly temptation is directed toward larger ends: involving believers in whole ways of life or patterns of behavior which are subchristian, which will extinguish their spirituality and make them negative witnesses; or luring them into adopting outlooks which excuse or justify sin and which may almost totally obscure their faith (p. 137).
It’s tempting to say yes in the face of God’s no. It’s tempting to say no in the face of God’s yes. It’s tempting to take what isn’t ours, keep what we should give, back down when we should stand up, or say less or more than the truth.
It’s tempting to get irritable with your kids when you’re tired and they’re wound up. It’s tempting to take a second look at an attractive jogger. It’s tempting to cut a corner financially, miss church for a lame reason, or keep an argument going when it’s time for apologies.
Temptations are many and varied. Guarding your heart in each of these situations, no matter how large or small, is the path of life.
But there’s a much bigger temptation at work, and it doesn’t just come around now and then. All these alleged one-time temptations are part of a larger pattern, working together to generate a stronger pull. Paul warns us against these powerful shaping forces and urges us, “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). The author of Hebrews tells his audience to keep their hearts soft so they don’t cave to “the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Solomon pled with his son, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Temptations is serious business, and its doors are open 24/7. We’re not just tempted to get angry on occasion, shut down now and then, or fulfill sinful desires in a momentary heat of passion. The world, the flesh, and the devil hold out sly and savvy invitations to share the culture’s values, live life for self, harbor sin in the heart, embrace half-truths, accept fractured relationships, stay spiritually lethargic, or neglect the basic means of grace.
So don’t just monitor your responses to the isolated temptation or the one-time challenge. Check your life for “whole ways of life or patterns of behavior which are subchristian.” Line up your passions, pursuits, and priorities against the plumbline of God’s Word. And when you find long-standing outposts of darkness, let there be light.