Since temptation is the front porch of the devil’s strategy to undermine and destroy faith, we need to learn how to handle it strategically.
Lead us not into temptation
From the time of Adam’s fall, temptation is the common experience of all humanity. Ever since Eden the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life are forces to contend with (1 John 2:16). The devil isn’t called the father of lies for nothing; he continues to twist God’s good creation for his own purposes. Things that God declared “very good” at the close of his creation Satan now commandeers to lure God’s children away from the salvation he planned for them.
You know how easily your heart can deceive you: how quickly thankfulness changes to greed, appreciation morphs into envy, gifts become idols, hunger escalates to gluttony and healthy sexual desire spirals out of control into ravenous lust. The combined pressures of devil, world, and flesh ensure that constant vigilance is required; we’re forever being seduced into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice.
That’s why Jesus instructs us to pray for protection. His “lead us not into temptation” does not imply that God is the cause of evil or that he brings on all these assaults on our faith and life. God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one, James writes (1:13). The real source is much closer to home: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas 1:14–15).
So our very first line of defense in spiritual warfare is protection from the enticements and allure of temptation of all sorts. You can’t keep them from coming your way. They’re the common experience of every Christian. You can’t avoid temptation when you’re in continual proximity to the holiness of God; the demonic forces are strangely attracted to holiness. Yet they are also repelled by holiness, and an important work of God’s unseen agents, the holy angels, is to guard and keep the faithful: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps 91:11–12).
The sign of victory
Remembering you do not fight alone in this struggle is nine-tenths of the battle in spiritual warfare. Christ Jesus is the mighty victor over Satan in his death and resurrection, and he dispatches his angelic hosts to guard all those who bear his name. Troops entering a battlefield need to know who has them covered. Seek cover daily. In his catechism Martin Luther instructs the baptized to begin and end each day with the sign of the cross, the emblem of their baptism into Christ, and by invoking the presence of God the most holy Trinity. Morning and evening catechetical prayers both conclude with the petition: “Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe have no power over me.”
Like Jesus in his own private prayers, pray out loud, giving voice to what’s on your heart and mind. Invoke God by name, mark yourself with the blessed sign of your redemption by Christ’s cross and insignia of your baptism into him. Pour out your heart before your Father in heaven and seek the protection of his holy angel. Even if you haven’t been accustomed to praying this way, I commend it to you. I’ve found it a vivid and practical way to don all the spiritual armaments of Ephesians 6 daily (the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, etc.).
Peace of mind and heart can be greatly enhanced despite some chaotic surroundings, I’ve discovered. Often we have not because we ask not.
This post is adapted from The Care of Souls by Harold L. Senkbeil (Lexham Press, 2019).