Lead Us Not into Temptation
“Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). These are the words of Jesus Christ when He teaches His disciples how to pray using what is now known as the Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:9-13). “Lead us not into temptation.” We just heard a few weeks ago, on the Saturday after Theophany (January 6th), about Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness after He was baptized and chrismated (Mark 1:9-12; Mt.4:1-11). In the Epistle of James/Iakovos, chapter one, there is a passage in which he instructs his readers about temptation. He says, 2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. Then in verse 12 forward, 12Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
What else can we learn about temptation or ‘peirasmos’ in Greek? In the Scriptures, the word ‘temptation’ only appears 16 times and all in the New Testament. One of course is from today’s passage in James, two are from Jesus’ teaching the Lord’s Prayer, and one is from Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness. One verse is particularly helpful. St. Paul says, 13No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1Corinthians 10:13). Jesus Himself instructs us how to overcome temptation saying, 38Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:38). In the Garden of Gethesemane, Jesus says to Peter, Andrew and John: 46Then He said to them, "Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation." (Luke 22:46).
When looking up the shorter verb form ‘tempt’, we understand that we can tempt God and that’s not a good thing.
16"You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah “(Deuteronomy 6:16).
15So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free.' " (Malachi 3:15). 9nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; (1Corinthians 10:9). Matthew the Evangelist refers to Satan as the ‘tempter’ 3Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." (Matthew 4:3)
These passages are helpful but they do not directly define temptation. What is temptation? The dictionary defines ‘temtpation’ as “to entice or allure to do something often regarded as unwise, wrong, or immoral.”
It’s very important to remember that temptation is not necessarily sinful but it is an enticement to commit sin. It’s the “try it, you’ll like it” pitch. Or “it wont hurt you” gimmick. Thus, there is no such thing as “the devil made me do it.” The devil will tempt us for sure, but he cannot force us to commit sin. Because of this, he must work in cunning, clever, subtle ways. He and his demons do this by sending us thoughts, what the Church Fathers refer to as ‘logoismoi.’ These thoughts are like a match to the gasoline of our desires and passions. This is what the Apostle James meant when he said, 14But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. And he goes on to say, 15Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. That’s the first ignition, the beginning of the fire. And sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (v.15). This is the fire raging out of control, death meaning separation from God who is divine life.
OrthodoxWiki.org, which is the Orthodox Christian version of Wikipedia, has an excellent reference on this. The entry is about ‘Logismoi” and draws from Evagrius Ponticus (c.346-399), originally from Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black sea in what is modern-day Turkey. He served as a lector under St. Basil the Great and was made deacon and archdeacon under St. Gregory the Theologian. In order to deal with his sin, Evagrius retreated to the Egyptian desert and joined a cenobitic community. As a classically-trained scholar, Evagrius recorded the sayings of the desert monks and developed his own theological writings.
Evagrius developed a comprehensive list in 375 AD of eight evil thoughts (λογισμοι), or eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs. This list was intended to serve a diagnostic purpose: to help readers identify the process of temptation, their own strengths and weaknesses, and the remedies available for overcoming temptation. The eight patterns of evil thought are: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, discouragement, anger, vainglory, and pride.
While Evagrius did not create the list from scratch, he certainly refined it. Some two centuries later in 590 AD, Gregory the Dialogist would revise this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins, where St. Gregory the Great rolled acedia (discouragement) & tristitia (sorrow) into a newly defined sin of Sloth; Vainglory a part of Pride; and added Envy to the newly defined "Seven Deadly Sins".
Furthermore, it mentions someone who should be familiar to us. Fr. Maximos of Mount Athos, Fr. Maximos (Moschos?) of Mount Athos is quoted extensively on the subject of logismoi in Kyriakos Markides' book, Mountain of Silence. Fr. Maximos describes five stages of logismoi as detailed in the teachings of the Fathers of the Church:
Assault - the logismoi first attacks a person's mind
Interaction - a person opens up a dialogue with the logismoi
Consent - a person consents to do what the logismoi urges him to do
Defeat - a person becomes hostage to the logismoi and finds it more difficult to resist
Passion or Obsession - the logismoi becomes an entrenched reality within the nous of a person
Fr. Maximos explains that no sin is committed until the stage of Consent, though he warns that if a person is of weak temperment, they are unlikely to be able to resist the logismoi at the Interaction stage. Fr. Maximos teaches that the best way to combat logismoi is to be indifferent, to ignore them. He suggests that a person should pray to combat logismoi, but only when not overcome by fear.
As we conclude today, let us remember the words mentioned at the beginning from the Apostle James. 2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. So, when you experience temptation, do not think that God has abandoned you or you’re doing something wrong. Know that God has allowed it because He knows that you are ready for the test in order to make you faith even stronger. Temptation will never end in this life. But following the words of the Lord Jesus, let us watch and pray. Watch and be ready and prepared for temptation when it comes. Pray to the Lord for wisdom, discernment and strength to resist temptation. Our flesh is weak but why should we let our weak flesh rule our soul? Prayer enables the soul to rule over the body so that we do not become like animals who are driven by instinct. Rather, we are filled with and guided by the Spirit of God who does not lead us into temptation. Amen!