Let us see how these two things in Scripture are always connected. Eph. 2:1 – who is the ruler of the kingdom of the air? It is the Evil One (the devil, Satan), ‘which is the spirit now at work in those who are disobedient.’ You see the connection? He speaks of the Evil One, but he says that same evil is working now in men. It is the evil within them, not just the evil outside of them. It is in those who are disobedient, those who are gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, or the flesh. Here you have this intimate connection. It is almost like a crackerjack toy – one of those things you look at, and it is one picture and you move it slightly and it is another picture. In Scripture you see things like this, you see Satan and the evil nature within you, just depending on which side of the picture you are looking at. E.g. 2 Thess. 3:2-3. Vs. 2 – 'wicked and evil men.’ Here he is talking about evil resident within the hearts of men. Vs. 3 – ‘he will protect you from the evil one.’ So he is being assaulted by evil beings, and also in the next phrase he says, ‘God will protect you from the Evil One.’
Zechariah 3 is a powerful visual image that the prophet has. Zech. 3:1-4. In vs. 1 he talks about this angelic being who accuses and opposes. I am suggesting to you that Joshua is a type of Jesus. The name Jesus is derived from the name Joshua. What you have with many saints, including us, is that you have Jesus on our side and yet we still hold onto the filthy garments of iniquity. And so the Lord opposes Satan—God has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of his Son. But even though we are delivered and Calvary had definitely defeated, Satan–the spirit of Satan–is still at work in you and me in our iniquity, our self-centredness, rebellion and pride. The sign of Christian maturity is always wanting to give of ourselves to others. But that is half the truth—the other half of the truth (in my experience) is: are you willing to receive correction, rebuke; are you willing for an elder to say to you, ‘you have a dirty garment on, iniquity is showing.’ My experience is that most of us are quite happy for the preacher to confront the evil one, but we don’t like it when he confronts the evil within. We love it when he preaches against the devil, we stomp on his head, we do the victory march around the sanctuary. But when he starts talking about your nature of selfishness, self-centredness, rebellion and pride, then we say, ‘preacher you have gone from preaching to meddling.’ We don’t adequately recognize this intimate connection between Satan and the spirit of Satan at work, even in those of us who are called by Jesus’ name. We still have the old man in our wardrobe – we have those old garments. You know what? There is something about old garments - they are comfortable. If you want to relax you don’t put on your new shirt, you get that told one – because you are comfortable in it. In the Spirit it is the same way. Many of you have been saved and redeemed by the blood, yet from time to time you find it comfortable to slip into those old garments of doing it my way. What is your old man, who is your old person? For me it is retreating into my mind – into my philosophical attitude to life. That is my defense mechanism, that is the garment I am really comfortable in, that is the evil within me that has to be crucified. And this is what we are saying when we pray this – ‘Jesus, deliver us from this inclination in us to do evil.’
Does God tempt us? Does this prayer say, ‘God don’t tempt us?’ No, that is not what it says. When it says ‘Lord lead us not into temptation,’ it is just a Hebraic way of saying ‘Lord keep us from falling victim to temptations.’ The Lord does not tempt us. Lest you have any doubts, look at Jm. 1:13 – ‘when tempted no one should say, God is tempting me.’ Notice what else is not said here – ‘no one should say: the devil made me do it. What is at stake here is not God – he is not tempting you, and nor is the issue the devil. What is the issue in James?
God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone, but each person is tempted when by his or her own evil desire–evil inclination–he is dragged away and is enticed. That desire when conceived gives birth to sin, and sin grows up and dies. James is talking about a well-known concept in his Jewish world – every person is born with two natures within our hearts. One is called the inclination or desire to do good (yetzer hatov), the other is called the inclination not to do good (yetzer hara) – to do things our way, to be self-centred. Sometimes it becomes absolutely evil, the desire to do wrong. James is saying that when you are tempted you must recognize that it is the inclination in your own heart that is tempting you, it is not God.
It is true that God will permit you to be tested, but there is a difference between being tested and being tempted. God tested Israel in the desert, he said, ‘I will let you go around Mt. Sinai these many laps to test you, to see if you are willing to be obedient and faithful to me, to humble you.’ Abraham was tested, Jesus was tested. God tests the best. But when it comes to temptation, it is that old man in you and me – that old nature that we are so comfortable with, that gives us the inclination to do that. And that is what we are praying against in this prayer. We are praying against the inclination to do wrong.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.
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