What does “Lead us not into temptation” mean?

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to say,

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

St. Matthew 6:13

What does this actually mean?

We know that it cannot mean that God would not tempt us to sin, because Scripture teaches us that God never tempts anyone:

“Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils: and he tempteth no man.”

James 1:13

That much is clear. So, what does this mean?

One of the best ways to learn the meaning of a passage of Scripture is to study other passages of Scripture that shed light on it. We find a good example of this in the book of Proverbs.

In the book of Proverbs, we read:

“Give me neither poverty, nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life. Lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: Who is the Lord? or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God.”

Proverbs 30:8-9

Here we learn what it means to ask God to “lead us not into temptation”–while not actually tempting us.

What actually tempts is our own inclination to sin. That inclination to sin is like the nature of fire to burn. If we place a piece of paper near to a fire, the fire will, by nature, devour it. Likewise if we, with our inclination to sin, are set in the presence of certain things, those things will tempt us to sin.

In the proverb, the idea that will later be taught in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. He asks not for poverty (one extreme), nor for riches (the other extreme). Rather, he prays that God will grant him a life in the middle, between the two evil extremes. He prays that God will provide him with the “necessaries of life” so that he, with his human inclination to sin, is not tempted to steal by poverty, nor to deny God by riches. He prays for the opportunity to live with the “golden mean”.

This prayer in the Proverbs helps us to understand what it means to pray that we not be led into temptation. We ask that God bring us to a place where we are not tempted to sin by extreme conditions of life, but to allow us to dwell safely in the middle.

This is what the Catechism also teaches us when we learn of the need to avoid the “occasions of sin”. Knowing that we are inclined to sin, we must keep ourselves, as far as we are able, from any circumstances which will tempt us to sin.

May God hear our prayer and “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

God bless,
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy