“and lead us not into temptation…”
The Lord has warned us in advance that our lives will be marked by many difficulties. Indeed, to follow Christ requires all our energy, because it is impossible to take up our crosses without carrying them into many deaths (Matt 16:24). Yet there are certain trials that Christians must avoid, trials too great for our Christian courage and valor. These are the trials which threaten us with apostasy. The same Greek word for “temptation” occurs two other times in Matthew, each of these instances refer to no ordinary trial. Rather, these trials are potentially soul threatening. The Lord has called us to avoid this type of trial. Though we must be prepared to march daily into trials of suffering, we are never so fortified that we can expose ourselves to the temptations of apostasy.
The same Greek word for “temptation” occurs in Matthew 18:7, where Jesus imprecates the world “for temptations to sin.” Though these temptations characterize this present age, Christ’s disciples are commanded to cut off hands and pluck out eyes to avoid these temptations. It is better to enter into life maimed, says Christ, than to be “thrown into hell fire” (Matt 18:7-9). How important is it, therefore, to always cleave to Christ, knowing that he alone can save us from destruction. If we fall away from Christ, we can expect no mercy on the day of God’s wrath. For the Lord of Heaven and Earth does not watch passively while apostates descend into hell; it is rather the case that apostates are “thrown into hell fire”(Matt 18:9). The most reasonable interpretation of the phrase “thrown into hell fire” is that it references God’s judgment. Apostasy is one of the gravest of sins, because it is a sin from which there can be no return. It is impossible for God to have mercy on apostates (Hebrews 6:4-6), because Christ would need to shed his blood a second time, something that the Father will not ask of his Son.
The Lord knew that apostasy would threaten us continually, in ways often too subtle for us to notice, and for this reason the Lord commanded us to always pray that God would spare us from these trials. Therefore, we are always to request from God, along with asking for our daily bread, that he would “lead us not into temptation.” The same Greek word for “temptation” occurs in Matthew 26:41, when the hour of trial descended upon Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Because the disciples were about to enter into a temptation which would test their loyalty to Christ, the Lord warned them to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” It seems, therefore, that the dark night in Gethsemane serves in some measure as a warning for us all. Like the disciples, who were commanded to pray lest they fall into temptation, all Christians must realize that our souls face dangers of great power, dangers which threaten to tear us from Christ. For this reason, we are to pray that God would be for us a perpetual battle shield, protecting us from all of Satan’s arrows.
Yet we are not to be ultimately despondent if we have become overcome by temptation. The Lord did not merely come to warn us of the consequences of our misdeeds, but he came to offer his body and blood “for the forgiveness of sins”(Matt 26:28). We would have no need to feast upon his life unless we had become spoiled by death. Indeed, as often as we participate in Christ’s Eucharistic flesh and blood, we remember also that we are sinners in need of his absolution. Let us therefore never think that we are too sick to be cured, because from his side flows an eternal medicine so potent that all our sins are dissolved in his healing waters. The Spirit and the Bride say come. We shall never learn to live our lives apart from Christ. Nay! As long as we have life in us, we are resolved to live with Christ. Let us fling any thoughts of apostasy into the cup of God’s forgiveness, and let us ingest Christ as our only true bread – our staff of life and medicine of immortality.
Although we know that apostasy is unforgivable, we also know that many doubts and failures do not equal apostasy. Rather, the apostasy described in scripture – that state of yielding to temptation from which there can be no return – seems to be characterized by perpetual impenitence. For this reason, we can be confident that the Spirit’s chastening will not scatter us into hell fire, but it will rather lead us by hand into the healing embrace of our Great Physician. Let us remember that Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners”(Matt 9:13). Whether one has committed sins of the passions, sins of the intellect, sins of the tongue, or whatever else, the Lord still descends upon the miry bogs into which his people have sunk, and he lifts them up with the power of his righteous life, death, and resurrection. Let us fly, therefore, into the arms of Christ, in order that we might be forgiven of our sins, and that we might be safe from ensuing temptations.