What does this mean? “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (SC, The Sixth Petition).
So then, what if we do give in to temptation? Does that mean it was God’s will for me? No, for remember, God’s will is that “He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come,” or to resist temptation (SC, The Third Petition, How is God’s will done?). Rather, it is that our will is bound to sin that when we do give in to temptation, we simply obey the natural will of our sinful flesh, or the world and the devil, rather than God’s will. Therefore, we pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer constantly. Luther writes elsewhere,
We are frequently tempted by thoughts and despair; for what human being is there who could be without this thought: “What if God did not want you to be saved?” But we are taught that in this conflict we must hold fast to the promise given us in Baptism, which is sure and clear. But when this happens, Satan does not cease immediately but keeps crying out in your heart that you are not worthy of this promise. But in this situation there is need of the fervent prayer that God may give us His Spirit, in order that the promise may not be wrested from us.LW 4:93
Allow me to share a personal story of my conversion to Lutheranism to illustrate what Luther means here. When I became a Christian, for those first few years the church I attended essentially equipped me with what I call a Calvinistic-Pentecostal theology. The Calvinist part was this: you must show fruits of repentance to know for certain that you are among God’s elect. And the Pentecostal part was that I’d know I truly had the Holy Spirit if I underwent specific emotional experiences in contemporary worship, especially if I spoke in tongues; and you had an extra special experience if the “Holy Spirit” caused you to pass out in the middle of worship and tongue speaking.
These beliefs led me to despair. No matter how many times I repented—especially of a specific sin—I kept falling back into it like a drug addict between relapse and sobriety. So, was I truly among God’s elect? The theology taught me I was not since I couldn’t prove it with my works of repentance. And I never had emotional experiences that were intense enough—and if I did I had to keep chasing a bigger emotional high to really be certain—let alone speaking in “tongues,” so did I truly have the Holy Spirit? Sure, I was baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but I was taught it was merely a symbol and doesn’t actually do anything. My “outward expression of an inward faith” was not enough, so should I be “re-baptised?” I was, but still, that was never enough. So, did I truly have the Holy Spirit? I was convinced I did not. Therefore, I asked myself, “Am I truly saved?” I believed I wasn’t.
Until I heard Matins and Divine Service III for the first time at Concordia University-Ann Arbor. There, I heard the truth and purity of the Gospel for the first time in my life. There, I learnt I do not need to look within myself for assurance of salvation (enthusiasm/mysticism), that is, my works of repentance and emotional experiences. Rather, all I need is to look outside myself (extra nos)—to Christ and His Word, to His Word that baptised me in the Triune name of God, to His Supper where He truly gives me His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and to Absolution where I hear Christ say, “I forgive you all your sins” through His servant, the pastor. The Lord led me to realise that the same Word that said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, is the same Word that says, “You are forgiven, saved, etc.,” and these happen whenever these words of God are spoken in the Sacraments.
Therefore, when you are led into such a temptation, or any temptation, you need not look within yourself. You need only look to Christ and His Means of Grace through which He distributes His mercy and forgiveness. As mentioned before, God likes to work through means, ever since the Garden of Eden. God is perfectly capable of taking care of creation Himself, yet He still placed man in the Garden as His means to work it and keep it. Therefore, God has given us means to which we cling for salvation, because He knows how weak our consciences are. These Means of Grace are the Word and Sacraments.
You have been washed in His grace; and if you were baptised as an adult like I was, you can recall that memory of being washed. If not, you know the words of Christ in, with, and under the water were spoken over you as you were baptised, for that is the entire point of Baptism—Christ’s efficacious Word is spoken. You also literally taste the grace and forgiveness of God in the Lord’s Supper. And you hear it for yourself in Holy Absolution, whether private or corporate.
Therefore, do not let the devil tempt you into thinking you’re not saved, for “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). And you taste it and hear it. The devil, for all his pomp, cannot undo what Christ has done in Baptism, His Supper, and Absolution. This does not stop him from attacking your conscience so vehemently so that you might fall into temptation, but he is powerless to undo what you receive in these Word and Sacraments even though you suffer. And he knows it; that’s why he rages so boldly. Therefore, trust even more boldly in the Word of Christ that He guards you from temptation. Whenever the devil tempts you into thinking you’re not saved, you can spit in his face and say, “Begone, villain! I am baptised into Christ!” For our guardian is not our works or our emotions, which are as fickle as the wind, but the efficacy of Christ’s holy Word, which endures forever.
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