Deliver us from Evil

The triplet of sin-related requests embedded in the Lord’s Prayer ends with the shortest, but in many ways the most potent of them all: ‘Deliver us from evil’. As many commentators point out, there is a measure of ambiguity over whether it should be rendered ‘…from evil’ or ‘…from the evil one’. However, the distinction is somewhat immaterial as evil is inseparably bound up with the one who is its source. The one who in the words of the C.S. Lewis title is none other than, ‘That Hideous Strength’. As we saw in the previous post, the request that we should not be led into temptation by definition implies that there is a tempter from whom we need to be protected.

So too, again as we noted in the earlier post, the link between our prayer for daily bread and our plea for protection from temptation and sin is a declaration of our innate weakness as fallen human beings. We need to pray because we are never self-sufficient. Indeed, as Jesus reminded his disciples, ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (Jn 15.5). It is not just that we are creatures by design who are meant to be dependant on our faithful Creator we are also sinful creatures. By nature and by our own choice we are disbarred from any entitlement to any good thing. It is this third component of how we are to pray about sin in the Lord’s Prayer that presses this home more than any other. It is intended to be a permanent wake up call to the dark realities that are ranged against us in this world and to the fact that we can never go it alone.

We live in an age in which too many people are in denial over these things – not just in the unbelieving world at large; but, sadly, also in the church. Too often preachers are silent, or at best, muted in what they have to say about sin and its consequences. It is deemed no longer appropriate to teach the Law of God in a way that directs the lives of his people. But, in so doing, we are simply dropping our defences and leaving ourselves wide open to the dark arts of the enemy of souls.

The apostle Paul was under no such delusion. In his closing comments to the church in Ephesus – a church that had been singularly blessed under his extended ministry – he gives a sobering reminder of the powers of darkness that are all too real and which pose a threat of real and present spiritual danger. There he leaves his readers in no doubt that our unseen enemy is more than mere ‘flesh and blood’; but, rather, ‘rulers…authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness [and] the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6.12).

So conscious was Martin Luther of these things – as much from personal experience as from his theological reflections – that, speaking of the devil, he famously penned the words in his hymn Ein Feste Burg, ‘…on earth is not his equal’. The German Reformer knew only too well what it meant and why it mattered to cry out in prayer, ‘Lord, deliver us from evil!’

It is both crucial and comforting to realise that this petition in the Lord’s Prayer rests on a firm foundation. As with its every request, it stands on solid ground. God is able to grant a favourable answer because he has already made the perfect provision to meet this particular need. And – again as is true of each of the petitions Jesus teaches us to present before God – the ground for God to be able to answer them in full lies with Jesus Christ himself. He has secured on earth and in his flesh all that his people need – not least on the spiritual battlefield of this hostile world. The One through whom we pray to our Father, God is his perfect Incarnate Son who literally embodies all that we need for life in all its varied dimensions.

Therefore, when it comes to life in the midst of cosmic conflict, in which the battle rages on three fronts – externally against the world, internally against the flesh and ultimately against the devil – Jesus alone is able to deliver us. He does so because he himself has entered into the same battle and he has overcome. More than this, he has taken the battle to its very end, triumphing over the devil and his power to tempt in every conceivable way – right through to the point of owning the sin and guilt of his people and undergoing the condemnation they deserve, so that even the threat of judgement would be lifted from them.

In light of all this we are assured that we can pray for deliverance and know it will come because, in Christ, we are joined to the One who is the Supreme Deliverer. In union with him we do not merely receive deliverances when we find ourselves in extremis; no, as Paul says, in him ‘we are more than conquerors’ (Ro 8.37). The deliverance we need and pray for is never an isolated provision; it is always bound up with our Warrior King to whom we are savingly joined. So, as we pray, ‘deliver us from evil’, our very words are driving and drawing us ever closer to Christ.

Mark Johnston