Why God Allows Satan’s Temptations (Watson)

Why does God allow Satan to tempt Christians?  If he is sovereign, why doesn’t he just make some kind of force field around us, so to speak, so that Satan can’t touch us?  Temptations are a hard part of the Christian life, so why does our heavenly Father allow us to be tempted?  Thomas Watson gives some reasons from Scripture and experience:

  1. He lets them be tempted to try them.  Temptation is a touchstone to try what is in the heart.  The devil tempts that he may deceive, but God lets us be tempted to try us.  This is how God tries our sincerity (like he did Job).
  2. By temptation God tries our love.  When the devil showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, such was Christ’s love to his Father, that he abhorred the temptation.  True love will not be bribed.  When the devil’s darts are most fiery, a saint’s love to God is most fervent.
  3. By temptation God tries our courage.  He is a valiant Christian that brandishes the sword of the Spirit against Satan, and will rather die than yield.  The heroic spirit of a saint is never more seen than in a battle-field when he is fighting with the red dragon, and by the power of faith puts the devil to flight.
  4. God allows his children to be tempted so that they may be kept from pride. Pride keeps grace in the heart low, that it cannot thrive.  God resists pride; and so that he may keep his children humble, he allows them sometimes to fall into temptation (2 Cor. 11:7).
  5. God lets his people be tempted that they may be more fit to comfort others who are in the same distress, and speak a word in due season to such as are weary.  Paul was trained up in the fencing-school of temptation and was able to acquaint others with Satan’s wiles and strategies (2 Cor. 2:11).
  6. God lets his children be tempted to make them long more for heaven, where they shall be out of the range of Satan’s guns, and free from the hissing of the old Serpent.  Heaven is the place of rest, no bullets of temptation fly there.  Temptations make the saint long to receive the crown of victory in the resting place of heaven.

I’ve edited and summarized Watson’s helpful discussion about why God allows Satan to tempt his children.  You can read the entire section in Thomas Watson’s book, The Lord’s Prayer, chapter six.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


He Will Not Send You To Purgatory (Ryken)

Philip Ryken’s When You Pray is a very helpful resource for studying the Lord’s Prayer and for learning more about prayer and praying.  When I recently studied the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our debts...”), I found the following paragraphs helpful:

“As soon as we start trying to figure out how to pay God what we owe for our sins, we realize how much trouble we are really in.  Obviously, we cannot pay off our debts by ourselves.  How could we ever make up for all the sins we have committed?  Yet this is precisely the error most religions make, including false versions of Christianity.  They all operate on the basis that human beings can do something to make things right with God.  Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘Lord, I know I keep messing up, but I’m trying really, really hard to be good.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have a list here of some of the good things I’ve done – charitable work, and that sort of thing.  Yes, I know my list isn’t as long as it could be, but why don’t we just call it even?’  This kind of approach is based on the principle of works righteousness, the idea that doing good works can make someone good enough for God.”

“The truth is, however, that forgiveness is not something we can work for, it is only something we can ask for.  Even if we worked for all eternity, laboring in the very pit of hell, we could never work off the debt we owe to God.  What could we ever pay to God?  Jesus posed the question this way: ‘What can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mt. 16:26b NIV).  The answer, of course, is nothing.  Our souls are the most valuable thing we have.  When, because of our sin and guilt, we owe God our very souls, there is nothing left for us to pay.”

Later Ryken notes that “we owe God far more than we or anyone else could ever pay.”  So what can we do about our massive debt to God?  The only thing we can do is beg God for forgiveness: Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Lk. 18:13).

“This is precisely what we do in the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We ask our Father to forgive us our debts.  With these words we declare our moral bankruptcy, freely admitting that we owe God more than everything we have.  Then we do the only thing we can, which is to ask him to forgive us outright.  Because he is our loving Father, God does what we ask.  ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities… As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Ps. 103:10, 13 NIV).  God the Father offers forgiveness as a free gift of his grace.  When you go to him, weighed down with the debt of all your guilt and sin, he will not sit down with you to work out a payment plan.  He will not scheme to charge you more interest.  He will not send you to Purgatory or anywhere else to work off your debts.  On the contrary, God is a loving Father who offers forgiveness full and free.”

Philip Graham Ryken, When You Pray (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2000), p. 125-6.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Abba” Is Not “Daddy” (Part 2)

Last week I quoted Philip Ryken’s helpful explanation of why the NT term “abba” should not be translated “papa” or “daddy” (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).  We received many comments and questions about that post.  From a different angle, but with the same conclusion, listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say about this.  Perhaps Peterson’s words will shed more light on the discussion in a helpful way – a way that has to do with the history of interpreting Matthew 6:9, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.

“…The German scholar Joachim Jeremias…tried to provide a fresh appreciation of the childlike spontaneity conveyed by ‘Abba.’  Jeremias tried to make a case for ‘Abba’ meaning something on the order of “Daddy.”  His suggestion was welcomed with enthusiasm by many.  The cozy informality of the term found itself used in sermons and teachings everywhere.  It was made to order – and under such auspicious scholarly authority, the eminent Jeremias! – for a culture that was uneasy with authority, was anti-hierarchical, and wanted to be on a first-name, even nickname basis with everyone.  And now God.”

“Then the Oxford scholar James Barr threw cold water on what he discerned was nothing more than sentimentalizing coziness.  He convincingly demonstrated that Jeremias was embarrassingly mistaken.  But by then it was too late.  The horse was out of the barn.  The mistake, coziness displacing holiness, keeps showing up in both scholarly and popular writing.”

“There is, to be sure, a childlike intimacy and delight in the use of “Abba.”  But the word also continues to carry an element of awe and respect and reverence.  I don’t cease to be a child in the presence of my father.  Otherness is not diminished by affection.  Intimacy does not preclude reverence.  True intimacy does not eliminate a sacred awe: otherness, Otherness.”

“The ‘Daddy’ fad that is still sweeping through our churches is a case of premature intimacy.  We don’t begin by getting cozy with God.  We begin with solemn reverence: Holy.”

“In the first petition [of the Lord’s Prayer], Jesus leads off with a verb that gets us started off on the right foot and places us in a posture of reverent respect, standing in awe – an affectionate awe to be sure, but still awe.  ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ (Ex. 3:5).  The first petition protects the third commandment: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain’ (Ex. 20:7 NASV).  ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God’ (NRSV).”

Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant, p. 172-3. 

shane lems

sunnyside wa

“Abba” is not “Daddy”

It isn’t quite right to say that the Aramaic “abba” means “daddy.”  In other words, to call the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “daddy” at the outset of our prayers is a bit too casual and irreverent.  Philip Ryken explains.

“To call God ‘Abba, Father’ is to speak to him with reverence as well as confidence.  Abba does not mean ‘Daddy.’  To prove this point, the Oxford linguist James Barr wrote an article for the Journal of Theological Studies called ‘Abba isn’t “Daddy”.’  What Barr discovered was that abba was not merely a word used by young children.  It was also the word that Jewish children used for their parents after they were fully grown.  Abba was a mature, yet affectionate way for adults to speak to their fathers.”

“The New Testament is careful not to be too casual in the way it addresses God.  The Aramaic word abba appears three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).  In each case it is followed immediately by the Greek word pater.  Pater is not the Greek word for ‘Daddy.’  The Greek language has a word for ‘Daddy’ – the word pappas – but that is not the word the New Testament uses to translate abba.  Instead, in order to make sure that our intimacy with God does not become an excuse for immaturity, it says, ‘abba, pater.”

“The best way to translate abba is “Dear Father,” or even “Dearest Father.”  That phrase captures both the warm confidence and the deep reverence that we have for our Father in heaven.  It expresses our intimacy with God, while preserving his dignity.  When we pray, therefore, we are to say, ‘Our dear Father in heaven.’”

Philip Ryken, When You Pray, p. 57-8.

shane lems

Short Prayers, Good Prayers

 Ever since I was a younger Christian I’ve heard many godly men exhort me to spend long periods in prayer.  Some recommended waking up early to pray (from 5-6 AM), others recommended taking a day off each month to pray.  I’ve also read many accounts of great Christians who have spent hours upon hours in prayer – which has no doubt benefited Christ’s church.  I have to confess: though I do pray fervent prayers quite often, I find it very difficult to spend hours in uninterrupted prayer.  But I don’t despair for reasons that follow.

As wonderful and beneficial as longer prayers are, I think we have to be careful when it comes to this topic.  We’ve always got to remember not to judge prayers based on how long they are.  The essence of true prayer is a believing heart calling upon the Father through Christ by the Holy Spirit (see Heidelberg Catechism LD 45).  In fact, Jesus told us not to heap up empty phrases when we pray, thinking that we will be heard for our many words (Matt. 6:7).  And the pattern for prayer that he gave us is pretty short (Matt. 6:9-13).  I appreciate how Philip Ryken discussed this in When You Pray.

“Knowing God as Father means…you can keep prayer simple.  When children need something from their fathers, they do not hire a lawyer, draft a formal petition, or get down on their knees, they just ask.  That is why Christian prayers are straightforward.  The prayers of pagans tend to be overly complicated, but when Christians pray, they pray to their Father.”

“As a general rule, the prayers of God’s children are short and sweet.  Martin Luther (1483-1546) once said, ‘Our prayer must have few words, but be great and profound in content and meaning…Few words and richness of meaning is Christian; many words and lack of meaning is pagan.’  Indeed, one of the striking things about most biblical prayers is their brevity.  It is hard to find a prayer anywhere in the Bible that when read aloud would be more than five minutes long.”

“Some Christians measure spirituality by the amount of time a person prays.  True, there is plenty of teaching in Scripture about being devoted to the life of prayer.  Jesus himself spent a great deal of time in prayer, and the apostle Paul tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV).  However, the effectiveness of our prayers does not depend on the length of our prayers.”

Ryken goes on to discuss Elijah’s short, fervent prayer in contrast to the long-winded prayers of Baal’s prophets (1 Ki. 18).  Elijah’s prayer was brief and simple.  Or consider Isaiah’s prayer in which he confessed his sin (Is. 6:5).  Think about the publican’s prayer: God be merciful to me, a sinner (Luke 18:13).  Thomas’ confession-prayer also comes to mind: My Lord and my God! (John 20:28).  Ecclesiastes even says, Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few (Ecc. 5:2 NIV).

God’s people all have different personalities and temperaments.  Some can pray for hours on end with great fervency.  Others pray short fervent prayers throughout the day.  The point is that we pray often, from the heart, to our Father in heaven.  The saint that prays for hours is not more spiritual than the saint that prays frequent, brief, heart-felt prayers.  My own prayer life has grown since I’ve come to understand what Ryken means in this closing paragraph.  You may want to read it a few times if you’ve struggled in this area.

“God does not need any lengthy explanations.  If you find that your prayer life is too weak, is it possibly that you are trying to make things too complicated?  Our prayers must be fervent, of course, and they ought to be frequent, but they do not need to be fancy” (p. 30-31).

Philip Ryken, When You Pray.

shane lems

Growing in Christ: Creed, Commandments, and Prayer

I’ve found J. I. Packer’s Growing in Christ to be a helpful and brief summary of the basics of the Christian faith: the themes of the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  Indeed, most Reformation catechisms contain discussions of these three basics since even young children can learn and should know them.  (As a side note, if you have kids these three basics should be foundational in their Christian training at home.)

I appreciate Packer’s book because each lesson is around 3 pages long and contains several application questions.  I used this book for a high school level class in a church setting and it worked out pretty well.  It would also be good for a small group setting or for teaching a new Christian the main aspects of Christianity. 

Here’s a short excerpt from chapter fifteen, which is a discussion on the last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

“When in the traditional Lord’s Prayer doxology we ascribe the glory, along with the royal rule, to God forever, we are, first, telling God (and thus reminding ourselves) that he, our Maker and Redeemer, is, and always will be, glorious in all he does, especially in his acts of grace (‘we give thanks to thee for thy great glory‘); and, second, we are committing ourselves, now and always, to worship and adore him for it all (‘glory be to God on high’).  The doxology thus makes the Lord’s Prayer end in praise, just as the Christian life itself will do: for while petition will cease with this life, the happy task of giving God glory will last for all eternity.”

J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), 212.

shane lems

Kuyper and Kingdoms

Product Details In his fine book that deals with the person and work of the Holy Spirit, Abraham Kuyper talks about prayer and the Holy Spirit’s role in it.  The section is quite good.  One thing that stuck out to me was how Kuyper explained intercessory prayer with regard to the phrase, “Thy kingdom come.”  He said this first of all has to do with our love towards God, and secondly towards our neighbor.  When it comes to praying for our neighbor, Kuyper says there is a “twofold intercession:” 1) prayer about matters that do not pertain to the church and 2) prayer about matters that do pertain to the church.  Here are his own words.

“Prayer for kings, and for all that are in authority, does not concern the things that pertain to the body of Christ; neither does the prayer for our enemies, nor that for the place of our habitation, for country, army, and navy, for a bountiful harvest, for deliverance from pestilence, for trade and commerce, etc.  All these pertain to the natural life, and to persons, whether saints or sinners, in their relation to the life of creation, and not to the Kingdom of Grace.”

Then he talks about prayers that do pertain to the Kingdom of Grace, which has to do with the church.

“But our prayer does concern the body of Christ, when we pray for the coming of the Lord, for a fresh anointing of the priests of God, for their being clothed upon with salvation, for success in the work of missions, for a baptism of the Holy Spirit, for strength in conflict, for forgiveness of sins, for the salvation of our loved ones, for the effectual conversion of the baptized seed of the Church.”

He then again distinguishes: “The first intercession [#1 above] has reference to the realm of nature, the second [#2 above] to the Kingdom of Grace.”  Kuyper also goes on to mention how our prayers for people from the realm of nature have to do with the fact that all men are humans created by the triune God – but our prayers for Christians/churches have to do with the Kingdom of Grace, the fact that these people are not only created but also redeemed by the triune God.

I’m not trying to argue too much here; I simply want to point out how Kuyper was working within the historic Reformed/Reformation tradition of distinguishing the Kingdom of Power and the Kingdom of Grace.  Thomas Watson, Wilhelmus a Brakel, and even Martin Luther used these same categories.  For more info, I recommend David VanDrunen’s book that deals with this – specifically chapter 7.

shane lems

sunnyside wa