“Deliver Us from the Evil One”: What the Devil Has to Do With It


“… but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

This is the second part of the surprising request we saw in last week’s post. There, the emphasis was on being let out of trials—it was an acknowledgment that although troubles are a part of life and will come against us, if possible, we would rather be allowed to do without them.

The surprising part, even though it shouldn’t be surprising, is that God supports and even solicits that request. God himself isn’t the source of trials. Someone else is.

This is one of those verses that can be translated two different ways. In some translations we read “deliver us from evil.” In others we read “deliver us from the evil one.” They are understood to be essentially the same thing.

We Have an Enemy

The Bible could tell the story of the world as purely between man and God. A closed moral system, if you will, in which the major factors are man’s sin and God’s righteousness, free will (or predestination, if you prefer) and justice, human depravity and the glory of God.

And sometimes the Bible gets represented as though this is the story it tells.

But it isn’t.

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible acknowledges the presence of another player, or perhaps of many such players: “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

This other spiritual power has played an active and significant role in our history from the start. Mankind fell because Eve believed a lie; but she wasn’t the liar. Nor, of course, was God. Something else came into the garden and directly countered the word of God: “If you eat from the tree,” he said, “you will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).

Eve made the choice to believe him. In this first test of faith, she did not win.

The New Testament is clear about the real danger this enemy brings. Peter tells us that he roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Paul warns against the enemy’s “schemes” and “devices” and prophesies that he will make inroads in the church through false teaching and demonic doctrine (2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus pictures him as a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t see the sheep, human beings, as actually following the enemy. In fact he says, “They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him” (John 10:5). We are created and designed to follow only one Shepherd. The thief’s activity is instead to lure the sheep out and scatter them where they can be massacred, stolen, destroyed.

Revelation 12:10 calls our enemy “the accuser of the brethren,” bringing to mind the scenes in Job where a spiritual accuser provokes the series of attacks that put Job’s faith to severe test. In fact, the name “Satan” was originally just a descriptive title; it means “adversary.”

What Is Evil?

The exact nature of evil is a matter of theological and philosophical debate. Is evil a presence, a thing in its own right, or an absence—the lack of something good? Social science might ask if evil comes from nature or nurture, if it’s a product of our DNA or of our influences or of our choices.

I don’t believe the answer is simple. But I do believe the Bible is clear about several things:

  • Evil is not original. The Bible does not teach a dualistic universe in which there is a “Good God” and a “Bad God,” a yin and yang that always go together and must remain in balance. Only God, who is good, is eternal, immortal, and original. He is the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover. The Bible also teaches that God cannot be seen as the creator of evil in its moral sense (sin). God does not sin nor cause others to sin. This being true, evil cannot be seen as a creation in its own right, but rather as the perversion of something good.
  • Evil is not creative. Just as evil is the perversion of something originally created as good, so evil cannot create—it can only pervert and corrupt. Evil doesn’t create apples; it rots or poisons them. Lies twist and pervert truth. Sin twists and perverts God-given instincts and abilities.
  • Evil is corrupting and leads to death. Just as goodness in the Bible is connected to life, blessing, and the ability to bring forth life, evil is connected to death and to the processes that lead to it—rot, corruption, and decay.

In this last sense, we don’t always have to see evil as specifically moral in nature. When the Bible says that God “creates evil,” for example (Isaiah 45:7), it doesn’t mean that God causes someone to do wrong, but that he chooses to bring about the defeat and downfall of something or someone for reasons of justice.

Circumstances may be “evil” in that they are destructive, troubling, or sorrowful. In this way, poverty is evil. Natural disasters are evil.

When a person is evil, however, the evil is moral in nature because it involves choice. In the same way, the evil of “the evil one,” the created being we now know as Satan or the devil, is moral and personal because it is the result of choice.

Because of his connection with rot, decay, curses, and perversion, Satan has been given “the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14). The end result of everything he has set in motion—including the transformation of his own character—is destruction.

Deliver Us from Evil

What all this means is that there’s something of a double meaning in the prayer Jesus taught us. Just as the request “Lead us not into temptation” is both a prayer to remain free of trouble generally and also a prayer to be protected from trial and testing provoked by the enemy specifically, “deliver us from evil”—those things that are rotting, corrupting, and dying—is likewise a prayer to be delivered “from the evil one.”

There is a recognition in the wording that we are under attack and need to be rescued.

The real key in all of this is that God wants us to pray this.

All of the Lord’s Prayer is an outworking of its heaven-to-earth connection; every request is a way of bringing God’s kingdom rule into our own lives. We are given the power to do this, to bring heaven down, in our prayers.

We do it by honoring God’s holiness.
We do it by submitting our will to his will.
We do it by asking for provision.
We do it by receiving forgiveness and promising to forgive.
And we do it by asking for rescue, for deliverance, from evil.

There is power in request. Our asking brings the power and resources of heaven to bear on the earth. And these things are meant to come to bear in the battle. Prayer is one way—perhaps the way—victory over the enemy is won.

The practical takeaway? If you are under attack, don’t just say “Ah well, God’s will be done” and surrender your will to the Lord. It isn’t the Lord doing the attacking. Yield to God in every way possible, of course. But also: ask God to deliver you from evil, and from the evil one.

If you can’t bring yourself to ask for your own sake, do it for the kingdom’s sake. Do it because the ground of your life is being contested by an enemy, and it belongs to God. And do it for obedience.

This is what Jesus told us to pray.

(This is Part 67 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



, ,




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *