Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 52 - The Complete Victory
Question 127: What is the sixth petition?
Answer 127: And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
In ourselves we are so weak
that we cannot stand even for a moment.
Moreover, our sworn enemies —
the devil, the world, and our own flesh —
do not cease to attack us.
Will you, therefore,
uphold and strengthen us
by the power of your Holy Spirit,
so that in this spiritual war
we may not go down to defeat,
but always firmly resist our enemies,
until we finally obtain
the complete victory.
Frontline soldiers are engaged in a fierce battle and they cry out to God for help. This is the image the Catechism conjures up in its rendering of this petition. Answer 127 reveals a series of battle terms: “standing your ground”, “sworn enemies”, “unceasing attacks”, “defeat”, and so on. It is war.
Further, notice that these soldiers are not fighting a war of aggression, but instead they are defending themselves. The attack comes from their aggressive mortal enemies. Once they take sides with God, they apparently have to count on attacks from the other side. What can they expect from him in such a situation?
The Catechism hears people crying out that their enemies do not cease to attack them. The antagonists carry on their barrage of challenges and temptations. With their attacks they are not directly targeting believers’ property or life, but their faith. Christians are being challenged about their faith, their only comfort. The enemies attempt to undermine their faith so much that they get into trouble and will give up. These enemies can be hateful mockers, but we can also encounter them as sympathetic neighbours or colleagues.
There is even an enemy that lives right in them. The Catechism calls him “our own flesh”. All in all, our faith experiences a difficult time in this battle. The Catechism speaks of a “spiritual war”. This is not an imaginary struggle or just a figure of speech. On the contrary, it is a real war against real enemies. This war is called “spiritual” because we are not merely attacked by visible enemies of flesh and blood, but by an invisible devil.1 He puts in all his efforts to attack us, both from without and from within. We must be well aware of this as soon as we encounter challenges with our faith.
Three Mortal Enemies
Three sworn enemies take part in this spiritual battle:
1. The petition itself only mentions the evil one or the satan.2 Peter pictures him as a lion prowling around his prey and preparing to leap. Right at that moment he lets out a roar, paralyzing the victim with fear.3 This short action video of Peter shows the devil in his true form, but this is not how anyone gets to see or hear him today. In no genocide or persecution of Christians does the trail unambiguously point to him. He does not allow himself to be photographed by hidden cameras. For millions, therefore, he exists no more than the monster of Loch Ness.
Yet Christians do not base their belief of a devil’s existence on ghost stories or on some “proof of the devil”. The fact that there is so much evil in the world does not prove that the devil exists. Their only source of information is the Word of God. It comes with astonishing revelations. From it they can know exactly what the devil is thinking, such that Paul can say: “we are not ignorant of his designs”.4
They are aware of his tactics. He tries to make them believe that there are so many problems with the Bible that they had better go their own way. He succeeded in doing that with Eve in paradise. He convinced her that God’s prohibition against eating from that one tree was obstructing her development. That was long ago. The devil has moved with the times, but his tactics remained essentially the same. He is quick to tell today’s Christians that the Bible is out of date. In fact, his attacks on the Bible amount to nothing. God’s Word endures for all eternity. But what about the Christians? They are children of their time and culture. The devil knows exactly where their weakness is and he plays right into this. They are so weak by themselves that they cannot even stand for a moment. That is why they pray for “the power of the Holy Spirit”.
2. The petition itself alludes to just one enemy. The Catechism also mentions the world. It refers to John 15:19. What is meant here is the world, which abhors Christ and therefore also his followers. This is not an entirely different enemy because the evil one is its superior or leader.5 The world consists of people who decide for themselves what is good. They run after their own ideas that they can understand. This gives them a sense of security. All they have to do is agree with themselves. Therein lies the allure of this lifestyle. Christians encounter this mentality everywhere. Through the world, the evil one seeks contact with them in the most casual manner. Here are his opportunities to stalk and influence believers. For the time being he refrains from roaring out loud.
3. The third enemy is called our own flesh. It represents the aggressive urge to do our own thing. What this flesh desires is diametrically opposed to what the Spirit wants.6 No enemy comes after us like this one. The world is all around us, but this enemy lives within us. Like Paul, Christians want to distance themselves from this flesh. This is not how they want to be. But meanwhile, it often calls the shots. Through this enemy, the influence of the evil one penetrates deep into their thoughts and feelings.7
Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Why do we ask God: lead us not into temptation? As if he could do so! What is the purpose of this petition?
The Bible leaves no doubt about it: God does not lead anyone into temptation. A person may be exposed to enticements, but let him not say that God himself is trying to tempt him. When someone succumbs to a temptation it is one hundred percent because of his own wants and desires. God remains outside of it. That is the crux of some of James’ bold statements.8 He refutes every assertion that temptations — when you reason far enough — come from God. God does not tempt anyone.“9
Do not lead us into temptation. That is what Jesus told us to say. When we pray this, “we do not suppose that God might incite and encourage us to sin, but we pray that God may not let go of us, and that we may not fall into the snare of the evil one.”10 We are not asking that he will provide a wide detour around all temptations. That is not possible, for through our own fault we are already in the midst of them. Even our own flesh chooses the side of the evil one. For that reason God would not do anyone an injustice if he were to let us all go. It is therefore purely out of grace that he does not surrender us to the temptations.
“Lead us not into temptation” implies as much as: do not leave us alone in the arena of our enemies. Do not let us go, but stay with us. This is also expressed in various of the Psalms, for example in Psalm 27:9, “Hide not your face from me...Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!”
Surely it will not be up to him when we stray. As soon as the temptation is a fact, “he will also provide the way of escape, so that you will be able to endure it”.11
... but Deliver Us From the Evil One
The prayer consists of two halves. The second half is the positive counterpart of the first: deliver us from the evil one. This is what weak front soldiers cry out. The evil one has still not been conquered. What progress have they made as compared to Lord’s Day 1? There the same soldiers confessed that Christ had “delivered them from all power of the devil”. In Lord’s Day 52 they cry out that he does not cease to attack and challenge them.
What is left here of the comfort of Lord’s Day 1? Everything! For while they are in distress every moment, they may know that they are Christ’s. He bought them with his blood. Their old boss, the devil, will not be able to undo that purchase, in spite of all his attacks. Backed by this comfort, they pray for strength until they “finally obtain the complete victory”.
They will win it after all.
Question 128: How do you conclude your prayer?
Answer 128: For yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory, forever.
All this we ask of you
because, as our King,
having power over all things,
you are both willing and able
to give us all that is good,
and because not we
but your holy name
should so receive all glory
The Lord’s Prayer ends as it began. It began with an appeal to the almighty Father in heaven. It ends with an appeal to his royal power and glory.12
Thus the string of six petitions is anchored at both ends, as it were, in the almighty power and the faithfulness of God. This guarantees that God will hear and respond to our prayer that transforms the entire cosmos.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory
Powerless people have prayed for a new world. They would not dare to ask so much from anyone else. And yet at the conclusion they do not hesitate or wonder whether God can and will give all they asked for. With as much childlike awe and confidence as they began their prayer, they end it: You desire to give us all the good things and you are able to do so, for you are our King and have all things in your power. Therefore, they have full confidence in the answer to their prayer.
Their final and most sincere motive for expecting everything from this prayer reads: “for yours is the glory forever”. They know that God ties his eternal glory to the hearing of this prayer. Therefore they fully trust that all six petitions will be fulfilled. It cannot be otherwise because only in this way is his holy Name praised for all eternity.
The Lord’s Prayer does not end with the familiar words “for Jesus’ sake” or “in Jesus’ name” or something similar. The fact is that Christ — who coined this prayer himself! — left out his own name. Instead, he allows his followers to make a direct appeal to God. However, even this ending is full of Christ. For without mentioning his name, this acclaim echoes the praise for all that he has accomplished. Here the words of a hymn (You, Holy Lamb of God we bless) can be heard in it:
O saviour, you have ransomed us —
Hence we will honour and adore you!
To Give Us All that is Good
The Catechism concisely summarizes the content of the Lord’s Prayer as “all that is good”.13 A human being cannot wish for anything better either for himself or for others. Before we fill in for ourselves what is good, we ask the Bible. Isaiah sees a messenger of joy coming over the mountains in a hurry. It is at the dark time of the exile. The messenger literally brings a message of glad tidings, of “good things”. It implies that God is proclaiming salvation and bringing peace and joy to the people after all the misery they have endured.14 Paul quotes this message and, like Isaiah, he literally speaks of someone who preaches “good news” or “the good”.15 It is the message of salvation through Christ.
God desires to give his children “good things”. Jesus also tells his disciples that their heavenly Father will give “good gifts” to those who ask (pray) him for it.16 The “good” does not include only what is good according to our standards. Adversity can also come from God’s fatherly hand. No one desires it, but the wonderful thing is that even then he does not stop giving “the good”. He makes sure that the adversity actually benefits them.
We have to “guard against the misunderstanding that God will give us all good things in general if we pray to him for them. Many good things are also withheld from the children of God. This is what is shown in practice to us, and it is not glossed over in the entire Bible (see e.g., Rom. 8:35, 36). What God will never withhold from all who ask him for it is the ultimate good that consists in the salvation that comes to us from the kingdom of heaven”.17
Question 129: What does the word Amen mean?
Answer 129: Amen means:
It is true and certain.
For God has much more certainly
heard my prayer
than I feel in my heart
that I desire this of him.
The word “amen” has somewhat the characteristics of an exclamation point. This punctuation mark as such does not add anything new, but it emphasizes the importance of what has gone before. Thus the word “amen” retroactively confirms that prayer is such a powerful tool.
The word “amen” comes to us untranslated from the Old Testament. There it served to express spontaneous and heartfelt agreement with an expression of praise or a benediction one had just heard. Especially during services in the synagogue, one could often hear this loudly spoken “amen” from those present.18 In New Testament worship services we encounter it primarily as a direct response to a given word of praise.19 It reaffirmed what lived at the bottom of someone’s heart: yes — this is how it is! In this way one identified with the one who had expressed the words of praise. It is no different with the well-known doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13). The Amen refers first and foremost to these words.
All royal power and glory belong to our Father. Amen, that is how it is! Whoever says that, agrees that God’s power and glory guarantee the hearing of all six petitions.
Certainty about the hearing is something for each person privately. That is why it is understandable that Answer 129 suddenly switches from “we” to “I” and “my”. It goes down to what ”I feel in my heart”. It couldn’t be more personal. The Catechism evidently wants to arrive at a certainty that we have deep within our heart. There I feel that I desire nothing more than for God to answer my prayer. So I am absolutely certain that I desire this of him. I may know even “more certainly” that God will also do it. No one finds this certainty in his or her heart, but it is anchored in God’s clear promise.
This is not to say that it is about a formal assurance that would not affect the heart. Those who long for God to hear his or her prayer in their hearts also want to feel and experience the assurance of being heard in their hearts.
Anyone who seeks a sturdy handhold on a staircase does not find it in his hands, but in the banister. That does not mean that he wants to feel with his own hands that he has something to hold on to. It is the same with the assurance of being heard. We find this assurance outside of ourselves, but we experience it in our hearts.
This applies to the totality of the “only comfort” that this confession is about. Ultimately, this comfort has to penetrate our hearts and there we receive peace and rest.20