Question: In Matthew 4:1 the Spirit led Jesus to a place for the express purpose of allowing the devil to tempt Him. Does the Spirit lead us so that we too can be tempted by the devil? Does God permit evil because there will always be a greater good that occurs from it? It would seem this supports some who believe we don’t have a free will about being tempted, though you could not infer from this that we don’t have a free will as to whether we give in to the temptation. But are we then fully responsible for what happens? And how does this fit in with the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation”? How can we pray against something we know needs to happen, if indeed, the Spirit leads us like he led Jesus?
Answer: As head of a new race Jesus needed to pass the same test Adam did. Would he violate God’s commands by listening to the subtle temptations of the Devil and choosing to believe that God is not all he says he is? Would he take his life into his own hands? The Spirit led him into the wilderness because that was the place this temptation or test needed to take place (much as Israel was tested in the wilderness, another head of a new race). The Spirit did not directly tempt Jesus nor did he put Jesus in a compromising position or situation (take him to a place where a known weakness of the flesh would be sorely and unnecessarily put to the test). But he did lead him to a place where his resources would be limited and where the choice to depend on God or himself would become crystal clear. And though we aren’t the heads of a new race but are in the new head, Jesus Christ, we must face at different times that same clear choice of whether to depend on God or ourselves, and the Spirit definitely engineers things in our lives so that we are faced with that choice. God tests our faith (1 Peter 1:7), but he does not tempt us (James 1:13). He does not offer us incentive to sin, as Satan does, nor is he tempted by sin’s incentives. If we pass the test, our faith grows, as does his power through us.
This does not require a view that our lives are determined by God’s sovereignty. Those who believe in free will could argue that though the Spirit orchestrates events in our lives he does not determine our choices, as you have already noted. However, even if the Spirit does determine what our choices will be, that does not remove the fact that we are responsible for our choices and held accountable, fully accountable, simply because God says that is the correct perspective. Who are we to say to the Creator, “Why did you make me this way?” (Romans 9:19,20).
We are encouraged, nonetheless, to ask God to keep us from testing and temptation (the same Greek word is translated both ways in English), as Jesus directs us in the Lord’s Prayer. To ask God not to lead us into testing is to acknowledge our desire to experience joyous blessing from God’s hand, something we anticipate coming in the kingdom (which is what this prayer is about). But He will not always give us joyous blessing. To ask God not to lead us into temptation would mean asking him to protect us from our own weaknesses to sin by helping us stay away from things that would tempt us. Whether that is in God’s predetermined plan for me is not determinative of what I ask for. It may lead me to acknowledge in prayer that if it is in his plan for me to experience either testing or temptation, I will seek to depend on him and find his way out of the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). God’s predetermined plan is his business until he makes it mine. I am instructed to tell him the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4).