The request that God would “deliver us from evil” comes from the Lord’s Prayer, recorded in Matthew 6:13 (ESV). The Lord’s Prayer is also recorded in Luke 11:2–4 but does not include this final request. It is translated differently in different versions. The KJV, ESV, and NASB translate the last term as “evil,” while the NIV and NKJV translate it as “the evil one.” In Greek, the term is literally rendered as “the evil.” Since the term is specific, many scholars believe that “the evil” referred to is specific and personified, that is, a reference to the devil.
“Deliver us from evil” is tied to the request immediately before it, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). This request also contains some difficulty. The word translated “temptation” can also be translated “hard testing” and doesn’t necessarily refer to a temptation to sin.
Ultimately, the meaning of “Deliver us from evil” is not found in a dissection of the individual words but in the general direction of the clause. Satan is ultimately behind all evil, so it makes little difference whether we are to ask for deliverance from evil in general (sin) or from the evil one, specifically, since the two are related. Likewise, every time of “hard testing” is an opportunity to trust God or to compromise and yield to sinful temptation and thus to some extent come under the control of sin and the devil. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are instructed to pray that God will protect us from situations that would tempt us to sin. It is a request that sin never gain a foothold in our lives.
Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” because we cannot resist the devil in our own strength. The believer in Christ has been delivered from the penalty of sin (Romans 8:1), but we are still in a daily battle against sin and the devil. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help us resist temptation and overcome sin in our lives. Praying “deliver us from evil” is a recognition of our own limited abilities and a means of asking for God to step in and help us. While we can pray for help to overcome temptation and sin, we can also pray that we will not be put in positions where we would face severe temptation. A man who is struggling with alcohol should avoid places where alcohol will be served, but he should also pray that he will not encounter any unexpected invitations to drink during the course of his day. A person who is struggling with lust should obviously avoid certain places and activities, but he can also pray that situations beyond his control do not present themselves to him.
The prayer that God would deliver us from evil has a counterpart in the command and promise of James 4:7: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” This is prefaced by “submit yourselves to God.” If we were to face the devil in our own power, we would be overwhelmed. We can only resist temptation, avoid sin, and defeat the devil by a conscious reliance upon God’s power. Just as we need to ask for “daily bread” for our physical needs, we need to ask for “daily deliverance” for our spiritual needs.