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Tests, Trials, and Temptations

Temptation is common to every man and woman.  Even the Lord Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, but He never sinned (Heb. 4:15).  For Jesus, it was necessary to be tempted so that He could come to the aid of those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18).  By enduring the experience of temptation, which is universal to all of humanity, and resisting without sin, He is uniquely qualified to serve as a sympathetic high priest to all of us.  As a high priest, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the rest of us who succumbed to temptation and sinned against God.

What is the source of temptation that plagues the human race?  The Scripture instructs us to be careful about how we attribute temptation. Consider James 1:13-15:

13Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

God is not the source of evil, is not tempted by evil, and does not tempt us with evil.  In fact, we are culpable in our own temptations toward evil, for temptation to sin arises from our own lust.  God is our deliverer from temptation, and we should pray that He will lead away from evil (Matt. 6:13; 2Pet. 2:9).  Notice 1Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

The true source of temptation is the one who is rightly designated in Scripture as "the tempter" (Matt. 4:3).  He is the devil (Luke 4:13), who is also Satan and the serpent of old who deceived and tempted Eve in Eden (Gen. 3:1-6; 2Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9).  Satan is not a mythological character who exists only in fantasies and fairy tales.  He is not merely a concept or a figure to represent evil in the world.  He is a real spiritual being who seeks to destroy souls (1Pet. 5:8).  He has great power in this world (1John 5:19), including the powers of temptation, deception, and persecution.  As such, he is not to be taken lightly (Jude 9).

Although Satan is the tempter rather than God, God does test us.  What is the difference between temptation and testing? In temptation, the objective of Satan is to cause us to do evil and lead us to spiritual destruction.  In trials and tests, the objective of God is to perfect faith in us and prove that we will keep His word.  In the original language of the New Testament, there is one word (πειρασμός, peirasmos) that is translated as "temptation," "trial," and "testing" in English.  The contexts in which this word is found determine how it should be interpreted.

Consider a contrast between temptations offered by Satan and tests offered by God. When Satan tempted Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), the temptation failed because Jesus did not sin. Satan's purpose was to cause Jesus to stumble, which He did not do.  Likewise, when Satan tempted Job, the temptation also failed.  His purpose was to cause Job to curse God to His face (Job 1:11), which Job did not do.  On the other hand, when God tested Abraham (Gen. 22:1-18; Heb. 11:17-19), the test succeeded because Abraham proved that he feared God (Gen. 22:12).  It was God's will to perfect Abraham's faith, which He did (Jas. 2:21-23).  God tested Israel many times (Ex. 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deut. 8:2, 16; 13:3; Jdg. 2:22; 3:1, 4) to see whether they would be faithful.  Sometimes they passed the test, but often they failed.  Regardless, God did not tempt them with evil in order to cause their destruction.

Temptation from Satan and testing from God often work concurrently.  In the case of Job, God gave Satan the liberty to afflict Job in many ways.  While Satan sought to cause Job's downfall, God regarded Job as a blameless and upright man unlike any on earth (Job 1:8).  In fact, it was God who brought Job to Satan's attention.  Satan brought hardship on Job, but the Scripture also attributes Job's trouble to God (Job 2:3; 42:11).  God did not tempt Job with evil, but He did test Job's faithfulness. In a sense, Satan tempted Job to do evil, but God "tempted" him to remain faithful.

Therefore, let us have the correct perspective on tests, trials, and temptations.  We are not to seek after temptation or dare Satan to a fight.  We do have the armor of God to resist Satan (Eph. 6:10-17), but Jesus is the only "dragon slayer" (Rev. 12:9-10).  On the other hand, we should be eager to prove our faith to God, just as David indicated in Psalm 26:2 when he wrote, "Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart." The correct attitude then can be summarized in the instructions of James 1:2-4:

2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Stacey E. Durham



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