Trials and Temptations (I)
Based on a sermon series by Aun-Quek Chin—Singapore
Two words familiar to Christians are “trials”
and “temptations.” An indication of the importance of these can be gleaned from
how Elder James plunges straight into these two areas right from the start of
his epistle. He provides several key concepts in order to help us overcome
trials and temptations. In the first part of this series, we look at the
distinctions as well as linkages between the two.
TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS
The Elder first teaches us that we
have to distinguish between temptations and trials (cf. Jas 1:13) and how to do
There are three major differences.
The source of trials and
temptations differ. The former comes from God (Zech 13:9) while the latter
originates from the devil. The devil started out tempting the first woman to be
created and even tried to tempt Jesus. Unsurprisingly, Matthew calls Satan the
“tempter” (cf. Mt 4:1–2).
Since God is good and He is the
source of trials, it stands to reason that the nature of trials must also be
good. In other words, when God gives a trial, it is underpinned by His good will
and good intentions; He does not derive perverse pleasure from just watching
man suffer. Understanding this fact enables us to accept these trials with
For example, if we were told that
the only way to save our lives was to undergo a painful and expensive surgical
procedure, we would not quibble with the doctor. We willingly agree to undergo surgery
because we understand the necessity. We know the doctor is not a sadistic
torturer who enjoys our pain, but instead is doing his best to save our lives.
It is the same when the Lord sends
us trials. Although there is temporary and even intense pain, the ultimate
outcome is good, because God is good and every intention of His is good. In
contrast, the nature of temptation is evil, because temptations come from the
devil, and the devil is the evil one. His intent behind his temptation of man
is evil. He seeks to make man doubt God, go against the commandments of God,
and even leave God.
The aim of God's trials is for us
to mature in faith and become perfect. But the goal of the devil’s temptations
is to destroy our faith. Satan will prompt us to go against the commandment of
God so that we will lose our spiritual life and face God’s judgment.
Hence, when we go through God’s trials,
we must submit ourselves to God and endure. However, when we encounter the
temptations of the devil, we must resist and overcome them.
LINKS BETWEEN TRIALS AND
Although trials and temptations
are different, the two are linked. When God gives us a trial, the devil can
take that as an opportunity to tempt us as well. Conversely, God may also use
temptations to try and teach us. We look at two illustrative examples—the
temptations of Eve and Jesus.
1. Temptation of Eve—The
Devil Uses Trials as Opportunities to Tempt
And the Lord God
commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day
that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:16–17)
This passage has provoked many
questions and created much doubt about God’s inherent goodness. The following
answers three common questions, which has implications on our belief in God and
Why did God name the tree “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”?
Why did God forbid Adam and Eve from eating only this fruit?
What does knowing good and evil really mean?
the Tree get its name?
People generally believe the tree
was so named because its fruit could give humans the divine capability of
discerning between good and evil—“For God knows that in the day you eat
of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and
evil” (Gen 3:5). This appears to be confirmed, perhaps even expanded, in
the subsequent verse. Not only does man receive knowledge of good and evil, he
becomes wise: “… the
woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes,
and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.
She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6).
Careful reading of these two
verses will reveal that it was not a fact that the fruit from the tree
could give discernment. The words in Genesis 3:5 had been spoken by the devil
through the serpent. The devil was trying to tempt the first couple into
disobedience by insinuating that God forbade man from eating the fruit because
He did not want them to be like Him. Likewise, Genesis 3:6 describes Eve’s
perception of the tree. She saw that it was good for food, saw
that it was pleasant to the eyes, and saw a tree desirable to make one
wise. While it was indeed correct that the tree was pleasant to the sight and
good for food like the rest of the trees in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9), the
idea of the wisdom-conferring ability of the fruit did not come from God!
All God had said of the tree was “You
shall not eat of this tree, for the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” God
had issued this stern warning to protect them from death. But the devil twisted
God’s words to make it look as if God did not want man to become as wise as He.
We should not believe a single word spoken by the devil, for he is the father
of lies (Jn 8:44). Unfortunately, Eve swallowed the devil’s plausible
explanations. Her concept of the tree and God’s words changed. In the end, both
Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be persuaded that God did not want them to
eat of the fruit because He did not want them to know good and evil and did not
want them to be wise.
This is one of the devil’s oft-used
devices for temptation—sowing the seeds of doubt in a person and leading him to
misinterpret God’s word, nature, and intention. We must thus always be vigilant
to avoid being similarly deceived. In this specific context, we should not fall
into the trap of thinking that God forbade man from eating the fruit to prevent
him from gaining knowledge of good and evil, and becoming wise.
God forbid Adam and Eve from eating only this fruit?
A natural question that many then ask
is why God would go to the trouble of putting the Tree in the Garden of Eden. If
God had not wanted man to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good
and Evil, why did He even place the tree within the Garden?
God established this rule of a
forbidden fruit in order to test the people, to determine whether they would
keep His commandments. All commandments of God are good, because they are given
to preserve our lives. The people of God must be willing to keep the
commandments of God. That was why Moses took pains to remind the Israelites that
they must be careful to observe all the commandments of God (Deut 6:1–2).
God gave Adam and Eve only one
commandment in the Garden of Eden. We can imagine God saying: “You may eat
fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden, but from that tree you shall not eat; are you willing to keep My
commandment? The day you eat of it, you shall surely die. Do you believe my
Had Adam and Eve believed the
commandments and words of God, they would have strictly complied with God’s
instructions not to eat the forbidden fruit. Their obedience would then have
justified them in God’s eyes. Since God is good, His commandments are good. It
follows that keeping God’s commandments would show that one is on the side of
goodness. In contrast, flouting God’s commandment by eating the forbidden fruit
would render one evil in His eyes. Eating the fruit was equivalent to listening
to the words of the devil, the evil one.
Therefore it is the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil that separates good and evil. It is not the fruit of
this tree that gives a person the knowledge of good or evil. Instead, it is the
choice or act of eating that determines whether one is good or evil. Choosing
to eat is a deliberate act of disobedience against God, which renders a person
evil. Similarly, choosing not to eat out of conscious obedience to God renders
a person good in God’s eyes.
What does “knowledge” of good and evil really mean?
The English translation of the
name of the tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—seems to imply
that eating the fruit of the tree enables one to acquire knowledge of good
and evil. Is this proof that it is really the fruit of the tree that gives
In the original language, the
word “knowledge” can be interpreted as “being aware” or “to know” whether a
person is good or evil. Refraining from eating the fruit is a reflection of
the person’s belief in and practice of God’s word; hence, he is deemed
good. Conversely, eating the fruit expresses a person’s disbelief in the
words of God; and this transgression of God’s word is what renders him
The Devil’s Strategy: Sow Doubt and Confusion
The whole event had started with God
setting a test for Adam and Eve; He gave them this commandment to establish the
extent of their obedience and thus ascertain whether they were good or evil. It
was during this trial that the devil tempted and deceived them.
God’s words were clear and direct—the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.
If we believe in the word of God and have unshakeable faith in God’s unchanging
goodness, regardless of how other people choose to interpret His word, we would
treat the word of God as the only standard and would never ever consider eating
the forbidden fruit.
In contrast, there is only pure
evil in the heart of the devil. He twists God’s word, slyly sowing doubt,
planting wrong concepts, and leading people astray. Eventually, lies are perceived
as truth; and the good God suspected of evil intent. This was what led Adam and
Eve to erroneously concur with the devil’s version. They might have thought:
“God is trying to threaten us. He told us eating of the fruit will cause us to
die so that we won’t eat it and know the difference between good and evil. He
just wants us to remain fools! We do not want this; and we certainly wouldn’t
want to worship such a mean-spirited God!”
Many today have allowed themselves
to be persuaded to doubt God’s absolute goodness. Consequently, they are skeptical
when God says that doing something will lead to certain death. In fact, they
defiantly declare that if God expects such unquestioning obedience, they would
rather die than worship such a God!
Learning to See Through the Devil
Had Adam and Eve paused to think
more deeply, they would have seen the inconsistency of the devil’s claims. If
God were intent on keeping the knowledge of good and evil to Himself only, why
would He even bother to place the tree in the garden in the first place?
Logically, He would have hidden the tree and never even mention the existence
of such a “wonder fruit”! Unfortunately, Adam and Eve did not stop to think
deeply enough. After eating the fruit, they realized that they had been
deceived, but it was too late. They did not become all-wise like God, but they
certainly knew that they themselves were evil! We can see this realization of
their own evil from two actions.
First, they felt ashamed. Shame
arises from wrongdoing. No-one feels ashamed when he or she is doing the right
thing or a good thing. However, when we have done something evil, although
no-one else knows about it, our conscience will rebuke us, making us feel
ashamed. In the case of Adam and Eve, they were not ashamed originally (Gen
2:25). But after eating the fruit, they knew that they had done an evil act. They
were thus introduced to the concept of shame, which, in turn, led to them
taking the fig leaves to cover themselves (Gen 3:7).
Second, they hid from God when
they heard Him walking in the garden (Gen 3:8). No-one who has done a good deed
would need nor want to hide from God. We only try to avoid God if we have done
something evil and do not want God to find out.
In summary, if we want to avoid
falling into the trap of being evil, and thus feel ashamed, we must be ever
vigilant and discerning. We must believe absolutely in the word of God and hold
on tightly to it. We must be ever wary of the devil’s deceptions and stay away
from people who twist the word of God.
2. The Temptation of Jesus—God Uses the Devil’s Temptations
as Opportunities to Try
In general, it is true that we must
flee temptation. The Lord Jesus Himself teaches us to pray to God to “lead us
not into temptation.” However, in Matthew 4:1, we are told that Jesus was led
up by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. God does not tempt man, so why did
He lead Jesus to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? Similarly, in the
case of Job, when the devil requested to tempt Job, why did God allow it? Although
God does not tempt man, God can and does make use of the devil’s temptations as
opportunities to try man.
There thus appears to be some
symmetry. When we undergo trials, there may be temptations from the devil; and
when we are tempted by the devil, these temptations can be used as trials,
allowed by God. However, some people then use this fact to claim that God and
the devil are actually collaborating with one another! This is wrong because
God will never collaborate with the devil.
Let no one say when
he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor
does He Himself tempt anyone. (Jas 1:13)
Why would some people say that
they are tempted by God? These people see that God allowed the devil to tempt
Job. Since God allowed it, God must be in cahoots with
Satan. However, James reminds us that God cannot be tempted by the devil to
work with him. God Himself does not tempt anyone; neither will He collaborate
to tempt someone.
When God allows the devil to carry
out his works of temptation, it does not mean that God is collaborating with
the devil. Instead, God allows the temptation to go ahead because God wants to
work with His people to overcome the devil’s wiles. God wants to help His
beloved children to overcome these temptations and become more mature. This was
what happened to Job. Job was already an upright man. But with God working
together with him amidst the devil’s attacks, Job matured through the process.
Trials and temptations are
different. But when we undergo trials, there may be temptations from the devil,
and when we are tempted by the devil, these temptations can be used as trials,
allowed by God. Importantly, through trial and temptation, we must continue to
have absolute faith in the word and love of God and to obey Him whatever the