CLTemptation and Test
In the English language, there are specific differences between the two terms, "temptation" and "test." The former refers primarily to a sense of seduction, while the latter, in modern usage, is intended for improving and raising standards.
In Hebrew, the Old Testament (OT) texts appear to use various words to express the meanings of both terms. But in the Greek text of the New Testament (NT), both terms originate from the root word "peirasmos." Therefore, different usages of the terms in the Bible depend on the context. The NT treats both terms well by extrapolating the actual meaning in each situation.
Through different translations of the Bible, it is not difficult for us to know the meaning of the word "temptation": it means an evil intent to expose weaknesses that would cause a downfall.
The word "test" refers to the purpose of improving virtues and qualities, but it may not always be used in a positive light. For example, the Jews tested Jesus with hateful resentment (Mk 8:11).
For clarity’s sake, in this article, we will say that "temptation" exists for an evil purpose and "test" for a good and noble one.
BLESSED IS HE WHO ENDURES TEMPTATIONS
We often associate people in temptation with spiritually flawed characters. Elder James, however, says it is a blessing for those who endure temptation (Jas 1:12). To extract the real meaning of this verse, we need to make sure that James is specifically talking about temptation and not test:
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (Jas 1:14-15)
Elder James clearly spells out the process of temptation, how it progresses to the point of death.
Joseph’s story proves Elder James’ point: he endured the seduction of his mistress until, frustrated, she accused him falsely. He was in a situation where he was tempted to the full. Another example is Job. He endured a stream of attacks from Satan.
Facing temptation in life is always real, and to meet with one is inevitable. Which saint in the Bible or believer of God has not been tempted? The important thing is that we must not succumb to temptation. If we can withstand our weaknesses, we will enjoy the continuous presence of God in our life.
One recurrent message to the seven churches in Revelation is to triumph over temptation1, and their corresponding blessings are spoken of in every message to those who overcome2. This tells us that overcoming temptation means to be steadfast in doing the will of God.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
But there is a difference between being tempted by evil and being tempted by our own lusts or weaknesses. For this reason, Jesus said, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41).
Entering into temptation is definitely connected to our weaknesses. Even the Lord’s Prayer emphasizes the need to pray that the Lord leads us away from it (Mt 6:13a). But what does Jesus mean? Will prayer alone do the trick?
In addition to prayer, living each day by overcoming our weaknesses is the best way to prevent ourselves from falling. Joseph emerged victorious because he endured and eventually fled from temptation. He did not step into temptation when it came to him. By his example, we must leave no room for Satan to cause harm to our spirituality.
Because of his determination, the Lord delivered Joseph from that evil, and this is also how the Lord delivers us from the evil one (Mt 6:13b). When we invite or enter into temptation, we will surely be tempted and, eventually, be drawn away by the desires of the flesh.
When we are tempted, we cannot place the blame on God. Elder James explained to those who inaccurately claimed, "I am tempted by God," that "God cannot be temped by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (Jas 1:13).
God Cannot Be Tempted By Evil
Yes, again and again they tempted God,
And limited the Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember His power:
The day when He redeemed them from the enemy. (Ps 78:41-42)
The Israelites defiantly challenged the faithfulness of God and tempted Him by their wicked ways. But their consequence tells us that God will not tolerate anyone tempting Him3.
They started to grumble against God not many days after they had been delivered from the oppression of the Egyptian Pharaoh. They witnessed for themselves the love that God showed them when He found a way for them to cross the Red Sea.
When they arrived in the Wilderness of Sin, they misconstrued the kind intention of God as brutal aggression against them (Ex 16:3). Basically, they twisted reality. They knew that it was not God’s intention to bring them out of Egypt to annihilate them with thirst, but they still made the accusation (Ex 17:3).
Tempting God also undermines His power. Ten of the twelve spies sent to survey the land of Canaan came back with bad reports. They underestimated the strength of the Lord to overthrow the Canaanites (Num 14:22).
Another form of tempting or testing God is to disobey Him. When God initially asked the Israelites to overcome the Canaanites, they did not because they were without strength. But once they grew strong, they refused to displace them completely. Instead, they used the Canaanites as labor (Josh 16:10, 17:13; Judg 1:27-36).
Consequently, they became ensnared by the idols of the Canaanites (Judg 2:11-13).
He Does Not Tempt Anyone
Now, does God tempt anyone? According to Elder James’ definition of temptation (Jas 1:13), God neither entices nor snares us into temptation with lusts. Rather, it is our weaknesses that leave room for temptation.
Samson was tempted to visit a harlot in Gaza even without her seduction (Judg 16:1), and he did the same in the valley of Sorek, where he met Delilah (Judg 16:4).
Many times, a physical object becomes a form of temptation when our carnal self desires it. For example, money by itself may not appear tempting to honest people who are content with what they have. But to the greedy, it causes them to act sinfully. This greed was what caused Judas to betray Jesus.
To be spiritual requires elimination of the flesh, which always goes against what is spiritual. So, our religious life is always disturbed by this inevitable friction between the flesh and the spirit. And when we fail to overcome the flesh, we cannot blame God, for He has given us His truth and the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Now, the choice is ours: Are we determined to live according to the flesh or live by the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13)?
What this is asking is whether or not we are willing to be obedient to God in every situation in life, because when we chose to follow the Spirit and the truth to keep us from sin, we can overcome both temptations and tests.
GOD PERMITS TESTS TO COME OUR WAY
God permits tests to come our way to train and to build up those He loves. He does this with good and noble reasons, so that we may be refined.
Even if God allowed trials to test His people, it doesn’t mean that evil is from Him. The Bible records that He sometimes allows Satan to do his work as a form of trial for His people. But Satan cannot have his way with us without the consent of God, that is, if we do not live in sin: "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him" (1 Jn 5:18).
More often than not, tests appear to be a form of punishment from God towards His people for failing to do their part in driving out the pagans:
I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not. (Judg 2:21-22)
One example is the story of Habakkuk. Having asked God to deal with the sins of His own people, Habakkuk was dumbfounded by the response of God to raise up Babylon, a very wicked nation, to chastise the nation of Israel—His dearly chosen ones.
Although it was God’s will that such an unbearable suffering be inflicted upon the Israelites, it, in fact, revealed His righteousness.
God’s Intentions Verses Satan’s
The two opposing tensions in the spiritual realm are God’s intention to build us up and Satan’s intention to destroy us:
- When God allowed Satan to consider Job on two occasions, He wanted to refine and to build Job up, but Satan maliciously tried to break down Job’s belief in God.
- God subjected the Israelites to various tests to punish them for their disobedience while they wandered in the wilderness. But He was always ready to take them back if they returned, even though they succumbed to the temptations presented by their surroundings (1 Cor 10:8-13). As a result, many failed and perished in the wilderness.
- When Jesus was tempted, it was the Spirit that allowed such a trial to happen to Him so as to empower Him for His ministry (Lk 4:1, 14), but the intent of Satan was clear: to cause Jesus to sin against God.
- The members at Thessalonica faced great affliction after they came into Christ. Paul left them when they were only three weeks old in faith (Acts 17:2). The apostolic account tells us that envious Jews incited some evil men to set the city in an uproar to stop Paul from preaching (Acts 17:5-9).Their spiritual lives could’ve been damaged had their faith buckled under the intense pressure of the persecution. But they emerged strong in their faith with joy in the Holy Spirit and became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:7).
- Paul’s trials were the result of the evil plots of the Jews, who became instruments of Satan to destroy Paul and his work for God. Satan intended to shipwreck his faith, but the chronic persecution Paul experienced only drove him closer to the Lord:
You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me…and how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:18-21)
- When trials came upon the recipients of Peter’s letters, they were encouraged by his words. After enduring those tests, their faith became as pure as gold (1 Pet 1:6-7).
Regardless of whether a test comes from God or from Satan, anyone who deserts his faith and denies Christ in the process will face the reality of being denied by Jesus when He comes again (Mt 10:31). Two questions come to mind:
If a trial originates from God, then why should the price of failure to pass the test be the forfeit of our salvation? If the trial is the work of Satan, why does Elder James consider it an opportunity for the believers to improve their faith?
THE HIGHER PURPOSE OF GOD
Both trial and temptation, though brought on by opposing forces of good and evil intentions, can be edifying to those who love the Lord. In the process, God’s mighty power is disclosed, as it was in Jesus Christ Himself while He was on earth.
The same power of God also works in those who triumph over temptation; fulfilling Jesus’ promise to us: "In Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life…nor any created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).
The relationship between enduring temptation and receiving salvation, according to Elder James, is closely tied because temptation can be a means to prove our faith (Jas 1:12). But how do we prove ourselves?
We prove ourselves by successfully enduring temptation and tests without losing faith in God. Life’s temptations are hurdles we have to overcome to receive salvation, but temptation itself does not help us realize the purpose of God’s salvation plan for us.
Proving ourselves also implies that we are able to come out of those trials in better spiritual shape than before, thereby qualifying ourselves for the kingdom of God: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (Jas 1:12).
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)
God knew beforehand that Satan was about to strike some of the faithful of Smyrna Church by threatening their physical lives. But the Lord did not take them away from Satan’s attacks. Instead, He made known Satan’s schemes to prepare them and encouraged them to remain faithful to the point of death.
Likewise today, God has made known Satan’s intentions to destroy us with the temptations and tests of this world. If we are rooted in Him and are filled with His Spirit and His word, we will be able to withstand the work of the evil one and remain faithful to the end.
- Rev 2:7a, 11b, 17a, 26a; 3:5a, 12a, 21a
- Rev 2:7b, 11b, 26b-27; 3:5b, 21b
- Exod 17:2; Num 14:22; cf Deut 6:16; Ps 78:18, 41, 56; 95:9; 106:14; Mt 4:7; Lk 4:12; 1 Cor 10:9