Temptation or test?

Have you ever wondered if what you are going through is a test or a temptation? There were seasons in my life I struggled to decipher between the two. I once had a conversation with someone who said that God doesn’t test people. I don’t believe that’s true. Besides, God speaks for Himself on the subject [Genesis 22:1, Deuteronomy 8:2-3]. In the latter example, God tells the Israelites that He tested them to know what was in their heart, to see if they would keep His commandments. That gives us a good indication of why God tests us. Elsewhere, Scripture says that testing of our faith in God produces endurance. That perseverance leads to consummate integrity and virtue and leaves us lacking nothing [James 1:2-4]. But yielding to temptation brings shame and causes us to hide from God’s presence [Genesis 3:6-8].

Temptations and tests are part of the Christian experience. While the devil fights exceedingly hard to wreck our destinies with temptation, God uses tests to build character and integrity in us to bring us to the future He has for us. Consequently, our ability to decipher between the two and respond appropriately is vital to experiencing all God desires for us. Additionally, it’s worthwhile understanding what God seeks to accomplish in us and why the devil is determined to sabotage us. It’s equally vital to understand who God is and what He’s like, as well as the nature of our adversary, the devil. Jesus tells us that the devil is a murderer and a perpetual liar [John 8:44] who only seeks to steal, kill and destroy [John 10:10]. There is no good in him. By contrast, God is holy [1 Peter 1:16], His integrity is impeccable [Psalm 25:8], and He’s only capable of doing good [Psalm 119:68, Exodus 34:6]. So, when God tests us, it’s always for our good. That can be challenging to believe at times, but God’s faithfulness to us is everlasting.

Having contrasted God’s character with the devil’s, it’s worth juxtaposing the first test and the first temptation in Scripture. In Genesis 2, God gave Adam a prohibition after placing him in the garden. It was a test of obedience. While Adam was free to disobey the instruction, his adherence would ensure continuous intimacy with God without the spectre of death. Adam’s obedience would also guarantee a continued partnership with God to fulfil his purpose [Genesis 2:15]. Intriguingly, the first temptation sought to get Adam and Eve to disobey God’s instruction. That enticement to defy God is a fundamental component of temptations. The devil knows that disobeying God compromises our relationship with Him and leaves us perilously vulnerable to the consequences of our actions. Adam and Eve fell for his scheme, and we’re still paying for their fall today.

The Bible is clear on how temptations come; the lust of the eyes (seeing and desiring what God says we shouldn’t), the lust of the flesh (self-preservation over obeying God) and pride of life (being wise in our own eyes with little or no regard to God’s instructions). It’s easy to identify temptations when we’re presented with a binary choice to violate one of God’s prohibitions. However, it’s harder to differentiate between a temptation and a test in a Job-like experience. Like Job, we can find ourselves in challenging situations despite doing our best to obey God. Such circumstances often feel like a test and temptation rolled into one. Will you continue to believe that God is faithful and good when your reality screams otherwise, or will you curse God, like Job’s wife suggested [Job 2:9]? We typically struggle because such experiences don’t fit nicely into our perception that only good things (from our perspective) will happen when we obey God. Unsurprisingly, the devil seizes every opportunity to make us doubt God’s character during such seasons [1 Peter 5:8].

It’s worth remembering that the response is identical whether facing a test or a temptation. Furthermore, what’s at stake never changes; will we obey God and surrender to His will regardless of the outcome or situation, or will we defy God and rebel against Him? The devil has read the last chapters of Revelation, so he knows his destiny. God has already judged and sentenced him. So, his mission until Jesus returns is to ensure as many human beings as possible share his fate. Armed with this fact, we can face tests with a Job-like resolve not to curse God, and we can also approach temptations with the understanding that there’s a larger cosmic context to our experience. Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we must ensure that even if we lose a battle on a given day, they don’t ultimately lose our individual war.

If we’re to be victorious in the face of tests and temptations, we need to adopt the strategy of the psalmist who said: “I have stored Your (God) word in my heart, that I might not rebel against you” [Psalm 119:11]. We must know and resolve to keep God’s word at all times, just as God commanded Joshua [Joshua 1:7-9]. That means we’ll need to invest time in studying and meditating on Scripture so that we can use it as our defence against the devil, just as Jesus did [Luke 4:1-12]. However, it’s worth remembering that our human frailty means we will waver in our resolve and occasionally fall. Jesus knows this, and so, He continually intercedes for us [1 John 2:1]. He also offers us a path back to righteousness if we penitently confess our failings, irrespective of how often we fall[1 John 1:8-9]. Additionally, we have His assurance that if we believe in Him, we’ll overcome any test or temptation [1 John 5:4-5].

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