Tempted? or Tested?
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (Jas. 1:13).
Temptation is from within – an inner desire to do wrong. Testing is from without.
If I am offered an alcoholic beverage, it is a test but not a temptation. I have no desire for it and never have. But offer it to a newly saved drunkard, and it is a real temptation. Everything within him physiologically desires it. He is strongly tempted. I am only tested.
Such a distinction is necessary to understand Scriptures on the subject. The King James English Bible never uses the word “test” but uses the words “tempt” or “temptation” in both senses. It often uses the word “prove” to indicate a test, but it comes from the same Greek word in many cases. The English word “tempt” comes from a Hebrew or Greek word that, in nearly every case, means to test, to try or to prove. The five exceptions (1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Th. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:9; Jas. 1:13-14) seem to imply an inner desire for something wrong.
When we read in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” are we to understand He had an inner desire to do wrong? No! He said, “Lo, I come. . . to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7), and “I do always those things that please him” (]n. 8:29). This is why He was without sin, or, as one translation puts it, “apart from sin” (Heb. 4:15).
The Israelites were always testing God (KJV tempting), but certainly they were not seeking to induce Him to do wrong (Ps. 95:8-9). They were testing His power and goodwill to take care of them. The Pharisees were constantly “tempting” Jesus, not to do evil, but to make Him prove His claims. Although Satan sought to get Jesus to violate the will of God, he found nothing in Jesus that responded (Mt. 4). However, having experienced that testing, Jesus understands what testing means to us, and He runs to our aid (Heb. 2:18). When Ananias and Sapphira agreed to “tempt” the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:9), they were not seeking to entice Him to evil but testing how much sin He would tolerate in them. Eve was tested (Gen. 3:1), and she immediately replied, “No” (Gen. 3:2-3). But the more she thought about it, the more she had an inner desire to do it, and she sinned (Gen. 3:6). The test became a temptation for her.
God tries us, tests us, proves us, but He does not tempt us. He cannot do that (Jas. 1:13). Temptation comes when we have an inner desire for wrong things. And God does not test us for His sake. He knows what we will do and how we will respond. He does it for our sakes, to prove us to ourselves – what our weaknesses and strengths are. He tried Abraham concerning Isaac (Gen. 22:1), proving his faith and willingness to obey God at all cost with faith that God was too loving to be unkind, too wise to make a mistake and too faithful to fail His promise.
If God sends hardship, it is a test of our faith, sincerity and commitment. He will never test us more than He provides grace for us (1 Cor. 10:13), if we have the desire for victory and will avail ourselves of the riches of His grace to overcome it. We will, therefore, be strengthened in faith, more Christlike in character and strengthened for further testing which might be more severe, such as martyrs are called to face (Heb. 11:37; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; 2 Pet. 2:9).
Agur (Prov. 30:8-9) prayed, “give me neither poverty nor riches. . . Lest I be full, and deny thee. . . Or lest I be poor, and steal.” He did not want a test that could become a temptation. He was not sure how well he would handle it. He was saying in his practical way what Jesus taught us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:13). He taught the importance of prayer so that testing will not pass into temptation (Lk. 22:46). Actually, we can count it all joy when we enter into testings because, like the refiners of fire and carpenters’ sandpaper, they make a better finished product, getting rid of the imperfections and conforming us to His image (Jas. 1:2-4). And we will be rewarded by the Lord for standing fast (Jas. 1:12).