The Purpose of Temptation
“God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.”
One day as I was being tempted, I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the lie that I believed in that moment. Here is a synopsis of the conversation that took place in my heart in prayer.
Many have taught that as Christians we will always be tempted by sin; but victory in Christ means that we don’t have to give into temptations any longer. While I agree that victory includes not sinning, I would suggest that perhaps we have set our sights too low by accepting the idea that we will continue to feel tempted and drawn toward sin. After this surprising conversation with the Holy Spirit, I reexamined every passage in the New Testament about temptation. In this chapter I will unpack my findings. Some of them are quite surprising.
There are five words in the New Testament that share the same Greek root word: prove, examine, test, trials, and temptation all come from peirazo in the Greek. When the translators took peirazo and translated it into the English Bible, the main way of determining which of the five English words to use was based on the context. If we do not understand this clearly, then it is easy to create contradictions that are not actually in the text. Unfortunately, in some cases the translators did fail to use the right English word for peirazo, and this has caused confusion in how we understand certain passages of the Bible.￼￼
For example, we see in the Book of James that God never tempts His creation to sin:
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. (James 1:13 NKJV)
Yet in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to pray that God would not lead us into temptation. (see Matt. 6:9-13)
Why would we pray that, since James says God never tempts us?
Once we understand that the root word can be translated five different ways, it becomes clear that the Lord’s Prayer would be better translated, “lead us not into trials.” This is just one clear example of how we must understand the contextual usage of the word tempt. Another example would be the many times that the Bible says not to tempt God; it would be more accurate to say, “do not test God,” because James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted.
Now that we are aware of the different applications of the word peirazo, we can begin to clearly differentiate between two very different concepts: temptation and trial.
Temptation Versus Trial
The Bible teaches that God handles temptations and trials differently. Trials are processes that we go through, whereas temptations are occurrences and events. When we encounter temptation, God always gives a way of escape, a back door of sorts. Paul and Peter both make this clear:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV)
...the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:9 NKJV)
In contrast to temptation, when we go through trials, God does not always provide a way out. This is why Jesus said to pray that we would not enter into trials. Consider the examples of Jesus and Paul:
Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. (Luke 22:42)
...I refrain [from boasting], so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)
Both Jesus and Paul prayed that God would remove the trials that they were going through. In both cases, God gave them the empowerment needed to continue in the trial, yet He gave them no supernatural escape. Yet with temptation, God does not call us to endure it. He provides a way out! We always have a way out of temptation.
This distinction is very clear in the Word, and it is essential to finding freedom from temptation. If God is putting you through a trial, you can pray that He would deliver you. However, when you face temptation to sin, you do not need to pray for a way of escape; God has already promised a way of escape (see 1 Cor. 10:13).
In temptation, Satan comes to God like the neighborhood rascal asking your father if you are home. God, your Father, asks “Why?” Satan replies that he has some illegal fireworks and he wants to see if you would like to join him in setting them off.
God your Father knows that you are big enough, wise enough, and well-trained enough that He can trust you with this temptation— knowing that you will say no.
God allows temptation because it is a good test for you to prove yourself. He believes that you will win against it every time!
Thus, He only allows you to face temptations that you are equipped to overcome—this is your way out!
In trials, God is much more intimately involved. I picture Him hovering over us closely as we walk through hardships and pain in our lives. Even if we don’t realize it at the moment, we can often look back and see His hand in our trials, because He always walks alongside of us while we go through them. He supplies the grace and strength we need.
God’s ultimate goal is to discipline us as sons and release more fruit through our lives. This is what the author of Hebrews wrote of:
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline— then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
The purpose of discipline and trials is that we might have a harvest. What an awesome goal! Many people equate discipline with punishment, but God’s discipline is training, not punishment. God is literally conforming us into the image of His Son (see Rom. 8:29).
Temptation Teaches Us
I have come to understand that temptation exists merely as a means for us to be examined or proven. Our temptations are similar to the placing a sword against a grindstone. The grindstone is never meant to damage the blade; it is only meant to sharpen it. In the same way, temptation was provided for our benefit, to sharpen us. We are never to bow to its wishes; but the very existence of temptation provides us with the needed choices to prove our freedom and exercise self-control.
God actually uses temptation to test and prove us. Consider that it was actually the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness so that He would be tempted by the devil:
“Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.” (Mark 1:12-13 NKJV; see also Matthew 4:1-11)
God does not allow temptation to override our freewill. Some people say that the temptation they faced was too much and that they had no choice but to sin. This is absolutely not true because “...God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able...” (1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV).
But God will allow temptation to test our limits. God uses temptation to examine and prove us. He never allows a temptation we cannot succeed in overcoming, and He always provides a way of escape. This whole test is set up with our success in mind; it is slanted in our favor in every possible way!
God Wants to Prove You to You
A temptation is actually a test to show us how powerful we are. In an attempt to prove the true freedom that we have received in Christ, some people have said that temptation is not a sin and that temptation says nothing about our character. This statement is a half-truth.
Temptation is not a sin, but it does say volumes about our character. The bigger the temptation, the more positive of a statement God is speaking about us. The temptation that we can handle shows the level to which God believes He can trust us.
Considering that there was temptation in the Garden of Eden and that even Jesus was tempted (see Matt. 4:1-11), we know that temptation is not a bad thing. I believe that God’s ultimate intention in allowing temptation in our lives is to prove something to us. It’s not, as so many have thought, that we are trying to prove something to Him. He doesn’t need us to prove ourselves to Him; He is not that insecure. However, He knows that we don’t understand what He has done in our lives, so He allows temptation to prove to us how amazing we are.
God wanted both Adam and Jesus to see that they could go toe to toe with Satan himself and totally defeat temptation. Unfortunately Adam didn’t understand this, and he failed. But now we have been made new creations in Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17). God has set us totally free from the flesh, and He wants to prove this to us. Isn’t it just like God to take one of Satan’s most powerful tools, designed to create shame and condemnation, and use it to prove to us our righteousness in Christ? The truth is, we are righteous in Christ.