Is It a Temptation or a Test?
And do not lead us into temptation . . .
In our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we see that the final need we have is for protection. Jesus says, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
That raises the question, does God ever tempt us? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Jesus said, “Pray that God wouldn’t lead you into temptation,” that maybe sometimes He does lead you into temptation? Why would you pray this prayer if it were not a possibility?
Let me be clear: God never tempts His children. James 1:13–14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” Never say, “I am being tempted by God.” God does not tempt anyone. He has zero to do with it. You know why temptation comes? James tells us. Each one is tempted when he is carried away, that means drawn by an inward power, and enticed, that means hooked, by his own lust. James said we fall into sin because we have corrupt desires on the inside and because Satan is dangling the right bait in front of us on the outside.
So how do we reconcile what James is saying here that God has no part in our temptation with Jesus’ clear instruction, “Do not lead us into temptation”? The only way to understand this apparent contradiction in Scripture is to know the difference between temptation and testing. Now, in English, we have two different words. We have one word, temptation, which means to entice to do evil. God never entices anybody to do evil. He never uses evil. He never wants people to commit evil. God never is involved in tempting people. That’s what Satan does. He tempts people in order to destroy them. On the other hand, we have another word, test. A test is a difficult circumstance that is used to strengthen our faith. Now, the Bible says God tests people all of the time. He tests His children, not to destroy them but to strengthen them. That’s why James 1:2–3 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Even though we have two different words in English, in the Greek language there’s only one word, peirasmós. That word sometimes means temptation, the enticement to do evil. And sometimes, that same word means test, a difficult situation to strengthen our faith. The meaning of the word depends on its context.
Now, a difficult situation can be both a temptation and a test at the same time. Let’s say the doctor says you have cancer. Is that a temptation or is it a test? Well, Satan will try to use that difficult situation to tempt you to deny God, to destroy your faith. So for Satan, it’s a temptation. But at the same time, God is using that difficult situation to test you, to strengthen your faith. Whether that difficult situation ends up being a temptation that destroys your faith or a test that strengthens your faith depends on your response to it.
Think about Job. One day Satan came to God and said, “Look at Your servant Job. Look at all the good things He’s done for you. No wonder he worships You. But let me have a round or two with him. Let me touch him. Let me take away all of these blessings and he’ll curse You.” So God says, “Okay, you have at it.” God didn’t directly cause these problems, but He gave Satan permission, so He was ultimately responsible. Job didn’t know any of this. He’s just sitting there one day when all of a sudden he gets word that all his cattle have been destroyed. And then he gets another word that a freak windstorm collapsed the roof of his house and killed his ten children. Then he starts getting boils on his body and loses his health. All of these things in a short period of time. He goes through a tremendous time of testing. Satan is trying to use this difficult situation to destroy Job’s faith. But the same time, God is using this difficult situation to strengthen Job. And because Job ended up trusting in God, even though he didn’t understand why, these difficult circumstances became a test rather than a temptation.
Difficult situations are neither good nor bad. They’re a temptation or a test depending upon our response to them. So whenever we’re praying this prayer, we’re saying, “Lord, do not lead us into difficult situations, but deliver us from evil.”
Dr. Robert Jeffress