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Temptation or Test?

desertJesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. ~ Luke 4:1-2a

First we see that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. Why, if Jesus is God, was this necessary? If he was God, wasn’t it a done deal that he would triumph? We don’t know all the reasons, but Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted in every way just as we are.” God chose to subject Jesus in his humanity to the same kinds of temptations we face. Also, in his humanity, Jesus grew and developed and the season of intense temptation surely strengthened him so that we would be able to withstand future tests.

Does God Tempt?

Second, we must note that Jesus was led by God to this place. Now we think God wouldn’t lead us into a desert of deprivation, but here we see that He certainly may. Does this mean that God tempts us? James 1:1-14 says that When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone, but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

Helpful Word Distinctions

How does this work? At times, God clearly places people in situations where they will be tempted by Satan. In addition to Jesus, consider Job and Peter who was sifted like wheat. I find it helpful to make a distinction between temptation and test. Satan tempts; God tests. And their motives could not be farther apart. Satan’s whole purpose is to destroy, to ruin, to defeat. There is not one shred of good that he desires for us. God’s purpose is to establish and strengthen, to build up, to see us triumph. Every intent and purpose of his heart towards us is for our good.

Our Choices

James says that God does not tempt, but what about the Lord’s prayer that says, “and do not lead us into temptation”? Here seems a contradiction. However, in light of James 1:14, The Lord’s prayer could read, “and lead us not into a place where we are enticed by our own evil desire, but deliver us from those evil desires.” Every challenging situation presents both testing and temptation. Our choices reveal whether it was a test (we stayed true to God) or a temptation (we succumbed to the enemy).

Language Helps Attitude

The words temptation and test may be a matter of semantics, but next time you are struggling, try using the word test and see if it doesn’t help your attitude and strengthen your ability to overcome. Using this language is a great reminder that God is for us, not against us. This confident belief is exactly what Satan continually seeks to undermine.

If you are in a hard place, remember God’s encouragement:

No temptation [test] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [tested] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted [tested], he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)

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