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Trials and Temptations — Different and Yet the Same

May 10, 2010

Trials and temptations might seem to be vastly different, but they’re not.  As a matter of fact, the same Greek word describes a trial and a temptation—peirazo.   You see this word in Hebrews 11:17 to describe what God put Abraham through in Genesis 22:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.”

Abraham was “tried” (peirazo).  But then you get the same word in James 1:13-14:

“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:  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”

The word translated “tempted” is peirazo again.  So Hebrews 11:17 says that Abraham was tried, and it was obviously God doing the trying.  And then James 1:13-14 says that God doesn’t tempt or try any man.  Wow.  Sounds like a contradiction.   They’re the same word after all.

Tried and tempted come from the same Greek word, but what they mean depends on the context.  It is true that God does not tempt any man with evil.  That’s exactly what James 1:13 says.  God wasn’t tempting Abraham to sin.  He was trying him, that is, testing him.

Earlier in James 1:2 we read, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”  There “temptations” are related to trials, like what Abraham went through.  It comes from peirazo again.  So God brings trials into men’s lives, like He did with Abraham.  So when do these trials become sin?

Trials become sin when a man is “drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (James 1:14).  The temptation originates in a man’s own lust.  So what occurs?

God either brings or allows a trial in someone’s life.  It’s only a test.  He can pass that test.  Or the test can move on to become a temptation when it interacts with a man’s lust.  Now he is being tempted to evil.  God never tempts man to evil.  That is man’s own doing.  They are the same situation, however.  If a man passes the test, it will never get to a temptation.  If it gets to a temptation, it reaches a whole new dimension.

The key to temptation comes at the point of enticement.  That’s when a man is fooled into sinning in his own mind.  He’s deceived.  What will combat the deceit is the truth, Scripture.  Scripture will strengthen someone’s faith for a trial or a temptation.  He can pass the test if he obeys Scripture.  If he doesn’t pass the test, it will be because of his own lust, and he will have sinned.

So trials and temptations are both the same thing, and yet they are different.  Trials are good.  We count them all joy, because when we pass them, according to James 1:4, we get stronger.  Temptations are bad, because that means the trial has been affected by our own lust.  We can still keep from sinning, but it has become a little harder than when it was only a trial.

  1. J. Paul Hornick
    May 12, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Quite right. For instance, Eve was truly deceived by the temptation to partake of the forbidden fruit and likely would not have if Adam had said that it was a lie, thoug such speculation is useless in the end. On the other hand, Adam was deceived by none of it – yet he did partake, knowing it was a sin. However, if the heart is right before God, that would not be a problem, as one whose heart is right ought to be willing to hear what God says, and then to obey it, just as Abraham was – when yet hearing the voice of God was obedient to it. No truth will offend somebody whose heart is right before God. In John 6 many were offended at the words of Christ that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood which means that they must have communion with Him and have His blood cleanse them from sin to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but when Jesus asked the disciples if they would also leave, as many other of His disciples did, Peter said that there was no other man to turn to, for He had the words of life. Though he may not have understood it, his heart was right before God, and he was sure that it would be revealed or explained in God’s own good timing.

  2. May 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I recently taught on this same idea when covering the phrase, “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I used the word “perspective.” How do we look at the situation? If we see it as from God (a trial), then we’ll be delivered. If we don’t (a temptation, or opportunity, or rightful dessert), then we’ll fall.

  3. Greg
    June 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I am confused because in James 1:2, the words are “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” … not “trials”… in contrary to your last paragraph about James 1:4.

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