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Can You Tell the Difference between a Test and a Temptation?

Either way, our reaction should be the same.

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Sometimes it’s tough to tell whether we’re facing a test or a temptation. Situations of struggle don’t always come with a label to clue us in on the source. They key is to know the different purposes of each. 

Can You Tell the Difference between a Test and a Temptation?

(Photo courtesy of Ben White at Unsplash)

A great example is the road tests automakers perform on one another. As objective as the tests claim to be, the goals remain clear. GM tests Ford to show Ford’s weaknesses. GM tests GM to show its strengths. When Ford does the testing, however, they test GM to show its weakness. 

This type of testing is biblical. Both God and Satan perform tests on you and me. These road tests reveal how the rubber meets the road in our Christian lives.

But the two tests have two completely different goals. Can you tell the difference?

A Temptation Has One Goal for You

When we read the New Testament, we see in the original language two words for “test” we can easily mistake for synonyms.

  • One word (dokimazo) has as its goal a test for the purpose of approval.
  • Another word (peirazo) has as its goal, generally speaking, a test to show its weakness or point of failure.

Whenever Satan “tests” us, the word is always peirazo—that is, the goal of his test is to entice us to sin. Hence the test often gets appropriately translated as “temptation.”

two goals

(Photo courtesy of Ben White at Unsplash)

A simple example finds its warning in relation to sexual relations in marriage:

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you [peirazo] because of your lack of self-control. —1 Corinthians 7:5

In each case, Satan has one goal in temptation: our failure.

A Test Has Another Goal for You

On the other hand, you never find God tempting us—or placing us in a situation with our failure as His goal. James makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted [peirazo] by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt [peirazo] anyone. —James 1:13

Sometimes the testing of God occurs to discover the good or evil in our hearts, but never with the goal of enticing us to evil (cf. Heb. 11:17). God’s tests have our approval as their goal. This remains true even after we die:

Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test [dokimazo] the quality of each man’s work. —1 Corinthians 3:12-13

The foundation, in the context, is Jesus Christ. God’s “testing” of us at the Judgment Seat of Christ will find its basis in the quality and motive of the lives we build on that foundation (1 Cor. 4:5).

The goal of this test is our approval.

God’s Provision During Your Temptation

Thankfully, even when we face temptation Satan designs to entice us to fail, God steps in to provide help. Consider the familiar verse and its promise:

No temptation [that has as its goal your failure] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. —1 Corinthians 10:13

Every single time Satan tempts you to sin, God steps in to provide a way of escape. Jesus modeled how to succeed against temptation. Sin then, for the Christian, becomes a choice—not a compulsion.

Sometimes, admittedly, it’s tough to discern the difference between a test and a temptation (from our perspective). But whether the road test we face represents Satan’s temptation of us to fail or God’s test of us to succeed, our response to the situation should always—always—remain the same.

We should obey God.


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