Recently while writing about trials and tribulations, especially those the Lord brings about, He began speaking to me about temptation because I saw all these words used synonymously in the Bible when studying the original meanings in context. I had never thought of God tempting us yet often the Word was suggesting He did. This made me think of a well-used expression “God does not tempt us, He only tests us!” Perhaps you have heard this cliché or used it yourself. I started to wonder about the accuracy of it in light of what I was seeing in Scripture. Yet, I struggled because I “knew” God does not tempt people, or at least that is what I thought!
We do not define “tempt” as God defines and uses it therefore we are uncomfortable thinking in terms of God tempting us. We coin expressions such as “God does not tempt us, He only tests us!” because something gets irked in our spirits if we were to believe God tempts His people. At least that is how I felt until God instigated this study of temptation from His vantage point. It is important to listen to God if He tells us something is a bit skewed in our thinking. Clichés about God can imprison our minds which in turn paralyze us from thinking outside of the cliché, thus leaving us incapable of receiving new revelations from God. Clichés seem innocent enough, but they can actually hinder us in faith because we receive them as truth. You can read more about clichés and contradictions in the blog “Are there Contradictions in the Word of God?”
An initial examination of the expression “God does not tempt us, He only tests us” in light of His Word would indicate it to be correct and truthful. James 1:13 NKJV “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.” And Psalm 11:5 “The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.” There we have it! God does not tempt us but He does test us. However, in Genesis 22:1 we find “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham…” There can be no mistaking this either – God tempts! Now, we have an apparent contradiction!
“Apparent” is the key word when we speak in reference to contradictions in God’s Word which is holy, inerrant, infallible, and completely free of contradiction. But when paradoxes show up in the Word we should address them rather than avoid or interpret them through cloudy lens based on our theology or experiences. We should let His Word and Spirit take us deeper into revelation which then clears up any and all apparent contradictions. If we accept clichés and contradictions without question or investigation, then denial and deception flood into our minds distorting the Word of God, causing a steady decline of faith in a living and powerful God. If we pretend these seeming contradictions as found in James and Genesis do not exist, if we ignore them, or if we base our faith on cutesy clichés, we degrade and diminish the presence of God and His Word in our lives and negate His power and ability to renew and transform us. However, when we get wisdom and understanding concerning Truth, we gain a deep appreciation for God’s language and word usage and then apparent contradictions cease to exist. His Word renews and transforms us!
In order to honestly dissect this seeming contradiction we must truly love God and His Word and believe everything we learn from Him through His Spirit and His Word. If this is not our foundation we will entertain all sorts of alternative thoughts. Notice I said “love” God and His Word. It is about relationship with a living and mighty God. In this relationship we can surely ask questions about things we do not understand and we can definitely share our struggles with Him when life does not line up with His Word, or when one Scripture seems opposite to another. We should not assume that because we are in a love relationship we can never ask the hard questions. But when we do ask, we ask in complete trust and confidence in a God who loves, blesses, and desires to be in an intimate relationship with us. We do not ask in doubt but rather we ask in certainty and expectation that He makes all things new and it is His desire to grow us up in relationship with Him. As we long to know Him more, He will explain Himself to us. He rewards those who diligently seek Him through revelation of mysterious things. (Hebrews 11:6) He desires to show us unsearchable things we could not know unless we call out to Him. (Jeremiah33:3) Therefore when we believe God and His character we know beyond a shadow of a doubt He cannot contradict Himself, so when they appear, we know He has an answer!
To get to the bottom of this apparent contradiction we must hear God’s usage and definition of the word “tempt” because we generally only think in terms of being tempted to do evil. Even the Word of God most often leads us to this conclusion because latter translations have replaced the word “temptation” with “trial, test, or trouble” thus we usually only see the word “temptation” used in reference to an enticement to sin. For example look at these verses from the King James Version. James 1:2 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” 1 Peter 1:6 “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:” These verses refer to “temptations” in a positive light “serving to test or prove one’s faith, holiness, or character.” But most other versions have replaced the word “temptations” with either “trials or troubles” thus eliminating our use and understanding of the word “temptation” in light of God proving our faith.
This Greek definition found in the New Testament means the same as the Hebrew word for “tempt” in Genesis 22:1. When it says “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham…” it means God “proved” him. What a wonderful God we are in relationship with who loves us enough to challenge us. God did not tempt Abraham to sin but God did tempt Abraham to test and prove his faith. In James 1:12-14 the Greek word for “tempt” means something very different; it means “an enticement to sin which arises either from desire or outward circumstances”. James is not speaking of “any” temptation but a temptation leading to sin. Therefore in James 1:13 we can read it “Let no one say when he is tempted (to sin), “I am tempted (to sin) by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (to sin).” Obviously, God does not tempt anyone to sin since He sent Jesus to die for the forgiveness of our sin. However, God does tempt in the sense of proving us in order to create confidence in Him, in self, and to give us experience in our faith journey as He did in proving Abraham. The seeming contradiction found between Genesis and James is completely obliterated by understanding God’s language in context.
In conclusion, every instance where we see “tempt” used in the Word, we must distinguish what is trying to be accomplished. Is it to prove faith or is it an attempt to cause someone to sin? In other words, what kind of experience does the one who is doing the tempting desire to give the one who is being tempted? By identifying this, we can understand whether the meaning is an endeavor to lead the person to fall, which is always the purpose of Satan as he tempts us, or if the endeavor is to prove the progress of a person, which is always God’s purpose when He tempts us. God never tricks, deceives, or causes people to fall but He does tempt us! And when He does – the results are amazing!