the double-sided coin of temptation

James makes it clear that we should not blame God for tempting us because God does not tempt (Jas 1:13-14). However, there is a close relationship between temptation and something God does do: test (e.g. Heb 11:17). In fact, the relationship is so close that the same word is used. The Greek word translated “tempt”, “test”, and “trial” is one and the same: peirazo (verb) and peirasmos (noun). What is the difference between the two ideas? The answer is in the goal.

TEST → Prove faithfulness, Perfection
TEMPTATION → Fall into sin, Failure

This can be seen in Jesus’ temptation (Lk 4:1-13; Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; and of course see also Job 1-2). Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Both God and Satan are agents in this trial. Satan is trying to get him to fall in order to kill his mission. God, on the other hand, has given Jesus over to this trial in order to prove his faithfulness. As Hebrews says, he was perfected through suffering.

When we encounter temptation or trial, we are often tempted to attribute it solely to “dark forces” out to do us harm, but that might only be one side of the situation. Every temptation is equally a test in which God is proving our faithfulness. Each temptation provides a crisis point where one can either fall in sin or stand in faith. (This is not to say that both ideas are necessarily in mind in any given use of peirazo or peirasmos. Context is the clue to which is the most appropriate translation.)

How is it that James can say God does not tempt? James addresses our temptation to blame God for our failure. James is quick to remind us that when we are tempted (leading to a fall), we can only blame our own sinfulness.

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