God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. It is in this word of James that God is presented to us as the Holy being, Who cannot have fellowship with anything which is impure. It is contrary to the nature of our Holy God to seduce or allure men with evil designs. In that sense the Bible speaks of God as never tempting anyone. God is pure in His purposes and designs.
But, again, God DOES tempt us, and have us tempted. With the purpose of demonstrating the superior quality of His work in the saints. Then we call it, trial.
From both James 1:12 and 1 Pet. 1:6-7 it is evident that, in content, temptations and trials are one and the same. Temptations are trials and trials temptations. In fact, in 1 Pet. 1:6-7 it appears that temptations serve the trial of the faith. As gold must become approved and purified by the fire, so God will try the faith, but vs. 6 speaks of this act of trial as embracing also what we call temptations.
In II Cor. 13:5, as far as the Greek word is concerned, we are even admonished to “Tempt ourselves,” although we have translated this passage as “Examine ourselves.” From which it appears that as far as the words themselves re concerned the two are used somewhat interchangeably, receiving their particular meaning for a great part from the context.
The difference between the two is only that of viewpoint. The difference is not this, that the devil tempts us but God tries us, as some seek to maintain. It is true that the devil never does anything else than tempt us, wherefore he also has the name of Tempter. But, in certain aspects God also tempts us. In Gen. 22:1 it is simply related that, “God did tempt Abraham,” using the Hebrew word “nasah” when we might have expected the “beghan” of Job 23:10. The devil intends our ruin for he is the murderer. His designs are evil. For such actions the Bible uses the word tempt or deceive. Standing there, watching the devil tempt a Christian, and realizing that his purpose is to murder and destroy the Christian, we call it temptation. In that sense God never tempts. But God can and may at the same time take the same material which the devil would have used with the intent to murder us, and use that for the welfare of and furthering of our faith. God can take the attacks of sin and the devil, hallow them to our service and use them to make our faith stronger and purer. Then in turn the temptation again becomes a trial.
A matter of viewpoint therefore.
James says: “Blessed is the man who endureth temptations, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life.” In this passage the temptation becomes at once a trial, purifying and bringing out purified, the faith. The very same we have in 1 Pet. 1:6-7. “In heaviness, through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith. . . .though it be tried with fire. . . .” Again we see that temptations are trials also.
The afflictions and persecutions and hardships and even the failings of the saints are being pressed by the devil, in order to murder us. But these same entities become in God’s hands like so much fire, trying and purifying the faith and finally bringing it out in its refined beauty. Although this will not appear until Christ returns.
So much for the distinctions.
In connection with this we would make a few con elusory remarks.
In the first place it is evident that throughout the ages of history God is engaged in demonstrating “the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) in His people. In that program of self-glorification God has given His people the faith. But now God also wants the beauty and the glory and the strength of that faith to appear. 1 Pet. 1:6-7 God tells us that the faith, is precious, but God wants to bring out its preciousness by demonstration. God does things so entirely different than we would do. If we had something which was precious, because of its very preciousness we would scarcely dare come out in the open with it, afraid perhaps that somehow we might become rid of it, lose it etc. But God, after He has first given His people the faith, thereafter comes out into the open with it, putting it upon display and making demonstration of it before the eyes of all the world. The result is that we have such a chapter in the Bible as Heb. 11, wherein God shows us, and all the world, that the fire and water, the persecutions and trials, the hatred and wrath of the world etc. became the stage whereupon God would demonstrate the greatness of His Work in the saints.
So God tempts Abraham to offer his son (Gen. 22:1) in order that afterwards He may write in Heb. 11:17 that Abraham did it, and all the world may wonder at the strength of such faith. So God tries Gideon when He orders him with three hundred to fight an army of perhaps a half million, in order that in Heb. 11 God may later record that Gideon did fight that army of half million and overcame. In Peter’s .epistles His people are tried and tempted by many and divers temptations, but the end is, that amid the welter of afflictions the faith in the saints comes out in all its strength and beauty. And so we could go on through the lives of many other saints. But the point is evident. God determines and regulates and controls and sends temptations and trials, and by the means of them strengthens the faith but also approves and exhibits the approved faith, to His own glory.
In the second place, since there is so much dross in all of us and the faith needs experiment shall it come to refinement, trials are necessary for the wellbeing and development of that faith. As gold cannot be purified except it pass through the fire so it is with faith. And as a tree would never become firmly rooted except heavy winds tug at its branches occasionally, so our faith needs trials shall it become strong. It needs experience, it must submit to experiment. So God lets us wrestle with problems, suffer under adversities, be confronted with Satan’s allurements, be crushed under the feet of tyrants etc. in order to add to faith, virtue and to virtue knowledge. Or, as Paul says in Rom. 5. “Tribulation worketh patience and patience experience.’’ But we have access to this grace only by faith. Where there is no faith these same problems, hardships, difficulties, temptations etc, will add to unbelief impatience; to impatience cursings; to cursings blasphemies and rebellions, and the end will be destruction. In short, the exigencies of these times exhibit that God’s people have faith, but these same things exhibit that the infidel is an infidel. In the end of time wisdom will be justified of her children.
Thirdly, since in us there is so much weakness and waywardness, we must conduct ourselves humbly and reverently in the presence of these trials. “Let Thy work appear unto thy servants’’ (Ps. 90) says the humble Moses as he leads the staggering Israel on, past the dead bodies of fallen comrades further into the wastes of the sun-scorched and trackless desert. And again, “Revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known,’’ says the humble Habakkuk in Hab. 3:1. Faith is God’s work and the final approved display of it will be an exhibition of God’s work in us, pray therefore that God continue His work of faith in us, that it choke not under the burden of trials He heaps upon us sometimes. “Lead us not into temptation’’ Jesus taught us to pray. Hence it behooves us to face these realities in true humility. If God should forsake us for just a moment we should perish. If God should neglect His work of faith in us for a moment it would collapse under the impact of temptation. The strength to face trials and temptations is not in us, our fortitude or aptitude (even a David fell) but is alone in God. Therefore also we shall not seek or give ourselves unto temptations, neither shall we play the Stoic when adversities come, but we shall flee to the watch-tower where we shall hear God say: “The just shall live by his faith.’’ And meanwhile we shall not neglect to put on the entire armor of faith.
Lastly, we have that beautiful expression of Job (23:10) “When He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.’’
Ah, dear reader, there is the secret of the Christian’s endurance when he is tried. He knows the mind and the purposes of God. He knows God’s unchangeable election, he knows God’s goodness and mercy. He believes that God will bring him forth victorious. Though the eyes be sometimes tear-stained and the shadows fall close in, and he cannot see. . . yet he believes. He believes that the end of his trial-fraught way will be glory and salvation, glory to God and salvation in the appearance of Christ in glory.
But then we must wait until Christ returns. Then we shall see the refined and finished faith, and it shall be to the praise and the glory of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.