Who is responsible for temptations and trials?

A pastor friend and former student asked me a question: Do trials and temptations come from God or from Satan? And does the word in Greek (peirasmos, peirazō, in Arabic ELTAGROBA) say if it’s God or the devil? Here is a reply, but feel free to add to the discussion.

The first part of the question isn’t easy to answer, because the New Testament describes God, Satan, and the human heart – all three – as involved, but it doesn’t say that God actually tempts us to sin. Here is a quick survey of ways the New Testament uses the Greek word (peirasmos, peirazō) behind the English word “temptation”: Matthew 4:1 is difficult, because the Holy Spirit leads Jesus to a place to be tempted by the devil. This shows God’s involvement, though he does not actually tempt. In Luke 4:13, temptation comes from the devil. Hebrews 11:17 is an interesting case, because it implies that God tests Abraham’s faith. But it’s not temptation to sin; rather, a test of his faith comes from God. That may be the clearest time that this word is used with God as the implied subject. In 1 Cor 10:13, God does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. So he is involved, making sure that the temptation is not more than we can handle. 2 Peter 2:9 teaches that God is the one who rescues us from these trials. Revelation 3:10 teaches that God is able to keep us from a time of testing (the same idea is behind Jesus’ encouragement to ask that God not lead us into temptation). But honestly, I’m not sure why the Lord’s prayer asks God not to lead us into testing (Matt 6:13). Frequently it’s the human heart that is the problem, such as 1 Tim 6:9 says with respect to wealth. James 1:2 states that Christians face trials; it doesn’t say where they come from. James 1:13 clarifies that God tempts no-one toward evil, but that our own desires bring temptations (1:14). 1 Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4 teach that very good fruit can come from these trials, which suggests that God is involved, but not that God tempts us toward evil. 1 Peter 4:12 says we shouldn’t be surprised by tests, and the next verse suggests they come because of our relationship and union with Jesus Christ.

To conclude, I would say God never tempts us to sin, but he is involved in our being put into places where we will be tempted and tested by our own hearts and by the evil one. He gives us a way to avoid sin. And when we overcome, this strengthens our faith, which is God’s desire. So, in a way, God does use Satan’s ability to tempt us, though he does not tempt us himself.

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    • Michael Wilson
    • March 16th, 2012

    Thanks Dusty. In my ministry it is 1 Corinthian 10:30 that gets misquoted. People say “God doesn’t give more than we can bear” but they are referring to trials/suffering not to temptation. But the question of God!s sovereignty is the same both places, I think.

  1. Thanks, Michael, for the helpful thought. That 1 Cor 10:1-13 passage does get misquoted. It’s about temptation and a warning to learn from negative examples (verses 6, 12, 13). God provides a way out. The Epistle of James is the book of the Bible that comes to mind as using one Greek word which is sometimes translated as temptation (1:12-14) and other times as the difficulties we go through in life (1:2; cf. same idea in 1 Pet 1:6). But the word isn’t different in Greek.

  2. A Facebook friend just referred me to these excellent lecture notes on “Lead us not into temptation” in the Lord’s prayer.

    http://www.didymus.org/lead-us-not-into-temptation-but-deliver-us-from-evil.html

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