Two weeks ago, at our small group gathering, we somehow got on the topic of temptations. It was said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” This idea comes straight out of 1 Cor. 10:13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
I observed that it is often said, incorrectly, that God will not give us trials that are more than we can handle. I believe that the exact opposite is actually true. God often allows trials in our lives that are beyond what we can bear so that we can lean on Him for strength and wisdom. This builds our faith.
This led to a direct request from our host – Would I be willing to write something to highlight the differences between trials and temptations?
Yes, I would. I am eager to explore this topic further. We often lump these two words together, but they are quite distinct in my understanding.
It occurs to me that I could organize my research into a few categories to be able to best compare and contrast these two challenges that every Christ-follower will experience. Let me provide a few personal observations, share some biblical illustrations, highlight the sources of our trials and temptations, and what tools and guidance that God’s Word provides for us to handle them both.
As I was thinking about this topic, I came up with a helpful word picture.
Here is what trials are like. They are like a huge boulder that just fell on the road. The path may be narrow, so this becomes a major obstacle on our faith journey. It could be a medical issue, a financial difficulty, a bad relationship, a job that is not going well, or lingering doubts about the sovereignty or love of God. These hard times can come in all shapes and sizes. They often stop us dead in our tracks, leaving us feeling powerless to get over or go around them in order to press on.
Temptations, on the other hand are different. On our faith journey, we often will come to a “fork in the road”. We are faced with a choice to make. Many times, the choices are non-moral, such as do we want a chicken sandwich or a hamburger. I am talking about the moral choices. This is an opportunity to sin or not. Do we take the high road or the low road? Do we say what is on our mind to the person who just cut us off on I-44, or do we exercise grace and forgiveness? Do we take that second look at the beautiful woman or handsome man who just crossed our path, or do we look away?
There are numerous examples of those who faced trials of many kinds. Abram and Sarai had a hard time conceiving a child. The Israelites had to wander the wilderness for forty years. Once they got into the Promised Land, they faced constant threat by their enemies. In the Gospels, we read about many men and women who were blind, lame, or sick that Jesus healed. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” that would not go away. The early church was faced with severe persecution for their faith.
There are also a few good illustrations in God’s Word about those who were faced with temptations. Some gave in, and some resisted. The narrative of David and Bathsheba immediately comes to mind (2 Sam. 11:1-5). David was tempted by lust. He obviously surrendered to it and suffered the consequences of doing so. Jesus Himself was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and yet He overcame it (Matt. 4:1-11). The early church was tempted by the things of this world, as are we all. In John’s first epistle, he warns them not to love the world as it will pass away (1 John 2:15-17).
Where do they come from?
The sources of our trials do not seem to be entirely clear. I would state that most of them come from living in a fallen world. Thanks to Adam and Eve, death is a natural result of sin. Sickness and disease comes to all. Financial difficulties are the norm for most of us. Most of these trials are not a direct result of anything we have done. However, some of them are the consequences of our own poor choices, which then become trials to overcome. God Himself does not cause these bad things to happen, but He does allow them in our lives in order to give us an opportunity to trust Him more.
I heard many years ago, when I was a young Christian that temptations come from three basic sources: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Scripture has certainly bore this out.
- The world tempts us when its godless value systems and emphasis on material things get in our face, contradicting biblical principles, and reminding us what we do not have. A new car looks very tempting when we have an old one. Those who are successful or attractive by the standards of the world can cause us to get our eyes off the Lord, who has higher standards.
- Our flesh gets in the way our faith journey. It desires the good things God created that it should not have because they fall outside of God’s boundaries. These are the evil tendencies to sin that constantly impede our pursuit of holiness due to bad habits we had before we met Jesus, the way we were brought up, or a genetic disposition towards certain addictions.
- We know that our enemy, Satan roars about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He is able to work directly against us, and indirectly through the world and our flesh, to put bad choices in front of us that will destroy our faith and our effectiveness as a witness.
Tools available to believers
James 1:1-12 gives us perhaps the best counsel on how we should respond to trials that we face. First, he tells us to consider it joy. We can do that when we remember that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. (See also Rom. 5:3-4.) If we allow ourselves to persevere through the trial, James tells us that it helps us to become mature and complete. He then exhorts those going through trials to ask for wisdom. This is a request that God promises to answer. Ultimately, for those who have trusted God until the end, there is an eternal reward waiting for them.
Let us return to 1 Cor. 10:13 to see what God says about how we can best handle our temptations. He has not left us to do battle on our own. The first thing we notice is that they are “common to man”. We know that all human beings have a sinful nature. Even those who have been born-again still struggle with the flesh. (See Rom. 7:14-25.) Paul promises that when we are tempted, He will provide a way out so that we can stand.
Scripture also tells us how to respond to temptations based on their source. We are to have faith, to flee, and to fight. With worldly temptations, Jesus taught His disciples to believe that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). With temptations of the flesh, we are exhorted to flee them and pursue the good things God wants for us (2 Tim. 2:22). When Satan attacks, we can fight the devil with Scripture as Jesus did in the wilderness, and put on the “full armor of God” (Eph. 6:10-17).
I am hoping that this summary of what trials and temptations look like, where they come from, and how to deal with them was helpful to you. I know that I have to put these biblical principles into practice on a daily basis as I deal with my own.
What gives me strength to keep on going in the right direction whenever I am tempted or going through a trial is to remember that God’s presence is always with me. (See Ps. 139:1-12.) His very real presence brings me tremendous comfort throughout the duration of my trials, and keeps me mindful of and focused on Him when I am faced with temptations.