What is the Difference between Temptations, Trials, and Tests in the Bible?
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2017 7 Sep
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I see temptations, trials, and testing in the Bible. Are they different? How does God use them in our lives?
Solve the following puzzle: You are running away from home. You make three left turns and return home. Who are the two masked men standing there?
(The answer is below. Give it your best shot, and then come on back here.)
My point is, when taking tests, we need to pay attention. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the obvious.
It’s the same thing when we deal with God in the areas of temptations, trials, and tests. We don’t want to get distracted. Too much is at stake!
By the way, if you said “the catcher and the umpire,” you would be correct.
Let’s start with temptations. The purpose of temptation is to bring out the worst in us… and for us to learn to overcome. Fortunately, God is our partner; He promises to bring us victory in the midst of our temptations — if we so choose.
“No temptation has overtaken 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 endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
How we handle our temptations is a good indicator of our level of spiritual development. And it helps to come up with a plan.
For example, I'm thinking of how many men struggle with lust. I found that a good coping mechanism when we are tempted to lust after a beautiful woman is to immediately pray for her rather than lust for her.
Remember, we cannot keep the birds from flying overhead; but, we certainly can keep them from nesting in our hair.
The purpose of trials is to refine our lives and leave us with a purer, stronger faith, as well as a character that God can bless and use.
“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)
The result of trials is that, over time, we begin to look more and more like Jesus.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:28-29)
Trials are painful and difficult by nature. But how we handle them makes all the difference.
We live in a fallen, broken world where hurricanes come, earthquakes occur. God is credited for things with which he had nothing to do. Insurance companies call these things, “Acts of God.”
Sometimes things just happen in the natural order of events. Jesus said that “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”
Trials can come from our own mistakes and errors.
Through neglect, inattention, and selfishness, King David ruined his entire family. He had at least seven marriages and destroyed them all. He ruined every child he ever had – they struggled with neglect, incest, murder, rape and rebellion.
Tragically, it was his fault!
David failed to handle his trials with character and strength. But don’t forget, God still called him “the man after His own heart.” God still loved him dearly.
I was speaking at summer camp on how God designs—or allows—trials for the purpose of making us like Jesus.
In the tabernacle after one of the services, a woman was weeping. Her husband said to me, “She is angry at everything you are saying.”
Finally, she opened up enough to tell me her story. She accidentally backed her car over her three-year-old daughter. Her daughter died in her arms with a crushed chest in less than three minutes. Her last words were, “Mommy, why did you do this?”
She glared at me. Are you telling me that “God is sufficient for this? Are you trying to tell me God let this happen on purpose?”
I wanted to say, “But, this wasn’t God’s doing, you did it.” But, of course, I didn’t say that. I wanted to say, “As tragic as this is, Jesus can even use this to mature you to look more like Him.”
I didn’t say any of that. This was not the time for a theological discussion. So, I did my best to comfort her in her trial.
Paul’s thorn—his greatest trial—originated with Satan. Three times he begged God for relief; unfortunately, God said, “No.”
Why? God told Paul that his trials were meant to keep him humble.
Hebrews 12 reveals the proper response to trials (three don’ts and one do):
- Don’t get bitter.
- Don’t get angry at God.
- Don’t lose heart.
- Do submit to God’s will, remember His love, and live.
Consider Peter. He began his journey with Jesus as a fisherman. He denied Jesus three times. Then when Jesus told him to wait in Jerusalem, he went back to fishing instead. But as he grew and matured in Christ—fighting through his trials—he developed into the shepherd of God’s church (John 21).
God is the source of all tests.
Nevertheless, please note that tests and trials may look a lot alike.
The purpose of a test is so that both we and God learn whether or not we can assimilate and apply the lessons of living a godly life.
When God said, “Go sacrifice your son,” it was not the first time Abraham’s faith was tested. God didn’t begin with “Go slay your boy.” He started with, “Why don’t you find a new house” and built from there.
The home test: “Go to a land that I will show you.” Passed.
The famine test: Abraham arrived in the in Promised Land during a famine. Instead of staying there, he panicked and went to Egypt: Failed.
The flock test: Abraham offered the best pasture to his nephew, Lot. God honored his decision. Passed.
The fortune test: The king of Sodom offered to make Abraham rich. He rejected the offer. Passed.
The family test: Abraham tried to fulfill God’s promise of descendants in his own earthly way, leading to tragic problems among Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael. Failed.
The Isaac test: Go sacrifice your son Isaac. Isaac was no child; he was most likely early in his twenties.
Imagine the pain Abraham endured. On the way to Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his dad, “We have the wood, fire, and the knife. Where is the lamb?”
What carried Abraham through this test? He’d learned that faith in God’s promise mattered. He trusted God that in Isaac he would have many descendants. Abraham was planning on a resurrection.
Hebrews 11:19 tells us: “He calculated that God could bring life out of death.”
When Abraham raised the knife, he passed the test.
God provided a ram and foreshadowed Jesus the lamb dying in our place on the cross.
Look at your life. You’ll recognize all sorts of interactive tests where God is evaluating how well you are growing to maturity in Christ.
Are you responding to tests by learning the teachings of the Scriptures and the promptings of the Holy Spirit?
The ultimate test: Will you follow Christ at any price?
Mike, I hope this answer is helpful to you.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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