Temptation vs Testing. What’s the difference?

The Question

Hey Pastor Pat – how do you know the difference between when you’re being tempted and when God is testing you? These temptations just don’t seem very fair…

The Response

Temptation doesn’t seem very fair – because it’s so darn tempting! “Just say no” doesn’t cut it!

Well – the first thing we need to understand about the difference between being tempted and being tested is this…

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1: 13 NIV)

So – it’s not God who is tempting us – it begins in our own hearts.

We need to remember that we were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). This means our original design was to reflect His way of thinking, of speaking and of action. I should be able to look at the average “Jim” or “Mary and be able to say, “If anyone wants to know what God acts like – just look at Jim over there.” Or “if you want to know what God thinks like – just look at Mary’s thought life.”

Makes you want to cringe, doesn’t it?

None of us reflect how God would REALLY think or speak or act. We’ve all gone our own way, done our own thing and reflected our own will. Some have done this in much bigger ways than others (at least from our point of view) but we’re all guilty.

Ever since Adam, every human being has rebelled against the image of God we were designed to reflect. This was passed down to us from our parents so the embers (little smoldering coals) of this rebel attitude are buried deeply in our flesh. This is why you don’t have to teach a baby how to be self-centered. You don’t have to teach a toddler how to lie or an elementary kid how to steal either. We all have those warm little coals of self-centered nastiness burning inside us from birth.

Yuck…So what is temptation then?

Temptation REALLY begins when those little embers get fanned into a flame. And we do this to OURSELVES. This can happen in one of two ways:

1) We give-in to a HABIT. Most often our trip down temptation lane is a well-worn path we have made with our own two feet. The Devil barely has to suggest anything and many times he doesn’t have to – we run into a bad day in some way and we just head on down that path because we’re in the habit of hanging out in that particular neighborhood whenever we feel the “need”.

This is what the Bible calls a “stronghold.” By the way, the Bible says we have weapons to tear these strongholds down but we’ll have to talk about that another day…

2) We decide to believe a lie. In this case, we’ve got to remember there really is a devil and he really does have a bad crew working for him. He can, and will, make a suggestion in our spiritual ears from time to time.

Either way – the issue is SUBSTITUTION.

It’s a lot like bait on a hook. If you are a fish and you have a legitimate need (I’m hungry) then the bait looks pretty good. You think “I’m really hungry. There’s nothing wrong with being hungry!” The temptation is, “This will satisfy your hunger. This will make you feel better.” And you bite!

The key is learning to EXAMINE a temptation. Figure out what is the LEGITIMATE need this temptation is enticing us to try and fill the wrong way. Then it’s time to go to God to get it filled instead of buying the substitute. What we too often do is fan the flames we already have in our flesh because we want to feel “better” right now!

But we just get a hook in our mouth…

Think about sex outside of marriage. There is a legitimate need to feel loved. There is a very real need to find excitement when life is boring. There is a need to feel connected and whole and strong. There’s nothing wrong with needing to feel any of those things. They are all legitimate needs we might have – but the temptation is to try and satisfy these things with a “quick fix.” You know, “I’ll just sleep with her and then I’ll feel like I’m cool because I can score” or “I’ll just give in because then he’ll really love me. I’ll feel connected that way and he won’t leave me if I give him what he wants.” Or maybe your hormones are just raging and you want to just want to feel good. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good by the way. After all, we don’t intentional want to feel like dog vomit.

But the substitute for God’s way is a lie…

The solution is to figure out WHY you’re being tempted (what’s the legit need) and then run off to GOD to find what you need in and through HIM.

God’s way on the whole sex thing is a guy and a girl getting married – but you knew that already. So what’s the problem? We still want to feel good so we need to learn to feel good from God. We need to learn to worship, be with Christian friends and so on. We need to find the power in Him to hang in there and be patient too. If we give into the lie we’re probably going to get snagged by the hook!

We all know the consequences when we buy the lie – but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone: STD’s, pregnancies, broken hearts, horrible bad habits that bleed into a marriage and cause adultery and so on. Just knowing that doesn’t stop people from doing it – because so often we don’t care. We have a need and we just want to feel better in that moment. That’s temptation – you gotta need and here’s something that’ll make you feel good RIGHT NOW.

Of course, none of us that give in to temptation are really thinking about the hook or we would never bite. It wouldn’t be an issue! So just using scare tactics isn’t going to help us win the battle.

You have to figure out the need. Figure out how to get your needs met God’s way. Get into the habit of resisting the substitute the devil is offering and he’ll bail on trying to hook you. This is why the Bible says “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 NKJV)

It’s going to take some doing, right? In fact, it takes a lifetime of practice to learn how to find what we need in God. We’ve got to be seriously studying the Bible to find out how. But this is where defeating temptation begins.

  • Figure out what the LEGIT need is.
  • Ignore the bait (that’s resisting the devil).
  • Go to God to get the need met


So what’s with the testing thing? If God doesn’t tempt us, why does the Bible talk about Him “testing” our faith? What’s that all about?

The difference is that temptation is putting a SUBSTITUTE in your path, but testing is putting a SITUATION in your path. Check it out…

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. 7 These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6 NLT)

So – back “in the day” people melted down gold or silver or whatever in order to get the crud in the metal to basically boil off. The crud is called “dross” and it floats to the top when you melt down a metal. When you scrape off the dross you get a stronger, more pure metal. Sometimes you have to melt it down over and over and over again because there’s a lot of dross hiding in there.

But the results are well worth it = pure gold.

In fact the word “trial” or “test” you find here is do-kē’-mē-on (δοκίμιον) in the original Greek language. It means “the proving, that by which something is tried or proved, a test”. It’s a word they used when talking about making a metal pure.

When God “tests” you it’s not like taking a test in a school. In a school the professor is trying to find out what you know. The professor isn’t quite sure if you’ve mastered what he is trying to teach – so he tests you. But in God’s case He already knows what you know. In fact, He knows everything about you. He knows more about you that you know about you.

So what’s with the test?

The test isn’t to figure out what you know – it’s to burn off the dross in your life. It’s designed to melt you down so the crud will rise to the top. Every time He tests your metal, your metal gets stronger. Every time you feel the heat, every time your whole life seems to melt into a puddle you have a chance to call out to God. When you do, He points out the crud you have to get rid of to make things better. It’s a process.

The key is to learn how to work WITH the test rather than resist it. The more we learn to cooperate with the situations God allows in our lives, the more dross will get scrapped off and the less testing we’re going to need. I don’t know about you but I would much rather LEARN and GROW by getting deep in the Bible than for God to have to let me face some very unpleasant situations to make me learn and grow.

That’s the key…check it out…

So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. 22 And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. 23 For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law — the law that sets you free — and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:21 NLT)

When we make it a priority in our lives to learn what the Bible teaches about how to live – WHEN we make up our minds to DO what it says – WHEN we get into the habit of going to God to get our needs met instead of going for the substitutes…yeah…all of that is COOPERATING with God’s process of getting the crud out of our lives. The more we do this – the fewer situations God has to allow into our lives to get it out.

I don’t know about you – but I’d rather be in the habit of cooperating with God’s plan than having to feel the heat. Getting melted down is about as desirable as sucking out the contents of a rotten egg with a straw and trying to say “Mmmm, that’s good!”


So – the difference between temptation and testing…

  • Temptation is a SUBSTITUTE
  • Testing is a SITUATION

Our job is to take an inventory of ourselves – are we going to God to get our needs met or are we in the habit of buying into the substitutes? Are we willing to LEARN to go to God and BREAK those habits? Are we willing to test ourselves and cooperate with God or do we have to endure the tests and the melting down that God is going to allow if we don’t.

Hope that helps…

Although he died on the cross in weakness, he now lives by the mighty power of God. We, too, are weak, but we live in him and have God’s power — the power we use in dealing with you. 5 Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves…(2 Corinthians 13: 4 NLT)


About Patrick C Marks

The basics are…really basic. I’m a husband, father of 5, teacher, pastor, writer and a musician. I am also…bald...I have a crooked back (had to wear a back brace when I was a kid – ultimate geek with a piece of plastic and aluminum that made me look like a cyborg)...I dye my goatee so I don’t look like I have one foot in the grave and I would do much better if I actually USED the gym membership I pay for. I blog about things that matter to me and I write everything from non-fiction books about Evolution and Creation to short stories about being chased by bears. In short - I don't fit many molds but I can be entertaining.
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2 Responses to Temptation vs Testing. What’s the difference?

  1. Wikitrails says:

    Words of wisdom. Thanks.

    • Perry Tercel says:

      The Lord does work in mysterious ways! (Being I came upon this blog-site by ‘accident’.) I have been praying for an answer to a persevering weakness in spirit. Now, thank you, Pastor,I know I am being ‘refined’. What a beautiful blessing! Thank You, God!

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