The book of James starts with the exhortation to “consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (Js.1:2). Then ten verses later he jumps into the topic of temptation, leaving one to wonder not only the originator but also the source and purpose of trial and temptation. So where do these trials start, who is the originator of our trials? Is it God alone? Do they come as a result of our own actions, as natural consequences of the choices we make? Or is it the devil who tests and tempts and tries to cause us to suffer?
James makes it quite clear that regardless of the origin of the trial, our response will determine the outcome. The question we face is who is the originator of our trials? Are tests and temptations the same thing or are we dealing with 2 different issues? Would God “tempt” a person? Does all temptation to sin come from the devil?
The first thing that must be firmly established is that God is good, true, just, loving, merciful and patient, or as the psalmist said, “abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving transgression and sin …”. He is the ultimate authority over the affairs of man and nothing can happen to a person apart from God ordaining it to take place.(cf. Heb.13:6).
In Job’s case, God ordained the evil that the devil wanted to bring upon Job, but limited the authority of the devil. He used sins effect to teach Job more about Himself, and at the end of his trial Job declares; “I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;” (Job 42:5 NRSV).
God brings trials and often tests our faith and commitment as he did with Job. God however “never tempts anyone” (Js.1:13-16). God is wholly righteous and in him there is no evil, therefore he is never the originator of temptation. According to James, temptation comes from either our own selfish and evil desires or the devil’s overtures to the same. We can not simply blame all temptation on the devil, as our sinful nature does a fine job getting us into trouble again and again. As James puts it; “each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is dragged away and enticed, then after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.” At the same time the devil does play a role that Peter affirms in his letter to the churches, “…keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (1Pet.5:8 NRSV).
As we consider the source and purpose of trials and temptation in the life of the believer, we can make two assumptions from scripture:
- God seeks our best and loves us.
Since God’s love for us is not in question, we can be certain that his plans are good and loving, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a future with hope (cf. Jer.29:11). His intent for any temptation or test that comes our way therefore is to grow us spiritually so that we would reach maturity in our faith, able to worship Him better and enjoy Him more. (Westminster Shorter Catechism: The aim of our lives is ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever’ or as Dr. Piper says, “to glorify God by enjoying him forever”.) The tests and trials that God ordains are to allow us to know Him more, and the temptations he ordains are to grow us in patience, perseverance, and humility (cf. 2 Cor.12:7-10).
2. The devil seeks our destruction
Since the intentions of the devil are to destroy what God loves. He will bring situations that are intended to destroy our faith and us or cause us to sin against our loving heavenly Father. Those temptations will always play on our evil desires and sinful nature, but we can be assured that “no temptation has ceased 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 under it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)
Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Even the evil things others do towards us are under the sovereign ordination of God and His loving hand of protection. It’s apparent that tests and temptations have different origins and different goals by their respective originator, but God who loves us has the same goal, that we would grow up to maturity and holiness and reverent submission in Christ. Our response to the situations we face is crucial, not whether we are tempted or tested. And in that we can consider it pure joy when we are facing trials of many kinds, because we know that God loves us, and that He has a wonderful future for us. Paul referred to his trials as “light and momentary afflictions” (2Cor. 4:17) compared to the eternal glory that awaited him. That is my prayer, that my belief and expectation in the eternity of heaven with Christ will be the lens through which I face trials and temptations.