The Eternal Purpose of Temptation

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. James 1:12-16 (NASB) 

Temptation is an often-misunderstood subject. Many of us tend to think that temptation is sin, that temptation is the problem with living the Christian life. However, as Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “The devil tempts, that he may deceive; but God suffers [i.e. allows] us to be tempted, to try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity.”

That quotation from Thomas Watson nails it! The word “temptation” translates πειρασμός (peirasmos) which comes from the verb πειράζω (peirazō), “to make trial of, to test,” so the idea is “a test, a trial.” It was used in Classical Greek, for example, to refer to a medical test, which would prove either health or disease. We are, therefore, tested to see if we are sincere, that is, whether we really are who we profess to be. As James makes clear, God never tempts us, but rather, we are tempted by our own lusts (James 1:12-16), as well as Satan (1 Corinthians 10:9) Paul adds, and the test is to see if we will remain faithful to the truth. So, temptation is not sin, but rather, yielding to temptation is sin.  View article →