Can You Tell the Difference between a Test and a Temptation?

Either way, our reaction should be the same.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell whether we’re facing a test or a temptation. Situations of struggle don’t always come with a label to clue us in on the source. They key is to know the different purposes of each. 

Can You Tell the Difference between a Test and a Temptation?

(Photo courtesy of Ben White at Unsplash)

A great example is the road tests automakers perform on one another. As objective as the tests claim to be, the goals remain clear. GM tests Ford to show Ford’s weaknesses. GM tests GM to show its strengths. When Ford does the testing, however, they test GM to show its weakness. 

This type of testing is biblical. Both God and Satan perform tests on you and me. These road tests reveal how the rubber meets the road in our Christian lives.

But the two tests have two completely different goals. Can you tell the difference?

A Temptation Has One Goal for You

When we read the New Testament, we see in the original language two words for “test” we can easily mistake for synonyms.

  • One word (dokimazo) has as its goal a test for the purpose of approval.
  • Another word (peirazo) has as its goal, generally speaking, a test to show its weakness or point of failure.

Whenever Satan “tests” us, the word is always peirazo—that is, the goal of his test is to entice us to sin. Hence the test often gets appropriately translated as “temptation.”

two goals

(Photo courtesy of Ben White at Unsplash)

A simple example finds its warning in relation to sexual relations in marriage:

Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you [peirazo] because of your lack of self-control. —1 Corinthians 7:5

In each case, Satan has one goal in temptation: our failure.

A Test Has Another Goal for You

On the other hand, you never find God tempting us—or placing us in a situation with our failure as His goal. James makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted [peirazo] by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt [peirazo] anyone. —James 1:13

Sometimes the testing of God occurs to discover the good or evil in our hearts, but never with the goal of enticing us to evil (cf. Heb. 11:17). God’s tests have our approval as their goal. This remains true even after we die:

Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test [dokimazo] the quality of each man’s work. —1 Corinthians 3:12-13

The foundation, in the context, is Jesus Christ. God’s “testing” of us at the Judgment Seat of Christ will find its basis in the quality and motive of the lives we build on that foundation (1 Cor. 4:5).

The goal of this test is our approval.

God’s Provision During Your Temptation

Thankfully, even when we face temptation Satan designs to entice us to fail, God steps in to provide help. Consider the familiar verse and its promise:

No temptation [that has as its goal your failure] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. —1 Corinthians 10:13

Every single time Satan tempts you to sin, God steps in to provide a way of escape. Jesus modeled how to succeed against temptation. Sin then, for the Christian, becomes a choice—not a compulsion.

Sometimes, admittedly, it’s tough to discern the difference between a test and a temptation (from our perspective). But whether the road test we face represents Satan’s temptation of us to fail or God’s test of us to succeed, our response to the situation should always—always—remain the same.

We should obey God.

Question: Can you distinguish between a test and a temptation? To leave a comment, just click here.

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  • Dr. Stiles, Thank you for this message today. There are several things going on right now where I have wondered if Satan is attacking us or if God is testing us. Your bottom line is really helpful…my response should be the same: obey God. THANKS!

    • You’re welcome, Seana. It’s often a quandary, isn’t it? Sometimes Job’s ordeal offers insight. The Lord and the adversary both were involved— for different purposes— but Job never knew the details, nor did he need to.

  • Ed Pomelear

    Thanks for bringing clarity once again.

  • Ty Crandall

    Would like to say I got it all figured out, but sadly I don’t. Being in class room 101 of life is a good place to be. Trying to graduate into class room 102 brings with it many concerns and challenges. Most important is I don’t need God to help me as I can do it on my own. Reflected in the fall in His Word to us in Genesis 2.

    I am reminded of the guy who called Jesus good Teacher. Jesus’s response to him, why call me good only God is good. Although God will not make one call for us, ‘gift is free will’, He will be a good internal Coach to guide us to the right decision if we are paying attention and obey, but it’s our call.

    It is amazing though, God does allow us to makes mistakes to learn and grow in Him. If we can park our ego and pride, we learn and grow, but not always the case in me, especially if I see myself as the offended party. Then I am reminded either the person is really hurting and needs some sensitive TLC or I am on the dance floor and it takes two to tango.

    Blessings,
    Ty

    • Well said, Ty. Thanks for your insightful comment.

  • K Boone

    I can honestly say “NO”. I don’t always see the difference. There are obvious situations of temptations such as the opposite sex flirting with you uncaring of your marriage and times when finances are dwindling and faith in the Lord to take care of it comes in to play. But there are many times, especially in the past 2 years that I am just utterly confused as to the Lords will or if the enemy is just back at again. Which I guess is a temptation in itself since God is not the author of confusion, but I’m left wondering and seeking clarity and guidance.

    • You’re not alone in your confusion, K. But as I said in the post, we don’t always need to know the source of the struggle. We simply need to know the way of obedience and then walk in it— trusting God and His goodness, in spite of our suffering.

  • ARM BAR

    I like this question Wayne,but is there any possibility that i’m actually being tested and tempted at the same time?,because satan and his demons have already been with us since the fall of adam and that will makes them know about the weaknesses of God’s created human beings,so they have learnt how to destroy mankind for centuries,so if someone has an ambition or goal to achieve satan and his demons will also interfere and temp that person into committing sins and from that overwhelming and hard situation God is testing our believe and trust in Him by keep obeying His commands,please correct me if i’m wrong about my statements above Wayne because i’m actually asking your opinion about that situation,Thank You Wayne.

    • It may be possible that Satan’s temptation is actually allowed by God for our testing— as in the book of Job— but it really isn’t up to us to try to discern that. I’m not sure we always can. What difference would it make if we knew the source? Our job is to obey the Lord. Thanks for the great question.

  • Michelle thick

    Good read; All I know is that God will give me a way out. I pray the Are Father when in a situation I don’t understand. And just ask God please be with me, help me over and over. But he is always good and is there to guide me. Reading the Bible everyday and praying for people keeps you close to God. It makes you love God with you whole heart and soul and you want to please him. The closer you get the better you feel about not being tempted. You feel stronger in your spirit.
    But I have the fear of God too.I don’t want to not be in his presence. To scary to do things on my own. My mistakes have made me learn his way is better. Hope im doing it right???

    Thanks

    • That’s a great strategy, Michelle. Keep up the good work. The closer we are to the Lord, the fainter temptation’s call sounds to us. It’s a daily challenge.