What is the difference between two footballs? Well, nothing important, a football is a football. That’s a correct answer. Another way to look at it is how the footballs are being used. If one is used for children to play with and the other to purposely break a window, the one is a toy and the other is a weapon. It is similar with trials and temptations.
What we call trials and temptations have just one Greek word in the New Testament. It’s a difficult situation. What the purpose is of the difficult situation, and how we respond to it, determine whether in English we call it a trial or a temptation.
To grow or demolish our faith
When God brings us into a difficult situation, it is for the purpose to grow our faith. We call this a trial. When the devil brings us into a difficult situation, it is for the purpose to demolish our faith. We call this a temptation. And if we want to sin because of the situation we are in, it also becomes a temptation. It is the purpose of the devil and our own inclination to sin which turn some situations into temptations. Let’s see how this works in the Bible.
In James 1:2 we read “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds“. So a trial is a good thing. Why? Because it tests our faith, producing steadfastness which leads to perfection and completeness (James 1:4). This kind of trial is a blessing, which prepares us for eternal life (James 1:12).
But in the same chapter we read that we can respond in the wrong way to our trials. That is when in English the word ‘temptation’ becomes the right one to describe the situation. We should never blame God for that. It is our own desires which lead to sin, and sin leads to death (James 1:14-15).
No reason to despair
But there is no reason to despair. For Paul writes: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Basically he says: being tempted is just part of being human. There always will be temptations. But when you are a Christian, God gives you everything you need to escape the temptation. You are led by the Holy Spirit.
Are you still afraid you will fall into sin because of temptations? That’s good. Being overconfident is one sure sign that you will fall. The Bible gives us one clear way to help us not fall into temptation: prayer. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38).
So whatever trial you are going through, trust that God will build your faith through it. Whatever temptation you are facing, pray so that you will remain faithful to God and not fall into sin.