Temptation (נָסָה, H5814, to test, try, prove, tempt; מַסָּה, H4999, trial, temptation; πειράζω, G4279, to try, put to the test in a good or bad sense, entice to sin, tempt; πειρασμός, G4280, test, trial, temptation).
The idea of putting to the proof, from either a good or bad intention, is found throughout the Bible. Thus the Lord often tests his people with the purpose of strengthening their faith, while Satan tempts them because he wishes to undermine their faith. Jesus, true man, faced both testing from God and temptation from Satan. It is only in modern English that temptation has come to mean testing for evil purposes: testing and temptation were once synonyms.
God is "tempted" by Israel’s distrust of Him, as if the people were actually challenging Him to show His perfections (Ex 17:2; Ps 78:18; Ac 15:10; Heb 3:9); Abraham is "tempted," being called upon to offer up Isaac (Ge 22:1); and Jesus is "tempted" to a spectacular Messiahship (Mt 4 and parallel passages (see Temptation of Christ)). No evil is implied in the subject of these temptations. Temptation therefore in the Scripture sense has possibilities of holiness as well as of sin. For as all experience witnesses, it is one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall. To be tempted—one may rejoice in that (Jas 1:2), since in temptation, by conquering it, one may achieve a higher and nobler manhood.
The nature of temptation
Man was created to worship and serve the Lord. Temptation is an enticement to sin, i.e., to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). Temptation strikes at the heart of our relationship to God and His purposes. A temporal advantage may seduce the tempted away from an eternal good. Furthermore, as M. G. Kyle suggested, temptation is an incitement of natural, God-given desires to go beyond Godgiven bounds (e.g., gluttony). The end served by temptation is spiritual alienation from God and enslavement to moral evil.
Clearly the ultimate source of temptation is Satanic. No one lives in a vacuum, but to some extent under the influences of “the Tempter” (Matt 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5). One of Satan’s cleverest strategems is to convince mankind that he passed away with the Middle Ages. The egregious evils of recent history have revived belief in the demonic. Satan sometimes masquerades as a messenger of religious truth (2 Cor 11:14).
Temptation may arise not only from Satan, but also from love of the world. As John explained, this includes “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Sensuality, covetousness, and egotism bewitch the best of men. “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Much temptation, however, springs not from the devil or the world, but from man himself. Each person who is tempted, James explained, “is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (James 1:14, 15).
Temptation, then, is an incitement from the world, the flesh, or the devil to worship and serve them rather than the Creator.
The nature of testing
God may employ trying circumstances to woo man back to Himself, or to prove our fidelity. God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:1, 2). God led the Israelites in the wilderness to Marah, the place of bitter waters and the thirsty people murmured. When Moses cried to the Lord he was shown a tree; he threw it into the waters and the water became sweet. “There the Lord...proved them” (Exod 15:22-25). In the wilderness they also needed bread, which the Lord supplied one day at a time to prove whether they would walk in His law (Exod 16:4). God’s purpose in the thunders at Sinai, Moses explained, was “to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin” (Exod 20:20). God, then, orders difficult circumstances “that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deut 8:16). Job confessed, “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Before Jesus fed the five thousand, He said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” John explained, “This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do” (John 6:5, 6). The Lord’s testings are not for His knowledge, but man’s benefit. For a little while God’s people suffer various trials “so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7). Testing, then, is an ordering of circumstances by God to reveal one’s supreme love for Him, fortify men against sin, and do them good.
The relationship between temptation and testing
Any situation in life may be an occasion of temptation or testing. God designed a test for Adam and Eve by prohibiting fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but Satan subtly lured them into disbelief and disobedience (Gen 3:1-6). God liberated the Israelites from Egypt and led them into the wilderness; there they often yielded to temptation and sinned. God allowed Satan to tempt Job, to prove his integrity (Job 1:6-12).
"Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matt 4:1). The occasion of proving Christ’s authenticity was ordered by the Lord; the enticement to use His supernatural powers simply to satisfy His intense hunger after forty days of fasting came from Satan. The inducement to worship Satan was permitted by God, but it was introduced by the Tempter. The intrigue of gaining a following by falling from the Temple without harm did not come from God. God is the author of every good and perfect gift. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
Why, then, should one pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13)? Men pray that God will not order circumstances in which Satan would find them easy prey. They ask also God’s enablement to resist temptation when it comes. God permits Satan to tempt, but He also promised that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). As Girdlestone says, “He allows the way in, and He makes the way out.”
What to do about temptation
Surely no one should tempt others. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1, 2). A Christian ought to take action to correct sources of temptation in himself. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you” (Matt 18:8, 9). These hyperboles show how urgent is the task of dealing with temptation.
Very explicit suggestions appear for reckoning with sexual temptations. “Because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.... Do not refuse one another... lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:2, 5). The young man (Timothy) should “treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:1, 2).
The Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control is equally necessary to overcome covetousness. Mankind shall be content with food and clothing, for “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim 6:9, 10).
Apparently men may be tempted more at certain times. In Gethsemane Jesus said, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). John Owen analyzed times when temptations’ solicitations are more urgent, their reasonings more plausible, pretenses more glorious, hopes of recovery more evident, opportunities more open, and doors of evil more beautiful than ever before. To correct the factors leading to such a state, Christians should not lessen their indignation at their own sins, nor fail to abhor sin in others. They should not associate attractions to evil with good things, or willingly go to places contributing to temptation. No one should allow weak faith or idleness to occasion evil. Alertness is called for especially in situations like David’s, which combine fear and passion. Afraid of Uriah’s revenge and consumed by his lust for Bathsheba, David entered into temptation to kill Uriah.
In the presence of the Tempter a Christian may, like Christ, quote Scripture as illumined by the Holy Spirit. A Christian can count on the understanding of Christ, the sympathetic High Priest, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15).
God tests man
Satan tempts man
Satan tempted Jesus
(Matt.4.1-Matt.4.11). Although this was genuine testing for evil purposes, the Lord used it for testing Jesus in his vocation as Messiah. Temptation initiated by Satan is not sin: Sin is to submit.
==Christians are to test themselves
Before partaking of the Lord’s Supper believers are to test themselves (1Cor.11.28) to see whether they are spiritually prepared to participate. Such testing should be a regular feature of the Christian life (2Cor.13.5; Gal.6.4).
Lead us not into temptation
(Matt.6.13) is a part of a prayer to be addressed to the Father by his people. Some translations offer, “Do not bring us to the test/trial.” This plea seems to ask that we not be forced into tribulation, extreme testing, or great suffering. The next petition is “but deliver us from the evil one,” which recognizes that Satan is active in this world, but that God is greater than Satan.
Spiritual Formation and Temptation
Holiness in its best estate is possible only under conditions which make it necessary to meet, resist and triumph over temptation. Thus, Jesus Himself became our Great High Priest in that, being tempted in all points like as we are, He never once yielded, but fought and triumphed (Heb 4:15).
One must not deceive one’s self, however, in thinking that, because by the grace of God one may have profit of virtue through temptation as an instrument, all temptation is equally innocent and virtuous. It is noticeable in the case of Jesus that His temptation was under the direction of the Spirit (Mr 1:12); He Himself did not seek it, nor did He fear it. Temptations encountered in this way, the way of duty, the way of the Spirit, alone constitute the true challenge of saintship (Jas 1:12); but it is the mark of an ignoble nature to be perpetually the center of vicious fancies and tempers which are not of God but of the devil (Jas 1:13-15).
One may not escape entirely such buffetings of faith, but by any sound nature they are easily disposed of. Not so easily disposed of are the trials (temptations) to faith through adversity, affliction, trouble (Lu 22:28; Ac 20:19; Jas 1:2; 1Pe 1:6); and yet there is no lack of evidence to the consoling fact that God does not suffer His own to be tempted above what they are able to bear (1Co 10:13) and that for every crisis His grace will be sufficient (2Co 12:8,9).
W. H. Goold, ed. The Works of John Owen (1850-1853, reprint 1966), VI, 87-151.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1944).
D. Bonhoeffer, Temptation (1953).
R. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (reprint 1953), 292-295.
P. Vallotton, “Temptation,” ed. J. J. Von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible (1958), 420-423.
M. G. Kyle, “The Psychology of Temptation” ISBE (1939), V, 2944-2944b.
V. C. Grounds, “Temptation” ed. M. C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (1963), 836, 837.
E. Best, The Temptation and the Passion, 1965.
P. Doble, “Temptation,” ExpT, vol. 72, 1960-61, pp. 91ff.