The word temptation is used in two completely different ways in the Bible. The word is used to describe the times when the devil tempts us to abandon our faith. And the same word is used to describe the times when the Lord tests our faith to make it stronger.
In Genesis 3 we read about the devil tempting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, causing them to fall into sin. And in Matthew 4 we read about the devil trying to tempt Jesus to sin.
In Genesis 12 there is the story about God testing Abram’s faith to make it stronger. Genesis 12 starts a whole new section of the Bible. Everything before this, the first 11 chapters of Genesis, relate to the entire world. Starting in Genesis 12 and continuing basically to the end of the Bible the focus is on Abram, also known at Abraham, and his descendants, including the Savior.
God tests Abram’s faith in two ways in Genesis 12. God comes to Abram and says leave home and go to a place I will show you. He does not tell Abram where he will be going. Someone described it as “going without knowing.”
Another test of Abram’s faith was when God tells him that he will make a great nation out of him. Abram was 75 years old when God told him to leave home and he and his wife, Sarai, had no children.
I think it is also interesting to note who was still alive during Abram’s life according to the Bible’s genealogical records. By the time God called Abram to leave home Noah was dead but he had been alive for several decades after Abram was born. There is a good chance Abram had met Noah. Noah’s son, Shem, who had also been on the ark with Noah, actually outlived Abram. So did Noah’s great-grandson Shelah and Noah’s great, great grandson Eber. So Abram had many of the great Old Testament patriarchs to help guide him in his faith.
So in faith Abram goes. Basically from this time forward Abram is a wanderer living in tents for the rest of his life.
The same situation exists today. The devil is still tempting us to lead us away from God and God is still testing our faith to make it stronger. This raises the question, “How do we tell the difference?” How do we know when it is the devil tempting us and when it is God testing us?
The devil is a liar. He lied to Adam and Eve and he lies to us. As Martin Luther says in his Small Catechism, the devil tempts us to “false belief, despair and other great shame and vice.” Above all the devil wants us to believe that God does not love us, that we are unworthy of God’s love. That is why we must always stay focused on the cross of Christ to know the truth; God loves us with an eternal love that will never change.
When trials and tribulations appear out of nowhere it means God is testing our faith. He does so to draw us closer to him.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (ESV)
Then there is James 1:2–4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (ESV)
Finally, we have 1 Peter 1:6–7″ “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
If the devil is constantly trying to destroy our faith and God is constantly working to strengthen our faith it must mean that our faith is pretty important. And it is. It is our most treasured possession.
The important thing about faith is who it is in. As someone once said, “Tell me who or what you are believing in and I will know all I need to know about your faith.” A very strong faith that trusts in something worthless will itself be worthless. But a tiny faith that trusts in God is, as Peter says above, more precious than gold.
There were many more times that God tested Abram’s faith. There will be many more time God tests our faith. Abram’s faith did not always hold up under his tests and neither will ours. But as God continues to test us he makes our faith stronger by teaching us what a great God he is, how incredibly powerful he is, how incredibly loving he is, that even when our faith in him wavers, for the sake of Christ, he will still love us and will never forsake us.
Whether it’s the devil tempting us to abandon our faith or the Lord testing our faith to make it stronger, the Biblical word is the same. The fact that the devil is always trying to destroy our faith and God is always working to strengthen shows that our faith in Christ is our most precious possession.