Does God tempt people to sin? Is God responsible when we are tempted? Would God tempt us with sin just to test us?
Did God Tempt Israel in the Wilderness?
The Bible describes events where God was said to tempt Israel in the wilderness. Is God tempting Israel to stumble or sin? What does it mean when God was said to tempt Israel when the Bible says that God tempts no one (James 1:13)? In Exodus 15, some translations say (incorrectly) that God tempted Israel to see if they would follow Him in obedience. The correct translation should be that He tested them, not tempted them. In Exodus 15:25-26 it says, “There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said if you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”
Further, in Exodus 16:4, “the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” Finally, in Exodus 17:1-2, “The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” In each of these three previous passages, and elsewhere in the Old Testament where it says that “God tempted them”, the literal translation of the Hebrew word for tempt is actually “test.” God was testing them to see if they would be obedient, so no where in the Old Testament is it recorded that God ever tempted anyone to sin. He simply tested Israel or individuals to see if they were going to follow His instructions and laws or to see if they would fail the test and be disobedient. Of course the Old Testament shows the pattern of Israel continually failing the test and God chastising them in one way or another and often it was by allowing them to be taken into captivity. However, each and ever time this happened, God was correcting His chosen people as a show of love for them as God equates discipline with love.
Did God Tempt Abraham?
God dealt with Abraham just like He has with all people in ancient and modern times. He tests those who He wants to see if they will follow His ways or their own ways. Abraham was tested by God. Particular Bible translations incorrectly use the word “tempt” instead of “test.” In Genesis 22:1- 2 perhaps the greatest test ever given to any one was given to Abraham, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Abraham was willing to sacrifice the promised son – his only son – in Genesis 1:10-12 and as “he [Abraham] reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Clearly God was not tempting Abraham to kill his son. That seems ridiculous. Instead, God was testing Abraham’s obedience in the most extreme test ever given to mankind. God saw that Abraham passed this severest of tests in Genesis 22:16-18 and told him, “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Was Jesus Tempted to Sin?
Jesus’ was not tempted to sin by God but by the Devil, just as humans are. God saw this early in mankind’s history, from Eve’s temptation in the Garden (Gen 3:6) up to the flood. In Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Here is evidence that “every inclination…of the human heart was only evil all the time”. The evil was from their own human heart. It was not from God but from mankind himself. Humans certainly don’t need any help from the Devil, although the Devil and his fallen angels (demons) certainly help the inclination to sin.
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness shows that temptations not only come from our own fallen human condition but the Devil. In Matthew 4:1-4 not only did Satan tempt Jesus but he also tested Him, “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [literal Greek is “tested”] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Who is “the tempter?” It is Satan who is called the tempter (v 1). Jesus was tempted to make stones out of bread by the Devil, but Jesus passed this temptation but this temptation did not come from God but from Satan. Surely Jesus must have been terribly hungry after 40 days and nights of fasting and his humanity must have craved bread to eat, but He rebuked Satan and passed the temptation to end His fast at the Devil’s reckoning. There is nothing wrong with being tempted but if you don’t flee it (1 Tim 6:11), temptation gives birth to sin (James 1:15). When Jesus finally rebuked Satan by quoting Scripture and commanded him to flee, the Devil had no choice but to flee (Matt 4:10-11).
Does God Tempt Christians to Sin?
The Bible is crystal clear that God never tempts anyone to sin as James says, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”(James 1:13). The only ones who tempt humans to sin are other humans and the Devil and his demons. We sin because “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). We are tempted because we are enticed by our own evil, human nature. When faced with temptations, it is from our own lusts or the Devil. When temptations come, the Bible makes it clear that we are to “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18).
When a Christian is tempted to sin…and not if, but when, for surely it comes to all, here is what Paul tells us that we ought to do: “flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11). Even adultery starts in the human heart (Matt 5:28). The good news is that we do not have to be slaves of sin anymore (Rom 6:22) because sin only brings eternal death (Rom 6:23) and every one of us are born into sin (Rom 3:23). What was bad news becomes good news in Jesus Christ because, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). We all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but Jesus has paid our “death penalty” so that we might have eternal life in Him by placing our trust and faith in Him (John 3:16-17). Let no one say that we are tempted by God to sin. It is not biblical. We are carried about by our own sinful heart and it is deceitfully wicked beyond repair as Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jer 17:9)? Jeremiah answers his own question by saying, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jer 17:14). For that fact, I thank God and Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
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