The Difference Between a Trial and a Temptation (James 1:1-17)

Currently I am working through the book of James with a small group on Wednesday nights and we are about to wrap up the first chapter. The first chapter of James is a goldmine of goodies just ready to be explored and excavated, the greatest of which might be the instruction found on enduring and persevering through trials and/or temptations.

What is the difference between a trial and a temptation? Is there a difference? How do you know?

The first chapter of James really helps define this issue so lets turn there. The Greek word translated into English as “trials” in 1:2 is the same Greek word (but in a different tense) translated “tempted” in verses 12-17.

Wait…I thought these were different? Are they different? Why are they translated different if they are the same word just in different tenses? How do they know? How can I know?

Well let’s look to the context of these two sections and see if it helps us understand the true difference between a trial and a temptation. Let us first look at what a trial is, what our attitude is to be towards it, and the outcome of such an event.

“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.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”   (James 1:2-12 ESV)

From James 1:2-8 we learn these things about trials

  1. We are to welcome trials with joy
  2. There will be various kinds of trials for us to rejoice in
  3. Trials test our faith
  4. Trials that test our faith produce steadfastness in our faith and lives
  5. Trials lead to maturity and wholeness , full functioning christian life (perfect and complete do not imply sinlessness but instead the completion of the maturation process)
  6. Trials produce a faith and a life that lacks nothing
  7. Trials provide opportunity to trust God
  8. Trials provide opportunity for God to provide
  9. Trials provide opportunity for us to be humble and acknowledge our need and God’s goodness
  10. Trials provide us an opportunity to prove our faith and not doubt
  11. Trials provide a test by which our faith can be measured, in part
  12. Blessing is promised to those who remain steadfast under a trial
  13. God promises and gives the crown of life to those who endure trials
  14. Trials provide and opportunity for God to keep His promises
  15. By the very fact that there is a promise from God for enduring such trials we can conclude that God also sovereignly sends these and is in control over them

To sum up, trials are actually great blessings that are given to us to grow us, bless us, and to glorify God. It is easy to see that trials are good and why we should consider it all joy when we encounter them.

Now turn to James 1:13-17 which is translated as tempted or temptations and see if the context and commands and attitudes we are to have will help us to see the difference between a trial and a temptation.

 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”   (James 1:13-17 ESV)

From James 1:13-17 we learn these things about temptations

  1. There is an immediate negative command to not embrace or do something
  2. Strongly taught to not attribute a temptation to God
  3. God cannot be tempted with evil
  4. Temptations must then be evil
  5. God does not tempt anyone
  6. The source for our temptation is our own desire (lust)
  7. Our own lust lures, entices and pulls us away
  8. Temptation is sin in seed form
  9. Temptation gives birth or life to sin
  10. Sin gives birth to death (so temptation fully realized and played out leads to death)
  11. Do not be deceived
  12. God gives every perfect and good gift, so do not associate temptations to sin to Him
  13. God is unchanging

To sum up, temptations are bad. They are utterly and fully bad. Just as trials are entirely good and should be embraced, temptations are entirely bad to be avoided.

  • Temptations are opportunities to obey self and please self, Trials are opportunities to obey God and please Him
  • Temptations end in death, Trial bring a crown of life
  • Temptations are deceptive, Trials fulfill promises
  • Temptations directly not from God, Trials directly from God
  • Temptation follows a sinful conception process, Trials produce a godly maturation process
  • Temptations leave you empty, Trials bring you to completion and wholeness
  • Temptations are evil and have evil motive, Trials are good and have godly motives
  • Temptations seek to break you down, Trials seek to build you up
  • Temptations entice and lure you away, Trials are meant to produce steadfastness and remaining
  • Temptations take things away, Trials equip you and produce more in you
  • Temptations reveal our sinful hearts, Trials reval the goodness of God

The next time a situation arises and you wonder whether you are facing a trial or a temptation the answer is probably both. From the standpoint of your sinful flesh it is an opportunity to tempt you to sin, to tear you down, to decieve you and for you to worship self, but from God’s standpoint it is an opportunity for you to prove your faith, mature and grow, remain steadfast, bring about wholness and completion, and to worship and trust God.

May this be a helpful encouragement to you as you encounter various trials.

grace and peace.






28 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Trial and a Temptation (James 1:1-17)

  1. Thanks for posting this. I was looking for a way to better discern the difference between trials and temptations, and the “perspective” element from the last paragraph was excellent. Just what I was looking for.

  2. It was just yesterday when i was looking the difference between the two.Thanks to God. be Blessed FOREVER!!!!!

  3. God does not tempt anyone.could you please explain because the book of Genesis came to pass after these things,that God tempt Abraham.

    1. Fatai,

      I appreciate your comment, thank you for asking. Based on the above post and my understanding of Scripture, the word to tempt and the word for trial are the same (in the ESV it translates it “tested”) . I have no trouble saying that God does it, but I would clarify the intention behind it. Typically we understand temptation to have an evil motive and trials to have good motives. With that said, I would say God never tempts in an evil or malicious way (see James 1) in order to lead someone into sin, but he certainly tests and brings trials in order to prove someone’s faith to build faith (Romans 5, James 1, 1 Peter 1).

      In Genesis 22 God is testing Abraham’s faith, he is testing Abraham in order to prove his faith, in order to prove it’s tested genuineness. As I alluded above the ESV translates it “tested”. I hope this is somewhat helpful.

  4. I’m so happy with this exposition.
    But lastly, from the conclusion, assuming I get sick (let’s assume I didn’t sin), can I say it is a temptation from Satan to make me doubt God’s healing power but God also hijacking the experience to build me to trusting Him more?

  5. I’m very happy to come across this your fine write up on trials and temptations. In fact it has helped me in no small measure. much. May the grace and wisdom of God never cease in your life. Thanks.

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