The idea of “tempting God” has always been an interesting one for me. Growing up in a religious setting, hearing traditional teaching, I was always told that tempting (or testing) God was a bad idea, and it was a sure way to get yourself hurt.
Of-course being a younger child (physically and spiritually), this made me apprehensive about asking God for anything or trusting Him. After all, how could I truly be certain that I wasn’t testing Him with my request? No-one ever really explained it. And as I grew-up in these same religious environment, any time I tried to reach out in faith and trust God for things, someone would come along and say “Now brother, don’t go testing God!” – and it would reignite that fear all over again.
But what does it actually mean to “test” or “tempt” God? Does it mean we can never believe Him? Does it mean we can never rely on or trust Him? We’re going to talk about this today. Let’s get started!
This is a topic that has the potential to benefit a lot of people, just as it did myself years ago. No true believer wants to test God, and so when the idea of testing or tempting Him is framed a certain way, it makes it difficult to actually trust Him, just like I outlined in the opening. After all, what does it mean to test or tempt God? When I was younger, no-one explained it, and so it was very confusing.
Thankfully though, the scriptures give us some examples, so that we don’t need to guess about what it means.
Temp and Test versus Trust… What’s the Difference?
It’s important for us to understand the difference between temping & testing, versus trusting. The lack of this understanding is what held me back for many years, and in discussing with others, the exact same thing stops many people as well.
Temping and Testing
Tempting and testing are often misunderstood words in scripture. The same Greek root word is used for testing, tempting trails in scripture. This one fact alone may start to open up your perspective if you’ve never been made aware of this before. Some Christians like to say that “God will never tempt you, but he will test you.”
But once you realize that both tempt and test mean the same thing, you will realize how much that popular Christian statement just doesn’t make sense.
Put simply, God does not need to tempt you, test you, or trial you. There simply is no need for it. Even if we were to set aside the fact that God is omniscient and already knows what we will do, the fact is that we are blessed because of the Grace of Christ, not our performance! And indeed we are saved to to the uttermost, by faith in Christ, and not by our performance!
So again it is an obvious fact that there simply is no need for God to test us. The only one that matters is Christ, and He already passed the test.
It is important to understand this, in order to fully comprehend the differences between testing God and trusting Him.
Two Similar Scenarios, But Very Different
There are two instances in scripture where Jesus is asked to prove Himself. They are similar on the surface, but under-the-skin they are very different – and they have different results as well. One request for proof is denied, while the other is granted. And as we examine why, we will get an even clearer picture of the difference between test and trust.
In Matthew chapter 4, we find the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. And three times in this account we see Satan make the following temptation at Christ:
“if you are the son of God…”
Each time this temptation is followed up by a different thing that Satan wants Jesus to do, but Satan always prefaces it with the statement above. And each time, Jesus denies the temptation and refuses to do it. So keep this in mind.
Now let’s look at another instance from ten chapters forward in Matthew chapter 14. This is the account of the disciples in a boat, and during the night Jesus coming to them by walking on the water.
In verse 28 in Matthew chapter 14, Peter having heard Jesus say “Fear not, it is I”, proceeds to say the following in response:
“Lord, if it is you, tell me to come.”
On the surface this actually seems very similar to Satan’s temptation of if you are the son of God! However this time, we see that Jesus actually does what Peter said! What’s going on here?!
Sometimes one simple detail can make all the difference, and this is one of those times.
In Matthew chapter 4, Satan is tempting God, by trying to get Jesus to do something to prove that He is the Son of God.
In chapter 14, Peter already addresses Jesus as Lord, and says if it is you, tell me to come.
While the difference might seem subtle, the results speak for themselves.
You see, Peter was not questioning the identity of Jesus being the Son of God. And that’s the key point of why Peter said “Lord, if it is you”… Peter was in-essence saying I know that Jesus would have me walk on the water. In a way, his asking itself was based on his confidence of this fact.
Whereas Satan was trying to bait Jesus into submission, Peter was trusting in the goodness of Jesus and Peter’s (limited) understanding of their relationship at that point. As we can see, it was enough to achieve the desired result.
This is the difference between tempting God and trusting God. One is based on unbelief, doubt and deceit, while the other is actually based on confidence and relationship. And this is something that we as beloved children of God, members of His kingdom and family, need to understand.
Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Trusting God
As I shared with you at the beginning, through some misguided teaching and my own wrong believing, I allowed the irrational fear of tempting God stop me from reaching out in faith for things that were promised to me in Christ.
I encourage you today my friend, to not make the same mistake as I did. You are not tempting God by trusting in His promises for you and standing in faith for the things that Jesus paid for you to receive and have.
If Peter was afraid of tempting God, He never would’ve stepped out onto the ocean. We are told in 1st Timothy 6:2 to fight the good fight of faith. Not to remain in timidity or uncertainty regarding the nature of God or His promises.
So once more I encourage you with these words. You are not tempting God by rightfully claiming anything that Jesus paid so high a price to give you. Stand in faith. Stand in Jesus.