Does God tempt us to sin? What about Abraham in Genesis chapter 22?
James 1:13 is clear that God does not tempt us to sin: "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." Further, the Bible teaches God does not allow believers in Christ to be tempted beyond what they can bear: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
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While these principles are comforting for our times of difficulty, how are we to understand the account of Abraham in Genesis 22? In this chapter, God told Abraham to take his son Isaac and to sacrifice him on an altar to the Lord. Isn't this an example of God tempting someone to sin?
The answer to this question is found in Genesis 22:1, which reads, "After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.'" God did not want Abraham to sin; He wanted to test the depth of his faith. Verse 12 teaches that when Abraham made it clear he was willing to offer his only son to God, the Lord intervened: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Abraham passed the test, and God promised him much blessing afterwards (Genesis 22:16-18).
God does not tempt people to sin, but He often tests us in ways that reveal our heart toward Him (1 Thessalonians 2:4). For example, after Cain had killed his brother Abel, God first tested him by asking, "Where is Abel your brother?" God knew what had happened, but used the question to reveal Cain's heart. Sometimes the test results are positive, as with Abraham, while other times the result is discouraging, as with Cain.
In testing, James 1:2-4 teaches, "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." God's testing is intended to lead believers toward maturity. As a result, we are to consider it joy when we encounter difficulty in life. It is not temptation; it is a testing that offers opportunities to grow in our relationship with God.
Ultimately, those who grow through testing will be eternally rewarded. James 1:12 teaches, "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." First Peter 1:6-7 affirms, "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."
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