God promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). This gives us assurance that God can and will turn anything to our good. No situation is too grave, no enemy too strong, no temptation too great. Yes, God overrules even temptations so they benefit us instead of harming us. Just as a tree which is blown by the wind is settled and rooted deeper into the ground, the coming of a temptation simply settles the Christian deeper into divine grace. Here are eight ways God brings good from temptation.
Temptation sends the soul to prayer. The more furiously Satan tempts, the more fervently the saint prays. A running deer sprints as soon as it discerns the presence of the hunter and, in the same way, the soul that comes under fire from Satan’s darts runs faster to the throne of grace. When Paul was being harassed by the messenger of Satan, he said, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:8). Whatever makes us pray is used to bring about good.
Temptation trains us to not commit sin. The more a child of God is tempted, the more he fights against the temptation. The more Satan tempts to blasphemy, the more a saint trembles at blasphemous thoughts and cries out, “Away from me, Satan!” When Potiphar’s wife strengthened her temptations, Joseph strengthened his opposition. The temptation the devil uses as a spur to sin, God makes a bridle to keep back a Christian from sin!
Temptation decreases pride. Paul spoke of a “thorn in his flesh” that had been given to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). This thorn in the flesh was to puncture the puffing up of pride! It is far better to be humbled by temptation than to become proud by success. To keep a Christian from becoming haughty, God may let him fall into the devil’s hands until he is cured of his swelling pride.
Temptation tries what is in the heart. The devil tempts that he may deceive us, but God allows us to be tempted that he may try us. Temptation is a trial of our sincerity and maturity that displays whether or not our heart is loyal to Christ. The weak Christian will yield at Satan’s first temptation just like the weak child hands over his lunch money as soon as the bully approaches. The strong Christian brandishes the sword of the Spirit and would rather die than succumb to the temptation. The Christian’s valor is never shown more clearly than on the field of battle.
Temptations equip us to comfort others. A Christian must endure Satan’s temptations before he can “speak a word in due season” to someone who is wearily enduring similar temptations. A man who has navigated dangerous, winding roads is the one best equipped to guide others in the same way. Likewise, he who has felt Satan’s claws and laid bleeding under the wounds is the one who can bring comfort to another of the devil’s victims. No one can better spy out Satan’s subtle devices than someone who has long learned lessons from his school of temptation.
Temptations stir up God’s fatherly compassion. The child who is sick or bruised is the one who receives the most attentive care. As a saint endures the brutality of temptations, Christ prays, and God the Father pities. When Satan infects the soul with his disease, God comes with a cure which is why Luther said that “temptations are Christ’s embraces.” It is in temptations that Christ is most present.
Temptations make us long for heaven. Heaven is the place of final rest where we will be free of temptation. When the eagle soars in the air and sits high on its perch it is not troubled by its enemy the snake. Just so, when believers have ascended to heaven, we shall not be molested by that old serpent, the devil. In this life, when one temptation is over, another comes close behind it, and this weariness makes God’s people long for heaven.
Temptations engage Christ’s strength. Christ is our friend, and when we are tempted, he sets all his power to work for us. “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). If a lone Christian was to battle the Goliath of hell, he would stand no chance. But Jesus Christ brings in auxiliary forces and fresh supplies of grace. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
I love to plunder the Puritans! These eight points and much of the wording was drawn from Thomas Watson’s A Divine Cordial.