Life is full of difficult circumstances. Life inevitably involves circumstances that we would never have chosen on our own. Yet, the Bible assures, God does not work his grace in his people despite circumstances, but right through the middle of them.
As we look at life’s difficult circumstances, we can sometimes be confused about what this thing is and what it is meant to accomplish. The Bible tells us that there are at least two categories of difficult circumstances: There are tests and there are temptations (James 1:2-15). Both of these exist, but they have very different sources and very different purposes. Every test is an invitation to grow in your faith and draw closer to God; every temptation is an invitation to weaken your faith and push God away. You face that battle every day.
The tricky thing is that the very same circumstances that bring us great blessing also tend to bring us sore temptation. Is this a test or a temptation? It may be both.
For some people, your trying circumstance may be another person’s success. It may be that you are uniquely prone to the sin of envy, and God makes you aware of another person’s success in order to test you, in order to allow you the opportunity to find joy in that person’s accomplishment. God’s desire is for you to rejoice at what that other person has done and to praise God for his wisdom and blessing. But right there in the test you will face the temptation toward envy. You will face the temptation to resent or even hate that other person; you will face the swell of pride that you are the one who deserves the accomplishment and the accolades. Your evil desires have come raging forth and now the test has become a temptation to sin.
For some people, your difficult circumstance may be related to your sexuality. You have a natural desire to engage in a sexual relationship, but God has not provided you with a spouse, or perhaps your spouse is in some way unable or unavailable for a time. God means to test you here and to allow you to discover all the joy he can bring you. He means to show you that you can find satisfaction in him if only you will endure and pass the test. And yet right here you may also find temptation—temptation to despair or resentment or even illicit sexual activity.
Because each of us is unique, we face unique circumstances that bring about unique tests and unique temptations. But we only get to experience the joy of the test if we endure it. We lose all the joy if we succumb to the temptation. Alec Motyer says it so well: “The same circumstances which are, on the one hand, opportunities to go forward are, on the other hand, temptations to go back.” In every trying circumstance you need to ask and you need to decide: Will you go forward into increased maturity and increased holiness, or will you go back, and slide back into immaturity and sinfulness?
God does not promise that he will take away the circumstance you are wrestling with. He doesn’t promise to give you everything you want or everything you think you need. But he does promise to give you himself. And in your tests and in your temptations, nothing could be better than that.
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