Q. How do you tell a Test from a Temptation?
The same Greek term is used in the New Testament for both testing and tempting:
21254 πειράζω impf. ἐπείραζον; fut. πειράσω; 1aor. ἐπείρασα, mid. ἐπειρασάμην; pf. pass. πεπείρασμαι; 1aor. pass. ἐπειράσθην; (1) make an attempt, try, followed by an infinitive to indicate what is being attempted (AC 9.26); (2) put to the test, examine, try (RV 2.2); in a good sense of God’s actions toward his people prove, put to the test, try (HE 11.17); in a bad sense of a person’s hostile intent toward God or Christ test, try, prove (MT 16.1); also in a bad sense of enticement to sin tempt (GA 6.1); participle as a substantive ὁ πειράζων the tempter, a descriptive title for the devil (MT 4.3) (Friberg’s Lexicon)
What distinguishes temptation from testing is in the intended outcome. Satan tempts us, with the intended (or at least hoped for) outcome of our failure. God tests us, with the intended outcome of our proven faithfulness.
The same event can be both a temptation and a test. God allowed Satan to afflict Job (Job 1 & 2). From Satan’s point of view, the affliction (and the counsel of Job’s friends) was actually a temptation (and don’t forget his wife’s counsel to curse God and die (Job 2:9). But God allowed Satan to tempt Job in order to prove him a faithful man (Job 1:6-8).
We should also take into account these words of Paul:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13, NAU).
So, when trials and difficulties and challenges come our way, I would suggest that we approach them this way: How would Satan seek to use this to bring about my downfall? And How does God intend to use this to bring about His glory by bringing about my spiritual growth and faithfulness to Him?
By the way, it isn’t just difficulties, opposition, and failure that can be a temptation. It can also be success, if that produces pride and self-sufficiency (see Isaiah 2:11-12; Ezekiel 28:2ff.; Daniel 5:18-21; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).