The best explanation (and clearest illustration) I have heard on the difference between a trial and temptation from Doug Wilson.
If you like this video clip, you can watch the full sermon here – Sermon: Wisdom From Above – James 1:1-27
Doug Wilson, in the clip below:
I mentioned a moment ago that the Greek word for trial, and the word for temptation are the same word. They are the same word, with our distinction between them- a trial in english, a trial is not a temptation, a temptation is not a trial. But, we have words like this too, where they alter their meaning depending on the context. In the Greek of the New Testament you have that contextual difference. James tells us here, that we are to consider trials a joy, verse 2. But, he also says that temptations do not come from God, verse 13. Temptations don’t come from God, but, how am I supposed to consider it a joy, when it doesn’t come from Him. Well, it is from Him, but it’s not form Him in a simplistic way.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil- in Matthew 4:1. Now, why did the devil get at him in the wilderness? The devil got at Him in the wilderness because the Spirit let him into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil. A few chapters later, Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, with a request that our Father lead us not into temptation. Matthew 6:13. Who is doing what, here?
The same situation, the same scenario is a trial or a temptation based on the perspective of the one testing or luring. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for one reason. The devil went after Him in the wilderness for a completely different reason. There’s a difference between subjecting you to a particular trial. In the Lord’s prayer we’re told to ask not to be put in a trial or temptation that is too much for us. „Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God will do the same thing for us, His children, as He does for His Son, the Lord Jesus.
He puts us into difficulties, and He tells us through James to „count it all joy” when we have a difficulty coming up, when we have a trial coming up, knowing that the trial is form God. The temptation that occurs in the midst of that is NOT from God. The temptation that wells up in your heart, the sin that wells up in your heart, the resentment that wells up in your heart, the bad counsel and the advice from your friends that are saying, „You should be totally upset and offended by that.” The suggestions that come from the devil, those are temptations. The trial itself is from God. The temptation is never from God.
This is another way of saying: In the difficulty, God wants you to stand. In the difficulty, God wants you to succeed. In the difficulty, God wants you to pass the course. He wants you to make it. He’s not trying to entice you into sin. He’s not trying to entice you into failure. But, it can be the same situation. A parent can be looking out the front window and they can see a neighborhood bully kid come up to their kid. In the front lawn, you starting seeing something to heat up and the wife says, „Let’s go out there now and stop it.” And the dad says something like, „No, it’s time. It’s time, let’s wait here.” And they watch. What are they doing? Are they tempting him? No, they don’t want their son to fail. But, they want to give their son an opportunity to succeed in the midst of difficulty. You see that? It’s different. The bully is tempting, the parents are testing. But, it’s the same situation. It’s the same scenario. And, everything is defined on what perspective or what vantage point you’re looking at it from.
See the entire 43 minute sermon here – https://vimeo.com/57936636