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Is this trial a test from God or an attack from Satan?

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

Satan is not God’s opposite. God is sovereign in every way and is in complete control over everything, including Satan and any trial that we go through in life. Anything Satan does, God allows. God is eternal; Satan is a created being and will be thrown into the lake of fire for eternity at the appointed time (Revelations 20:10). God and Satan are not in a cosmic battle for power. God is already the winner. However, God in his sovereignty has ordained that Satan have some control over the earth to tempt people. As 1 John 5:19 states, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

As we learned in Chapter 1, Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches. It is from the Vine that the branches receive life, but at the same time the branches need pruning in order to be more fruitful and sometimes the method of pruning that God uses is through a trial. However, during the trial, we feel the effects just as much as if Satan is attacking us. So how do we know if the battlefield we are on is a test or an attack?

To answer this question, we must understand the character of God and the character of Satan. John 10:10 will help shed some light. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” God will use a trial in our life to test our faith and bring about spiritual growth and life. Satan is the thief that comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan uses a trial in an attempt to remove God from our lives.

Let’s look at 4 questions we can ask ourselves when faced with a trial so we can determine if we are being tested by God or attacked by Satan.

Question 1: Is this trial a test or temptation?

Whether tested or tempted, in both situations, we will experience feelings and thoughts that are similar. So, we must go back to the truth of God’s Word. If we have hidden it in our hearts, it will be there to guide us and help us discern if God is testing us or Satan is attacking us.

While God does not tempt us, He does actively cause or allow tests to occur in the believer’s life. When God is working to strengthen our faith, His end goal is to allow questions, feelings, and thoughts that will lead to our ultimate trust in Him. In Genesis 22:1-24 God tested Abraham. In John 6:5-7 Jesus tested Philip. And in 1 Peter 1 we are told that God has called us to be born again to a living hope, but during our time on earth we will experience 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” (1 Peter 1:7).

On the other hand, Satan certainly does tempt people, including Jesus. Luke 4:1-2 says, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” A temptation will lead a believer to a place of loneliness, despair, and ultimately leave all responsibility in your own hands.

Counting the trial as joy

James 1:2-5 says, “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. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Then in verse 13, James writes, “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.”

You can determine if a trial is a test from God or a temptation from Satan by the pull it is having on you. If you are being tempted to indulge in sinful, unbiblical behavior, this is Satan trying to attack you. But if you are being encouraged to remain faithful to God through a test in your life that is resulting in more praise, glory, and honor given to Jesus Christ, this is a test from the Lord. Remember testing equals: waiting, watching, and surrendering all to Him. Attacks equal: leaving Him and relying on your methods to remedy the situation.

Questions 2: Does the trial make me feel conviction or condemnation?

The feelings evoked when we sin can also be a clue as to whether the trial, we are going through is a test form God or an attack of Satan. When Satan is successful in getting us to fall to temptation and sin, he then works to make us feel condemned. He not only wants you to sin, but he also wants you to feel that God now hates you because of your sin. He wants you to feel like you have failed God, the ministry in which you serve, and the people that you serve. But remember that this is one of his “identity crisis wiles” and recognize it for what it is. Such thoughts are lies straight from the mouth of Satan. The only person condemned, is the one who remains lost in his sins.

As a child or God, He loves you no matter what you do. He 1 John 4:8 states, “God is love.” His love is unconditional because his love is based who He is. Love is His nature and character. Therefore, it is impossible for His love to be based on our choices and actions. However, we must not mistake God’s unconditional love for us with a freedom to unconditionally sin. God will not ignore our sins because he loves us. Rather, he will convict us of our sin because he loves us and wants us to receive the grace offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians are no longer condemned

If you are a Christian, you will never be condemned for your sin ever again. Romans 8:1 explains, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Condemnation is when you are sentenced to death for your wrongs. But, in love, God does convict his people, which is when the Holy Spirit points out a sin in your life so that you will be motivated to turn back to God in repentance. As 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 says, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

Question 3: Is this trial bringing order into my life or creating chaos?

Let’s face it: Sometimes we need something to motivate us so we can move from where we are now to where God wants us to be. No one likes to experiences pressures and troubles, but when we go through a trial, it often serves as a means to overcome barriers that prevent us from growing. As we wrestle through doubts, searching for answers in God’s Word, we grow in faith and we learn new facets about who God is. When a problem becomes urgent enough that we can no longer ignore it, God will use it to illuminate the disorganized areas of our lives and then bring them into order.

The Corinthian church is a good example of God using a trial to bring order. Paul tells us the church was experiencing problems because they did not know how to properly use their spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues. Paul then provides explanations of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 14. And in verse 33, Paul writes, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Since that time, God has used the confusion of the Corinthian church for clarity throughout the body of Christ.

However, when a trial is being used for Satan’s purposes, order falls by the wayside and chaos develops. James 3:14-16 says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

Questions 4: Is your trial drawing you to God or pulling you away from God?

God will always use the trails we face as instruments in drawing us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. But Satan wants nothing more than to steal your joy and destroy your relationship with God. Because God is always in control, He can use the trials that Satan brings in our lives to cause use to seek to know God more and how God will use the trial for our good and His glory.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 how God used Satan’s attack on Paul to draw Paul closer to God. Paul writes, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Is this trial a test or an attack?

So, if the pressure and trouble you are facing tests your faith, convicts of sin, brings order into your life, or draws you to God, then God is testing you. But if your circumstances look more like a temptation to sin, makes you feel condemned, stirs up chaos, or pulls you away from God, then it is Satan who at work in your life.

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