After giving us examples from Israel’s experience, so as to teach the church how to avoid disqualification as an overcomer, Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:12-15,
12 Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 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, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.
Because the church in the wilderness under Moses fell (or, “were laid low”), Israel’s example served as a warning to the second church as well—the church of Pentecost. The second church has had a greater advantage over the first, on account of the Holy Spirit being given in Acts 2. The first church had been too fearful to receive the Spirit at Mount Horeb. The 120 disciples in the upper room, however, drew near to God and were given the Spirit, along with many others who came later.
The Pentecostal Advantage
The Corinthian church had entered into Pentecost experientially as well. Even so, this did not ensure anyone’s qualification as an overcomer. As Paul showed later in his letter, most of the Corinthian believers were Pentecostals, but yet the apostle found it necessary to instruct them and to correct their practices. The Spirit was given to lead us into all truth, but the manna of revelatory truth does not come to us all at once. Faithfulness is required to grow steadily.
Thus, it is clear that even genuine Pentecostals, who can point to the moment when they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, cannot say with certainty that they have arrived at the Promised Land, or that they have already obtained the promise. Even Paul himself refused to make such a claim, saying in Phil. 3:12, “not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect.”
Paul did not express his assurance until he was ready to die. 2 Tim. 4:6-8 says,
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness….
Though Pentecost is a requirement to become an overcomer, it can never ensure such a thing. Many Pentecostals do not finish the course. Many Pentecostals do not endure to the end. Many, in fact, remain at the base of their Mount Horeb, basking in the glory of Pentecost, while remaining far from the Promised Land.
Even if the Israelites had been able to draw near to God, as Moses urged them, and even if they had been able to experience Pentecost in Exodus 20, they still would have had to continue their journey and to endure to the end in order to be classed as overcomers.
Building Houses in the Wilderness
The end of the journey is the feast of Tabernacles. Without a vision of Tabernacles, how can Pentecostals find their way to the Promised Land? Yet Tabernacles has been a lost feast during most of church history. Few have seen its map pointing the way to the Promised Land. Most have been content to remain at one of the camps in the wilderness, where they established creeds as if all truth had been revealed to them.
Building denominational houses in the wilderness tempts men to remain where they are. They take a stand and never depart from it. They learn a particular truth at an oasis and are satisfied that they have found the Promised Land. The water is sweet and good, but men tend to forget that they were commanded to dwell in tents (or booths) while in the wilderness. This was one of the instructions for Israel in regard to the feast of Tabernacles. Lev. 23:42, 43 says,
42 You shall live in booths for seven days… 43 so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
In other words, during the wilderness journey—which was a type of the Pentecostal Age—the people were to live in booths. The reason was connected directly to the celebration of the feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). To live in booths during a Pentecostal Age is to be constantly reminded that one has not yet attained all truth and that the Promised Land is still just a promise for a future time. Building a house in the wilderness prevents people from being overcomers, no matter how sweet the water is at their oasis of choice.
This is the danger of denominational creeds, which seldom leave room for greater truth that is yet to come. Established creeds, even if true, provide a fixed mindset that causes men to reject greater understanding from the oasis down the road. Hence, it appears that one of the first great temptations to overcome during our wilderness journey is to form denominations with fixed creeds, each claiming to contain all the truth that is worth knowing.
Temptation in the Wilderness
Scripture has much to say about temptation (Greek: peirasmos). The word literally means “an experiment, test, trial, or proving.” To translate it “temptation” tends to limit it to a negative or destructive experience. Hence, it is better translated “testing” or “proving.” If a person claims to believe something, that belief must be tested and proven experimentally, or by experience. Otherwise, it is only a theory that fails to reach the level of established truth and reality in the heart.
It is necessary, then, that all things be proven, including our beliefs. God knows all hearts, of course, so he needs no such proof. We are the ones who need the proof, and when we see how a person handles trials, his belief (or faith) is either proven to be real or proven to be illusory. If real, then we are assured that one’s faith came when one’s spirit (new man) heard the word of God. But if one’s faith falls apart, then it is evident that we heard the voice of the soulish man, which persuaded us that something was true.
All flesh is mortal, and “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20 KJV). The soul speaks words that pass away, but the spirit searches out the deep things of God, whose words are immortal. The problem is that we have difficulty discerning the origin of the words we hear. Such discernment is learned by much testing over time, much trial and error.
Israel was tested in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. The second church has been tested in its own wilderness by the Holy Spirit under the leadership of Jesus Himself, who brought us out of the house of sin’s bondage. The church under Moses was tested 40 years. Jesus Himself was tested 40 days, a day for a year. The Pentecostal church has been tested 40 Jubilee cycles (40 x 49 years).
In Moses’ day, Caleb and Joshua overcame. Jesus overcame. In the 40 Jubilee cycles of the Pentecostal Age, a larger company of overcomers has emerged with proven faith, though many died in the crucible of faithless persecutors.
Does God Tempt Men?
Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:13 that believers are tempted, but he does not say who does the tempting. He limits his statement to the comforting fact that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able… to endure.” James 1:12-14 says,
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
This statement seems to contradict many other biblical assertions. Gen. 22:1 says,
1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested [nawsaw] Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
The Hebrew word nawsaw is the equivalent of peirazo, “tested, tempted.” God “tested Abraham” by telling him to offer up his only son as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Heb. 11:17 refers to this, saying in Greek, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested [peirazo], offered up Isaac…” Hence, nawsaw and peirazo are equivalents, and God is said to have tested Abraham’s faith.
Later, Israel was tested at the waters of Marah, for we read in Exodus 15:25, “There He made for them a statute and a regulation, and there He tested [nawsaw] them.” At the end of 40 years, Moses told the Israelites in Deut. 8:2,
2 And you shall remember the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing [nawsaw] you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Moses again attributed Israel’s testing to God Himself in Deut. 13:3, when Israel should see the rise of false prophets:
3 You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing [nawsaw] you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
These are clear statements that God does indeed test His people. He tests them by providing them with choices that tempt them to disobey His laws or to follow soulish desires. He even takes credit for allowing false prophets to arise in their midst, for by such prophets the hearts of the people are tested.
Direct and Indirect Testing
So by what reasoning does James tell us that God tempts no man? I believe that James was speaking about direct temptation. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:2). Was He tempted by God? Certainly, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted, and in that sense God may take credit for the temptation.
False prophets may arise, who tempt the church to become lawless, but in the ultimate sense, God, being sovereign, arranges and plans for this to happen. So in the overall sense, God is given credit for testing all of us, but on a lower level, because God uses tempters as intermediaries, it can be said that those intermediaries do the tempting.
In other words, God tempts (or tests) us, not directly, but indirectly. James attributes the test or temptation as we are enticed by our own lust. The carnal desires of our own souls, then, become our direct tempters. God remains in the background, creating tempting situations that bring hidden things to light, not so that we would fall, but so that we would become aware of the hidden impurities in our hearts and deal with them accordingly.
Paul’s comforting statement in 1 Cor. 10:13 lets us know that all such temptation comes with a way of overcoming it. God does not tempt maliciously to make us fall but uses tempters to purify us and strengthen us in the long run. Much of the time we learn only after we have stumbled, but if we understand that God is motivated fully by love, it is easier to forgive ourselves and to move on with greater humility and appreciation for the spiritual growth when God has brought us through such trials.