Although they vary, facing temptations is a common occurrence. New believers are especially vulnerable to the schemes of Satan (Ephesians 6:11). The Bible calls Satan “a murderer from the beginning. He does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. He is a liar; the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is intent on our eternal ruin.

He was intent on Jesus’ ruin as well. The Scriptures clue us in on three of countless attempts by Satan to cause a falter in the Son’s steps. The Bible says Jesus spent a little over 30 years without sin. Many times, my resistance withers in 30 seconds. These temptations are described in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13.

During the days leading up to Easter we have been discussing temptations. During the last two weeks, we have considered the first two encounters Jesus had with Satan. First, Satan told a hungry Jesus to prove He was God by turning stones into bread. Next, Jesus was whisked to a pinnacle of the temple and challenged to take a leap of faith. Each temptation attacked faith on multiple levels.

The last temptation involved Satan taking Jesus to a high mountain, showing him the area’s kingdoms. The temptation was for the one whose mission was to establish a universal kingdom to receive them without suffering. The devil’s bargaining chip? Worship me.

The tease had to be enticing. Jesus knew all along that his ministry would involve sacrifice. The entire Old Testament history pointed symbolically to the ultimate sacrificial lamb. Sin needed an atonement only a perfect, blameless life could provide. Satan’s offer weighed volumes. Achieve the purpose with no pain.

The cost would strike at the very heart of faith. Who will you choose to worship? The commandments of God are based upon a foundation of trust and allegiance. “I am the Lord your God. You will have no other gods before me. You will not put anything in my place. You will not bow down or worship them. The Lord your God is a jealous God” (Exodus 20:1-5 paraphrased).

The application of the truth of this temptation is very personal. Who will you choose to worship?

We hear the word “idol” and push its meaning to ancient times. Idolatry means crafting a golden statue or praying to wooden trinkets. We don’t worship that way in modern Western culture.

Consider these two helpful definitions. If an idol is something or someone who becomes more important to us than God, worship means looking to that idol for peace, fulfillment, and salvation.

Ed Stetzer, church growth specialist, in an article titled “Idolatry is Alive Today,” writes, “When it comes to idolatry, the danger is not in an item … it is in us.”

Tim Keller, in the book Counterfeit Gods, describes, “An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give.”

You have seen lists of modern day idols. Money, power, and prestige often comprise the heart of the idols we worship today. May I suggest less than a handful of idols that may explain some of today’s behavior?

The first idol is personal identity. This idol attempts to answer the heartfelt question of who we are. Identity can be wrapped up in our position at work or our achievements or the place we have within relationships. But today it can include the person we create on social media, the place we occupy with others in our race or ethnicity, or even the kind of relationships we enjoy through our gender and sexuality.

There may not be anything wrong with the quest. But the only meaningful identity is found through an understanding of our relationship with God. If the meaning of who I am does not start with eternal, the explanation will not satisfy.

The second idol is personal happiness. If identity answers who I am, happiness answers why. Many people justify behavior with the rationale “God would not want me unhappy.” The danger with this idol should be obvious. My happiness may infringe upon others. The pursuit may provide positive feelings today that either cannot be sustained or that eventually will not satisfy. My tastes are as fickle as the winds of spring.

Finally, we need to be cautious lest we make personal peace an idol. We live in a fallen, sinful world. Conflict and turmoil are residents of every community. Wars and rumors of wars, mass-shootings, and unsafe conditions leave us in a constant state of anxiety and panic. Most of us would give anything for our world to be at peace.

It would be incredibly easy to follow anyone or any organization who offered legitimate methods to provide and assure prosperity and peace. Would such pursuit be idolic?

A little over a decade ago, I became aware of a book by Greg Beale titled “We Become What We Worship.” Many theologians describe the book as landmark in its development and understanding. The thesis is rather simple. “What people revere, they resemble, either for their ruin or for restoration.”

Beale points out that the Greek word for image or idol occurs twice in Paul’s magnificent arguments in the Biblical book of Romans (Romans 1:23, 8:29). In the first reference, Paul describes what happens when we replace God with things that are really only a part of creation. Sinful or not, these idols are just twisted versions of reality. Unnaturally placing created things on a pedestal leads to unnatural behavior.

In the second reference, Paul speaks of those who revere God. Those who “love God” will be conformed to the image of Christ. Their perspective on the world and its priorities becomes transformed.

Who we chose to worship determines who we are to become. And God is not passive in either process.

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and voluntary ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at

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