“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve“ ‘” (Matthew 4:8–10).
OUR ADVERSARY, THE DEVIL, IS A MASTER OF DECEIT. He has found some very creative ways to persuade us to move toward him rather than toward God. He knows that what we want is joy, and he shrewdly tempts us to seek it on his terms. His argument runs something like this: “I’m not asking you to desire anything different; I’m just showing you a better way to get what you desire.” But that is a lie. He knows it, and as soon as we take the bait, we know it too. The path he offers is not simply a better path to the same destination; it’s a different destination altogether. The devil is asking us, in the most ultimate sense, to switch goals.
How many people would do what the devil suggests if they knew what he was up to? If we knew that death, and not joy, would be the result of going his way, we wouldn’t go there, would we? But many of us do know what the devil is up to. Why do we let ourselves be seduced into changing the direction of our lives?
For most of us, the answer is not hard to find. When we switch goals, we think of ourselves as doing it only temporarily. After we’ve indulged ourselves, we’ll get back on the path to God. And we naively suppose that since God will see our sin as nothing more than an insignificant lapse, nothing very radical or traumatic will be required of us in the way of repentance. But what we fail to see is how insulting to God’s love our sin is. When we turn away from a God who has loved us to follow His archenemy, we take our place in the ranks of those who’re in rebellion against God.
We need to see sin for what it is: a worshiping of the wrong god. Sin — any sin — is a denial of God. Samuel summed it up starkly when he said to Saul, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Not many of us would want to be known as idolaters, but that’s what it comes down to when, at the devil’s suggestion, we exchange God, our hearts’ true desire, for anything else at all.
“The whole effort — the object — of temptation is to induce us to substitute something else for God. To obscure God” (R. H. Stewart).