Study Guide: Competing Faiths

Sunday December 3, 2006 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Every human being faces temptations. Even our Lord Jesus was tempted. After being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was tempted by the Devil. There are a number of reasons to suggest that the scenes of Jesus' temptation played out within his mind. That does not mean that the temptations were not real. In fact, all temptation begins within the thoughts and emotions of the mind.

Extended Summary:

Temptation is something that every human being faces sometime in their lives.  Our Lord Jesus was no exception to this harsh reality.  After being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was tempted by the Devil there. THAT Jesus was tempted by Satan is clear from the text.  When certain questions are asked, however, one may wonder HOW Jesus’ temptation took place.  Did Jesus actually get transported physically to various “high places” or was the temptation much more internal to Jesus’ mental experience?  There are a number of things to suggest that the scenes of Jesus’ temptation played out in his mind.  That does not mean that the temptations were not real.  On the contrary, ultimately, all real temptation has it’s battlefield in thoughts and emotions of the human mind.  Temptation is about the pull of certain mental representations in the mind.

There are two important principles to understand about temptation.

1) Temptation is rooted in competing “internal movies”
Whenever we endure temptation, we are not just dealing with simple information given to us from outside ourselves.  We are actually running two or more “movies” in our heads that is full of emotional, sense-filled content.  We are actually experiencing a possibility as lived reality in our minds and this is what gives true temptation such incredible power.  Usually, the internal movie that is the most compelling is what we move towards, whether or not the end result of the idea is truly helpful to personal growth.

2) Temptation is all about competing “faiths”
The internal movies that we run inside of our heads actually make up our faith.  Faith is the mental movie you run that produces the felt conviction that motivates a person towards making the movie into a reality.  We cannot achieve what we don’t believe in our minds as being possible!  These “faiths” can be expressions of positive hope for the future or negative dread of the future.

The central question then becomes apparent to the believer: What “movies” are we going to choose to run in our heads?  Will we have negative “faiths” that lead to sin and unhappiness in the end?  Will we have positive “faiths” that bring us closer to God and healthiness?  The choice is up to us.  In answering this question, it is helpful to keep these two things in mind:

1) There is a cosmic enemy who wants to destroy your life.

Satan is an evil, yet extremely intelligent being will do anything in his power to make sure that God’s beloved human beings continue to believe lies and fall into temptation. It is important to be aware of these schemes of the enemy, so that we will not easily fall for the traps.

2) The real battle is a battle of the mind!

Many people try to only stop bad behavior without dealing with more of the root issues.  However, genuine, lasting change will only occur if our internal representations are changed to line up with God’s Word and God’s will.  We must be very aware that constant work is needed to guard the thoughts and feelings that we have so that we do not fall into temptation.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Think about any movie that you’ve recently seen.  What was it about the movie that really got and kept your attention? (Sounds, sights, etc)
  2. Why is it hard to resist something that you experience as a “movie” in your mind?  Why is it relatively easy to resist something that you experience as merely information?
  3. What are some steps that you can take towards being aware of the internal representations you already have going on in your brain?
  4. Imagine a scenario for yourself in the future that deals with something important to you.  Take some time and write down what you “see” in your mind.  What sights, sounds, thoughts, and/or feelings do you experience as you imagine the scenario?