Monday, October 31, 2016

What is the Gospel?

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" - 1 Corinthians 15:3

The relentless fight that God calls us to is to remember the gospel. This is central. Strategies and tactics are great, but without the gospel we are toast. It is not primarily a fight against our sin, or to strive for holiness, but FIRST a relentless fight to REMEMBER the gospel, that Christ has already won the fight FOR US.

But what IS the gospel? What exactly is it that we are remembering? One pastor commented that the gospel is the great jewel of the Christian faith, and like every jewel it has many sides. There are many posts that could be done on each of these beautiful facets but let us focus in this post on the CORE of the gospel.

First, the word "Gospel" comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον and means good news. The gospel is not good advice. It's not a bad announcement. It is the very good NEWS of what Christ has accomplished for us. And it is remarkably GOOD news!

Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Paul had already preached the gospel to those in Corinth, that is what birthed the church. Now he is writing a letter to REMIND them of that gospel again. They had received it, they are standing in it, and are being saved by it. BUT! He gives a call to hold fast this word of the gospel, and not to believe in vain. Our great danger is to give up, forget, and relinquish the gospel. It is so easy to replace it with our own efforts, or religious ritual, or worldly substitutes. The gospel should be the most obvious thing in the mind of a Christian, and yet Paul sees the need to restate the obvious. He goes on to state in verse 3 that the gospel is of FIRST importance. It is primary, central, #1, and nonnegotiable. 

Let's focus in and unpack the 5 words that Paul uses to summarize the gospel in verse 3, "Christ died for our sins". These are the most amazing 5 words in the world! 

  • Christ: The man who died is Christ, the Messiah, the incarnate Word of God. The second person of the Trinity, the One who commands the dead to be alive, who walks on water, and tells the wind to stop. This is Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • Died: This One, He died. Though He was innocent and undeserving of death, He was stripped naked, nailed to a Roman cross, and publicly executed as a common criminal. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. 
  • For: This death was FOR something. It was not in a vacuum. It had purpose, meaning, it was intentional. It was the means to something better, something outside of just the event. This death accomplished something.
  • Our: Christ did not die for His sins, because He had no sin. Rather, He died for the sins of those who have trusted in Him. The sins are OUR sins, the ones that we have done. This is where things get so magnificent. Christ didn't have to die for His sins, and at the same time we should have died for our sins. And yet there's this incredible exchange.
  • Sins: The reason why Christ had to die was for our SINS. We have all transgressed and broken God's law. We have rebelled against His authority. We are corrupt, wicked, evil, and oppose God in His righteousness. This is what Christ died for. We deserved death, but Christ was the one who took this death upon Himself, in our place, FOR OUR SINS. 

Notice additionally that in verse 4 Christ was buried after death and RAISED back to life. The resurrection proves that God the Father was pleased with Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, and that He accomplished His mission! Paul also states in v3 and v4 that Christ's death and resurrection was "in accordance with the Scriptures", showing that God had predicted and planned from hundreds of years ago, recorded in the Old Testament, His plan of salvation through the death of Christ.

So this is the gospel: Christ died for our sins. Theologians call this "substitutionary atonement", meaning that Christ died in our place as our substitute, and that our sins were atoned for (paid for) by His death, satisfying the wrath of God. Therefore we are forgiven by God. This is the CORE of the gospel. But certainly there are many more facets and implications of the gospel! Here are just a few additional ways to describe the gospel, its implications, and some verses that explain the gospel:

  • The 3 Circles Presentation: Watch this video that teaches about God's good design, how we have lost that in our broken world, and how the gospel restores us back to God's design. 
  • Falling Plates: Watch this video about how God created you, loves you, and wants to rescue you through Jesus. 
  • You are a New Creation: For those in Christ, they become completely new. They are brought back to life and walk according to the Spirit. Check out this blog post for more
  • Jesus Heals our Shame: Jesus not only forgives our guilt, but He cleanses us of our shame. The shame of sins we have done, and the shame of sins done against us. Check out this blog post for more.
  • Romans 4:5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
  • John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Titus 3:3-7For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Yes! It is so good to hear the gospel. But we must do more than merely hear it. We must move beyond merely understanding it. Believe the gospel. Rejoice in the gospel! Remember the gospel. Share the gospel. Live out the implications of the gospel. Give thanks for the gospel. It is the most precious good news in history, and we give great praise to our Savior for His effective rescue, motivated by His great love for us. Thank you Jesus. 

Remember the gospel! 
The Relentless Fight

PS: For more on this, check out the great book by the same title, "What is the Gospel?" by Greg Gilbert

Monday, May 23, 2016

Side by Side

Edward T. Welch has been counseling and teaching for over 35 years and written a vast library of books about anxiety, approval, depression, and shame. He knows relational ministry, as a long-time member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF).

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it's the perfect introduction to train regular Christians to be used powerfully by God to help one another. In the fight against sin, we need all the help we can get, and Side by Side gets practical in what loving accountability looks like. This book slows it down and makes it easy, giving practical steps in application of the Brothers in Arms post. And as we've emphasized on TRF, we need to Get to the Heart, which Side by Side focuses on wisely.

Some key highlights:
  • Brief: One of the best features is its brevity. This book isn't likely to intimidate even a beginning reader or run-of-the-pew Christian. Clocking in at 160 pages, it distills meaty content down to bite-size chunks. 
  • Simple & Doable: The model of ministry is slowed down and explained well. For example, there's a whole chapter (5 pages) on just greeting people. Important, and doable! 
  • Needy/Needed: The main point is that we all are needy, and we all are needed. So we share our need, and hear about the needs of others, and then we pray together. Welch summarizes on page 84, "Knowing others well enough to pray for them - that's help at its most basic and at its best." 
  • Sin & Gospel: It's not a watered-down book. Welch directly talks about sin, suffering, and the hope of the gospel. All of this combines together a patient focus on the heart, and a prayerful dependence on the Spirit. 

In summary, Side by Side is a great introduction for folks interested in helping one another in the great fight of faith. It may not feature wartime metaphors like this blog, but the content is solid and will help you win the fight against sin and FOR faith. You can buy the book on Amazon here, or buy a few copies and go through it with some other friends from your church or fellowship to help create a culture of relational ministry. It comes with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, plus a study guide pdf and leader's guide pdf you can download online.

Side by Side,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Still not convinced? Check out Tim Challies' review here

Monday, March 21, 2016

Get to the Heart

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

People change from the heart. Therefore our ministry must move beyond behavior and action items, and get to the heart. We've talked on TRF about getting to our own hearts, in the post Attack the Base. But how do we help others with heart change?

First, what is the heart? The Bible describes the heart as the seat of our motivations and affections, and it's from the heart that our lives are lived. Jesus says in Mark 7:20-23 that it's from the heart that all our sin flows, since our hearts are filled with sin (Jeremiah 17:9). So the heart is more than just our emotions, it's also our beliefs, and what we love.

Why do we need to get to the heart? Because that's where true and lasting life change must take place. Our behavioral sins are on the surface, but the real source is the heart. As you're helping someone understand their sin and repent, if you just address the behavior, it's like using a weedwhacker on dandelions but only cutting off the flowers. The roots are still growing! We have to get to the heart to unearth the motivations. Jack Klumpenhower gives a great illustration in Show Them Jesus, the image of a shark swimming: only the fin is visible, while the rest of the shark's body is underneath the water. And so it is with our sin: the behavior is just the tip of the problem, the heart needs deeper exploration work. Another model to understand change from the heart is the Three Trees model from CCEF. Our behavior is the thorny tree of bad fruit, but our hearts are the root system feeding and producing the bad fruit. If we just replace bad fruit with good fruit, that's "fruit stapling", every religion and self-help program can do that! For gospel-change, we go deeper. Once the root changes to gospel-beliefs, then gospel-fruit starts to form.

Quick examples:
  • Sally is struggling with looking at pornography. Behavior-change would just advise an internet filter or memorizing some verses. Heart change goes to the root: she's lonely, angry at God for not providing a husband, and looking at porn is her way of coping. She believes porn will give the comfort that God won't. 
  • Edward is spending significant money on new technology and designer clothing. Behavior-change would give him tips on stewardship and help him form a budget. Heart change goes to the root: he loves the praise of man, and believes that he'll be accepted if he has the latest gear. 
  • Martha talks excessively, often talking over others. Behavior-change would recommend memorizing James 1:19, or learning some good listening techniques. Heart change goes to the root: she is prideful and selfish, she believes that what she has to say is more important than what everyone else has to say. 

How do we get to the heart with others? You need to ask more questions. Getting to the heart requires digging, and questions are your shovels! Ask, "What do you really desire and WANT in this situation? What are you afraid of? Why do you respond this way? What does this behavior give you?" If the person is already aware of the heart, you can be more direct with asking, "What's going on in your heart? What lies are you believing?" Caution: Be gentle as you get to the heart, you want to be kind to the person. Also be patient, getting to the heart is not a simple one-question process. It may take longer than expected, but it's worth it.

As you uncover the heart, you shift to the gospel: "How does Christ give you those things you desire? How is Jesus better? How does the Gospel intersect with what you've shared? What would it look like to believe and live the gospel in this situation?" This is critical. We aren't aiming for merely heart awareness. We're aiming for heart CHANGE. And change comes about through the powerful gospel! Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Our goal is transformation, not just information.

In summary: True change comes from the heart. Our sin results from not just wrong thinking or wrong behavior but wrong LOVING. We get to the heart by unearthing the motivations, fears, and desires of those we're discipling, and then point them to the superior delight in Christ, through the gospel. This results in sustainable life change for God's glory.

Get to the heart,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, October 5, 2015

Just DO IT!

"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." - James 4:17

The Lord is always calling us to take the next step of obedience and growth. Sometimes we KNOW what to do, and we even FEEL God pushing us to it, but we still don't do it.

Have you ever thought, "I just need to read a good book on this topic, THEN I can do it." Or felt like, "I just need to spend a week in prayer, THEN I can do it." Or maybe "I should talk with a few mentors first to make sure I'm on the right page, THEN I can do it." What's going on here? It's helpful to identify three different areas of application: Head, heart, hands. Head is what we know, our theology. Heart is our emotions and feelings. Hands is our practical doing. Each are important, and if we miss one of them, the other two are unbalanced. (To learn more, check out this Knowable Word post)

What we'll focus on in this blog post is the hands, the doing. Sometimes we don't need to learn more. We don't need to read more. We don't need to pray for God to change our hearts more. We don't need to wait until we are more excited about it. God has spoken clearly in His Word! We know the truth! He has provided us with a new heart and new affections! Our job now is swift obedience. To hesitate is to disobey. 

So if the Lord has convicted you of a path of obedience, and you know what it is... just do it! Don't sit around contemplating it further. Get out there and make it happen! What are some examples? Perhaps you know you should confront a brother who is in sin. Perhaps you have been convicted about your paltry time in the Word and know you should step it up. Maybe God has been poking you about a sin pattern that needs repentance and change. Or maybe you've been building a great relationship with your nonChristian friends but you just haven't brought up Jesus yet. 

Why are we slow to do it? Why is our obedience sluggish? There are plenty of obstacles, and the first step is to identify them. What's holding you back? Admit it. Then when it's clear, you can process it through with the truth of God's word. Most of the time it's simply fear and risk. If we bring up Jesus to an old high school friend it could estrange the relationship. If we start up a Bible study in our community there's a risk of the unknown. If we start a new initiative by faith, there's a risk it could fail. If we repent of our favorite sin, we fear God might not come through with healing and joy. 

So practically: write a list of the things you know you should be doing but aren't. And then DO THEM. 

Here's the great part! When you obey, you begin to see God's amazing work happen right in front of you, through your faith-motivated action. This is incredibly exciting. We see our lives change, we see God's kingdom advance, we see Him move and act through us. 

But what if our hearts and minds aren't on board? What if we still want to learn more first, or what if we just don't have the kind of desire and motivation that we wish we had? Here's the secret: sometimes the very act of doing it, of faithful obedience, is enough to change our hearts and minds and set us on a new trajectory. A previous blog post addressed this in the realm of Bible reading, sometimes if you don't have a desire for the Bible you just have to force feed yourself the Word

We do often fail in this. We are guilty of James 4:17, we know the good we ought to do, but we do not do it. But the gospel forgive us, and then enables us to move to action. We know that even our failure to obey is one of the sins that Christ covers with His blood, we are completely forgiven! And when we see how Jesus didn't feel like going to the cross but went anyway, as an awesome example of faithfulness and love, that helps us to follow in His footsteps. So remember the gospel, and FIGHT. 

Just do it!
The Relentless Fight

PS: Francis Chan uses the illustration of telling his daughter "Go clean your room". Check out this 2 minute video: 

PPS: Two secular examples of the "just do it" mentality. The first is from The Art of Manliness about how acting like a man will make you feel like one:

And finally, a classic exhortation of the "just do it" mindset, from Shia Labeouf:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Indicative THEN Imperative

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. - Galatians 5:25

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture, felt convicted you should repent, but then immediately felt crushed by how difficult it was and despaired that you would ever change? Have you ever felt like you needed to clean your life up just a bit more before the Lord would really love you? Today let's explore a fundamental distinctive of the gospel, by taking a look at two technical grammar concepts.

In English grammar, the INDICATIVE is a statement of being. "The car is red." The IMPERATIVE is a statement of command, "Paint the car red." And the distinction between these two grammar concepts is one of the most glorious and empowering truths of Christianity, and it stands in contrast to culture & religion. The indicative comes first, then the imperative. Meaning, who you are comes before what you should do. Being, then doing. Identity, then activity. And it's dangerous to put it the other way around! Let's look at some Scripture to back this up:

  • 1 John 3:1-3 "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."
    We are loved children (indicative), and then purify ourselves (imperative). 
  • Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
    You have received a calling (indicative), now live a life worthy of it (imperative). 
  • Colossians 3:1-5 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...
    You have been raised with Christ, your life is now hidden with Him (indicative), so then, put to death what is earthly (imperative). 
  • Galatians 5:24-25 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
    Living by the Spirit, then keeping in step. Indicative, then imperative. 
  • 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 
    Wow! This is one of the most clear of all the Scriptures. We're presented first with the imperative: get rid of the old yeast! But it's backed up by the indicative: you really are a new batch! Wow. Paul is essentially saying, "BE who you ARE". And what's the power of this? The gospel: Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed in our place. That's what makes us new. 

Usually in our meritocratic culture, the imperative comes first, and then the indicative is earned. Example: You do well on a test, and then you get a good grade. Or, you campaign well for a leadership spot, and then you get the title and position. It actually works just the same in religion: You work hard and obey all the rules, and then god awards you with the good place at the table. But the gospel is precisely the opposite! The NEW indicative (who you are) comes first and EMPOWERS the imperative (what you should do). Being, then doing! By grace we are adopted as sons, THEN called to live as sons. By grace we are forgiven of all sin, and THEN told to start living free of sin. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp summarize it well in How People Change, page 187, "When rightly understood, God’s love will propel you toward holiness and growth in grace. The order is essential: I am a new creation, accepted, adopted, and free; therefore I want to please God. We do not say: I will try to please God so that I may become a new creation, make myself acceptable, and hope that God adopts me and sets me free."

So, when you feel burdened by the call to change, the call to repentance, the call to a new life, remember who you are. You are a new creation, you are free from sin, you are alive by the Spirit. Now live like that. It isn't a crushing burden, it's an empowering reminder! You don't have to keep going back to the dirty dungeon of your sin. You've been liberated, so now walk in the freedom of a loved child. This is the great and fundamental difference between the gospel and religion! Remember this gospel, and THEN keep fighting.

Be who you are,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, June 29, 2015

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. - Romans 8:13

John Owen was a prolific Puritan author in the 1600's, producing over the course of his life a library of works that fill over 15 volumes. But out of all his writing, there is one that has risen to the top again and again, instructing new generations of Christians on the bloody subject of sin-killing. Even today this work remains just as needed and insightful as ever. Its full title for the 1656 publication was "Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers: The Necessity, Nature, and Means of it. With a resolution of sundry cases of conscience, thereunto belonging"

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it is a classic text on WHY to kill sin, and HOW to kill sin. The book is a short treatise, roughly 100 pages, based on an exposition and meditation of Romans 8:13 which reads, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."  In the language of 1656, to "mortify" meant to put to death. Therefore "mortification of sin" was the killing of sin.

Justin Taylor summarizes the structure of the book in the edited compilation of 3 of Owen's works called Overcoming Sin & Temptation. He identifies 3 parts:
  1. The Necessity of Mortification: believers must make it their daily work to mortify the fleshly sin in them, the Spirit is required for this work, and the life of the believer depends upon this work. 
  2. The Nature of Mortification: What it is NOT (i.e. the utter destruction of sin, or an occasional victory, or a surface-level change), but rather, "mortification consists in a habitual weakening of sin" which involves relentless fighting. He then offers 9 practical considerations. 
  3. The Means of Mortification: We set our faith on the work of Christ (in the cross), and we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the killing of sin. 

Here are a few highlights, quotes, and applications:
  • Mortification is by God's grace: We cannot successfully fight sin without God's help. "Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world." page 47 and "The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God's prerogative." p 64 also "Mortification of any sin must be by a supply of grace. Of ourselves we cannot do it." p 133
  • Mortification is only for believers, and by the Spirit: Speaking of unbelievers, "Let men know it is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy. Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin." p 84 and of the need for the Holy Spirit, "This whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it" p 138
  • Remember the Gospel!: "Act faith peculiarly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that is, on Christ as crucified and slain. Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ." p 136 and again "Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet." p 131
  • Be exceedingly violent against your sin: "Such a one never thinks his lust dead because it is quiet, but labors still to give it new wounds, new blows every day." p 77 At first temptation, "Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at." p 110
  • The fight against sin must be relentless: Never take a day off against sin. Always fight it. "Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you." p 50 and "...know there is no safety against it but in a constant warfare." p 52 and "As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed it will always gather strength" p 91
  • It's a hard long fight: Mortification is not the utter killing of sin. We aim for it, but in this life we will not accomplish it. Rather, mortification is "a habitual weakening of sin". We crucify the flesh, and it is bleeding out. (For more on this expectation, see the TRF post Expect a Hard Long Bloody Fight)
  • Sometimes God allows sin as a fatherly discipline: "How do you know but that God has suffered the lust wherewith you have been perplexed to get strength in you, and power over you, to chasten you for your other negligences and common lukewarmness in walking before him; at least to awaken you to the consideration of your ways, that you may make a thorough work and change in your course of walking with him?" p 88
If you would like a more eloquent summary of the book, please read this excellent brief article by Jen Pollock Michel called The Bloody Business of Killing Sin, on The Gospel Coalition website.

You can buy the book on Kindle for only $0.99, or as an abridged paperback from Banner of Truth for only $8.10. But perhaps the best version is a 3-part John Owen collection (edited, with footnotes) called Overcoming Sin & Temptation. All page numbers in this post have been referenced to this edition, which includes not only Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, but also the two Owen books: Of Temptation, and Indwelling Sin.

Always killing sin,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, June 22, 2015

Taking Thoughts Captive

"we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

What role does the mind play in the fight against sin? Do only our affections matter? Or only our actions? What about our thoughts? One of the hardest parts of the fight is in our minds. It's relatively easy to stop the gross outward displays of sin like adultery, murder, theft. But to stop lustful fantasies, angry thoughts, and ideas of stealing? That's a whole 'nother level. Let's examine a biblical understanding of our mind and thoughts, and see what applications we can draw for the fight.

The Scripture speaks often of the fluidity of our minds. We have the capacity of "setting our mind" on items, and cultivating thought in that direction. We can focus in like a laser. Consider these Scriptures:
  • Colossians 3:1-3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 
  • Romans 8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
  • Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
  • 2 Peter 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,

There is a danger that our glorious God-given minds will be turned towards the Enemy's purposes. Paul cautions in 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ." Therefore, God identifies our "thoughts" as one of the primary areas of repentance, as we see in these Scriptures:
  • Isaiah 55:7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
  • Jeremiah 4:14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?

So if Satan is using our thoughts as a weapon in the fight, what are we to do? We must fight fire with fire, and use these very same tactics against our Enemy. What does this look like? Primarily by taking every thought captive. We cannot let our thoughts wash by like a river, and gaze serenely at the torrent. We must set a gate, and watch it vigilantly. Let's look more closely at Paul's tactic as he describes it:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. - 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 
We have many sinful and tempting thoughts that arise throughout the day: lustful thoughts, angry thoughts, self-centered narratives that we write, fantasies of our own success, doubts of God's goodness, justifications of our actions, and replaying conflicts in our mind. God commands us to NOT let these thoughts roam free. We must capture them! Round them up, label them, identify what they are. Bring them before the judgment seat of Christ, and let Him evaluate them.

Why is this so important? What does it matter what we think? We're not DOING it, so what's the big deal? John Owen describes our danger, "Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head." Wow, that's scary! There is enough evil in that one initial thought to bring about complete destruction. Make no mistake, it will grow. Owen says "but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins." This is ground zero, the thoughts. This is where your actions originate from: the ruminations of your mind. Ben Stuart put it well in his series The Fight, "What you think about, you care about, and what you care about, you chase."

Let's close with some practical applications:
  1. Patrol your thoughts: Become a mental bounty-hunter. Don't just let your thoughts pass through your mind unchecked. Challenge them, take them captive! And if needed: kill them. Become more aware of WHEN you're thinking, and WHAT you're thinking. Maybe even write it down. Label them biblically, and realize the power in your thoughts. Realize the direction these sinful thoughts are headed in, and get violent. John Owen again, "Do you find your corruption to begin to entangle your thoughts? Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have you roll yourself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have - murder and destruction is at the end of it. Set yourself against it with no less vigor than if it had utterly debased you to wickedness."
  2. Remember the gospel, and pray for God's help: As you consider this great task, it is appropriate that you would feel it is overwhelming, because out of our evil hearts are constantly coming evil thoughts (Mark 7:21). And you're right! On our own, we CANNOT fight this exhausting constant battle. This pushes us away from dependence on ourselves, and onto Jesus. Remember the Gospel first, because you CAN'T do this on your own. You fail. You're weak. But Jesus has forgiven you and GIVEN you his Holy Spirit to make war. Now you CAN take captive those thoughts. And do so. Keep fighting! Pray that God gives you awareness of thoughts, empowers your self control, grants you repentance and a willingness to kill your evil thoughts. Remember that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Cry out with the psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" (Psalm 139:23)
  3. Cultivate the mind of Christ: Don't just take your bad thoughts captive and leave it at that. Cultivate the good holy thoughts! We must put off AND put on. Colossians 3:2 instructs us to set our minds on things above; and Philippians 4:8 commands, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Again in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Slowly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will grow in holiness in our minds. 
Happy hunting,
The Relentless Fight

PS: All quotes above from John Owen are taken from one of his most famous works, "Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers". To learn more about this book, check out the TRF review here