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