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Taking an Ugly Thought Captive
July 24, 2012 by Larry Lazarus 4 comments
"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5)
A key part of what it means to make progress in living a life that brings honor and glory to Jesus is the Spirit-empowered use of our minds to bring all of our thinking into conformity with the truth we have come to know about Christ. Consider the following:
- We're not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
- The new self, created after the image of its Creator, is being renewed in knowledge (Colossians 3:10).
- The old self is darkened in understanding, ignorant and futile in mind; putting on the new self is about being renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:17-24).
- We must prepare our minds for action and be sober-minded, so that we can set our hope fully on the grace to come at Christ's revealing and no longer be given to the passions of our former ignorance (1 Peter 1:13-14)
- In the journey from the valley of despair to a place of steadfast joy and confidence in God, the catalyst for change is described like this: "I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds." (Psalm 77:11-12).
We're All Deep Thinkers
More examples could be multiplied. Repeatedly, the Scriptures seem to emphasize that the engagement of the mind is vital in the pursuit of holiness. The progressive defeat of sin in our lives comes (at least in part) through deep thinking.
And it's no use to say at this point, "Well, all this talk about the engagement of the mind isn't for me, I'm just not wired to be a deep thinker." That's not true. Have you ever been anxious? That's a result of thinking deeply about something out of your control that is threatening something you love. Bitterness is thinking deeply about how someone has wronged you. Lust is thinking deeply about the pleasures of sexual indulgence. Envy is thinking deeply about what another person has that you don't.
We are all deep thinkers; the question is what are you thinking deeply about? Living in accord with the Spirit of God involves setting the mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5). But what does that actually look like in the grind of everyday life?
Yesterday was Halle's 5th birthday. She woke up complaining of a sore throat, and we quickly saw that she was running a fever as well. That's ordinarily not a big deal. We all deal with that sort of sickness regularly. But since my mom obtained a catastrophic illness last year after a very routine, ordinary fever and cough, I get these thoughts from time to time when one of my family members get sick, that maybe the same thing is going to happen to them. So on my daughter's 5th birthday, I began having awful thoughts about her dying suddenly and unexpectedly.
The fear and the worry that it was producing were not in step with the Spirit. What am I to do with those thoughts? Should I just preach to myself that such thoughts are irrational, that people get sore throats and fevers every day and that they're no big deal? My thoughts may well have been irrational, but the fact is that people (like my mom) do get a minor illness that goes haywire in the body and ends up taking their life. Giving myself a pep talk that the odds are statistically very low for anything serious happening is not fighting my sin by the Spirit.
I needed to take these thoughts captive and make them obedient to what I know to be true of Jesus Christ. Earlier in the morning, I had read Psalm 84 during my devotions, and had been encouraged by these words: "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11).
God gives the light of life, and God is the Protector of His people. He's a God of grace, who never withholds any good thing from His people. Though I am not upright in and of myself, through my union with Jesus, I am indeed upright in His sight. And so as surely as Jesus was crucified and risen, God withholds nothing good from me. If my daughter's health and recovery were a good thing for me, God would surely not withhold it. That is truth, regardless of how I feel in the moment.
That is how I fought my thoughts yesterday morning. As this thought about Halle came to me, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the note card on which I had written Psalm 84:11, and a few other verses that had specifically spoken to me that morning. I fought my unbelief with the truth of God's unchanging character. And I found strength and peace and security that no matter what was in store for me that day, it was surely all for my good. There was no reason to be anxious or afraid. The truth of God prevailed over the lies of my heart.
A Daily, Hourly Battle
That wasn't the end of that thought. It came back at times throughout the day, but I was prepared with Psalm 84 when it returned. I was able to take it captive, and make it obedient to Jesus. That is how we are to do battle with sin in this life; when a thought comes that does not accord with the truth of Christ, wage war on it with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
This week you will find yourself, at some point, being drawn towards anxiety, fear, bitterness, envy, lust, impatience, greed, discouragement, self-righteousness...the list could go on. Those temptations will come through the active engagement of your mind. So use your deep thinking powers to set your minds on the things of the Spirit: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
"For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6).
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