Paul makes an absolutely arresting comment for any sober-minded reader when he writes to the church at Corinth that “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Given the context, we must acknowledge that Paul’s comments have to do with fighting against false teachers and the worldly philosophies that had penetrated the Corinthian congregation. But it is not a stretch to suggest that the battle for the believer’s mind and thoughts is a multi-front battle, with attacks coming from numerous sources and every direction. And although Paul has focused on the external human deceivers that were corrupting the thoughts of the Corinthians, it is equally true that believers must guard against all thoughts that are contrary to the Word of God, perhaps particularly those that issue from our own minds. Solomon explains the significance of this warfare: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Pro. 23:7).
Just a brief sampling of what the New Testament says about our thoughts underscores the importance of this battle. For example, Paul warned the Romans: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). In the same epistle, he expresses how powerful thoughts can be: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (14:14). Paul again exhorted the Corinthians regarding their thought processes: “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). James warns against being deceived by erroneous thinking: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (1:26). We could easily compound the list if we added examples of what the New Testament has to say about the mind (and heart, which is often used synonymously with the mind). But one additional example from this category should suffice: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
What a challenge we have been tasked to complete. Before we were saved, it was impossible for us to think a right thought. We walked in the futility of our own minds and lived with a sin-darkened understanding (see Eph. 4:17, 18). Now as believers, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), but since we still retain the flesh, we do not necessarily—and certainly not automatically—think the right thoughts. How quickly we can think an angry thought, a hateful thought, a jealous thought. How quickly lustful thoughts or proud and self-righteous thoughts crop up. And what about unthankful, doubting, and fearful thoughts? Then there are those fantasies and worthless daydreams that are unprofitable. Or natural plans and carnal schemes. The list of types of thoughts is finite, but the manifestation of those thoughts seems almost infinite. A recent study suggested that human beings have more than 6,000 thoughts a day. Another suggests that we have 70,000 thoughts per day. Perhaps the disparity lies in the fact that the smaller number may refer to conscious thoughts, the latter unconscious. Admittedly, 6,000 seems low. But even at that rate, the task of controlling them is daunting.
That having been said, it is clear that our privilege and responsibility as believers is to harness our thoughts. Paul commands: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Only as we saturate ourselves with the Word of God, yield ourselves to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and truly love and desire to honor our Lord and Savior will we begin to be successful in this battle. But successful we can be. Have you taken this duty seriously? Have you even considered it? Until we engage this battle, we will find ourselves defeated at every turn, sinning, and dishonoring our wonderful Lord. May it not be so.
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