How to Conquer Sinful Thoughts

 


Who of us at one time or another has not been paralyzed in his Christian ser­vice by the oppressive nature of his sinful thoughts? We can realize and receive the victory Jesus has given us over death, but we sometimes have years of secret torment due to our lack of faith in Christ’s victory over our minds.

There is a great need in God’s church for us to openly declare war upon this subtle enemy.

GOING DEEP

But why should we try to make our every thought pleasing to God? Isn’t it more important to eliminate sinful behavior?

Actually, God wants us to eliminate both sinful thoughts and sin­ful behavior. To do this we must deal with thoughts and deeds in the order of their priority.

Sin follows a progression. Our sinful desires breed sinful actions. “After desire has conceived,” James has written, “it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:15).

The analogy James makes between the life process and the growth of sin is powerful. Just as conception is the secret and un­noticed act of a cell’s fertilization, so too our thoughts are secret, lodged deep within us. And just as the tiny fertilized cell requires nutrients from outside itself, so our thoughts require feeding to develop into action.

Our thoughts feed on what is close and available. Not that Chris­tians should live in caves, but eliminating certain television programs, books, periodicals, movies, and so on can greatly help to eliminate sinful thoughts.

Yet even without such stimuli we still sin. It is not that which is outside us that defiles us. We must go deeper, for very few sins are not premeditated.

YOU’VE BEEN CAUGHT!

By now you may ask, Isn’t all this con­cern over what I think a bit much? Is all this self-evaluation important?

Let us be reminded of what Jesus said about sin’s nature. He saw indwelling sin seated in mankind’s heart:

 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Jeremiah also saw the heart as a source of evil: “The heart is deceit­ful above all else and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

When we deal with evil thoughts, therefore, we must pray with David, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10). God cares more about sins of the heart than about our failure to keep a list of do’s and don’ts, though our churches may set lofty standards of behavior and never mention the great need to cleanse and renew our minds – just as the Pharisees cleaned the outside of their cups while the inside remained rank (Matt. 23:25).

Let us therefore reaffirm our need to let God examine and burn from us the scum of evil thoughts.

God knows everything – even our ugly, dirty, selfish, disgusting thoughts. He knows! He has caught us!

If we were more aware of God’s listening ear, we would be less concerned with the great cover-up we produce in our minds to keep evil from being seen by those around us, and we would expose it for what it is – sin! We’re not fooling God with our religious sacrifices in front of people on Sunday morning. The sacrifices acceptable to God are “a broken spirit” and “a broken and contrite heart” (Psa. 51:17). A contrite person is one who is humbly apologetic and ashamed. A little shame before God’s throne would do us good.

BOGGED DOWN

To experience deliverance from our evil thoughts, we must forsake them. This is where many believers get bogged down. We sometimes spend too much time concen­trating on what we are giving up and not enough time thinking about where we are going. The Lord has called us to leave our sinful thoughts and go on toward wisdom – “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe” (Prov. 28:26).

Too many Christians see the Christian life as giving up sin instead of as following Jesus. Which should demand our greatest attention? Which provides a stronger and more positive incentive?

Acknowledging the Lord with respect and awe is the first and most important step in our deliverance from evil thoughts. The Lord is the source of wisdom (Prov. 2:6), so every time we pause to meditate upon His word we open ourselves to His storehouse of love and wisdom.

Have you been reading the Lord’s word? It is filled with love and encouragement for you. God cherishes His children, and again and again in the Scriptures, He gives us glimpses of His open, caring heart. Praise God that He reveals himself to us!

The better we know God’s thoughts, the stronger we become in His strength. When we trust His thoughts we experience deliver­ance from ours. The more we know God’s power, the more we can go beyond our in­ability to eliminate our sins by our own power.

Leave the place of your own mind, and get to know Christ’s mind. Evil thoughts will recede into the background as you walk toward the light.

THE PLACE OF PRAYER

There is an important place in our battle with our sin nature that only prayer can hold. God desires that we ask Him for help. “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (Jas. 4:2).

Our thought patterns can be a great mountain, a giant obstacle in the way of our spiritual growth. We must pray with David in Psalm 139 for deliverance from our thoughts: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vss. 23-24).

David realized that the Lord knew every­thing. Earlier in this psalm he prayed, “O Lord, You have searched me and You know me… You are familiar with all my ways” (vss. 1, 3). Why then, at the end of this psalm, does he ask the Lord to know his thoughts? Simply, this is the miracle of prayer. Prayer allows us to participate in God’s work and to align ourselves with God’s truth. Even though He is the provider of everything and has all things under His sovereign control, He desires our prayers of faith as a part of our unity with Him.

When I think of this, I feel like the little child who “helps Daddy” build a new garage. The child certainly makes little im­pact on the finished product, but his par­ticipation with Dad is a great blessing for both father and son. The garage becomes a family project. So too is our deliverance from sinful thoughts: We have faith in God our Father, and He does the work as we cooperate and have fellowship with Him.

STANDING UP TO GOLIATH

What promises from God’s word must we take to help us with our thought life?

First, claim the promise that God has forgiven your sinful thoughts of the past:

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If evil thoughts enter your mind again, regard them as what they are – sin – and confess them to the Lord. Thank God for His for­giveness, and worship Him. Praise God for His cleansing.

Put your forgiveness in Christ’s hands, and do not reject the work of the cross for you.

Realize also that God provides protec­tion from sin. Thank Him for “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). We can keep our thoughts pure by evaluating them on the basis of their ac­ceptability to God’s word. False thoughts can then be rejected.

We often have a naïve belief in the in­herent truthfulness of our thoughts. But God’s word protects us from this immature at­titude in the same way it protected Jesus. He knew God’s word, and He knew what was right.

God provides power over our thoughts through the Holy Spirit, who is the renewer of our minds. “The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). It was the coming of God’s Spirit upon young David (1 Sam. 16:13) that gave him courageous thoughts, words, and actions before Goliath.

You too, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can stand against the Goliath of your evil thoughts. Attack them in the name of the Lord of hosts, and put them to death. Let them live no more, for your God who works powerfully within you “is able to do im­measurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

A MIGHTY SWORD

Praise God for the Bible, the Spirit’s sword, for it is the greatest weapon in our arsenal against indwelling sin. God’s word is dy­namic – “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). It is definitely not dead, for it proceeds from a living Lord.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says, “So is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s word is His love on a mission, constantly going forth.

God’s word is also discerning. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and at­titudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Scriptures penetrate into our innermost be­ing to reveal what is there, and will not be thwarted in that purpose. God’s word dis­cerns both our feelings and our reasonings.

God’s word is disrobing, for He uses it to uncover us of our hidden sins. It exposes all darkness within us. God sees everything, and His word lets us see what He sees. Sinful thoughts lose their power when they are seen for what they are.

CANCER CASES

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul says, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We must capture our thoughts and bring them before the judgment of God’s holy word.

Many of us are plagued by our minds because we let areas of our consciousness live separately outside the scrutiny of the Scriptures. These areas of darkness are pockets of resistance that must be elimi­nated with the same ruthlessness that God expected Israel to use in ridding Canaan of Israel’s enemies. Canaan was theirs, but they had to take possession of it. So also our minds are committed to the Lord, but we must take possession of them in the Lord’s name.

We must fight an offensive baffle, taking the sword of the Spirit into the last places of resistance, fighting against “every prideful human reasoning that sets itself up against the knowl­edge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We can overcome our sinful thoughts by simply starving them to death. We must not provide soil for these mental weeds to grow in. Thoughts are fed by repetition and by association with other thoughts of like nature. But when they are put in isolation they have less strength. Starve your evil thoughts by avoiding the things that stimu­late them. Once a thought is examined and assessed as evil, confess it for what it is and leave it alone to die.

Sinful thoughts are a cancer, and if not operated upon they will spread. We can’t allow the thoughts of sin to exist and grow. Evil thoughts are evil works in embryo form, and they must be eradicated.

But what about evil thoughts that seem to recur regardless of what we do? What are we to do with these sinful thoughts that repeat­edly molest us?

When indwelling sin has been en­trenched by repetition over a long period of time, it takes the power of God’s promises to win victory over them. Attack a sinful thought with a contrasting promise. If you place Philippians 4:13 – “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” – alongside the thought I can’t do anything right, you will defuse the power of the negative thought. Instead of being impotent and depressed, you will keep on going in your service of the King.

So cover an evil thought with a promise from God, then pray that whenever the sin­ful thought comes to your mind the promise will come also, thus diffusing the power of the thought.

Temptations do recur. But good habits are as hard to break as bad habits. God’s word punishes thoughts by exposing them, starving them, and choking them with truth.

SECRETS OF OBEDIENCE

We have seen in the Scriptures the impor­tance of our thoughts and the great need we have to bring them under obedience to Christ. Why does this seem so hard to do?

Let us be reminded of the nature of God’s commandments. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). And in 1 John 5:3-4 we read, “His commands are not burdensome, for every­one born of God has overcome the world.” God’s commands are not overwhelming or oppressive.

This is because our position as Christians is that of having overcome the world. Whoever receives Jesus as Savior is put in this place of honor and victory, based upon Christ’s victory on the cross. Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

Victory is ours through Christ. How then can we actually “possess” this possession?

The passage in I John 5 continues, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (vss. 4, 5). Faith is always the requirement for experiencing the full position we have in Christ. Faith in Christ’s power to heal our thoughts produces healing. This faith is not merely in­tellectual assent, but trust in a person – Jesus.

Our faith is a prime ingredient in our battle against our flesh/sin nature. Christ has won our victory; now we must walk in it by faith.

Quoting Scriptures without believing them will not be effective. Such a double-minded attitude cannot result in our receiving anything from the Lord (Jas. 1:6-8).

Why then do we think God’s commands are so hard to obey? It is because we don’t believe God can give us the power to obey. His commandments are not burdensome because He has provided us with an inher­ent power – His power – to perform them. Your thoughts can be pure and clean to the extent of your faith in God’s ability to keep them pure and clean!

You believed God for your salvation. Can you believe Him now for the eradication of a sinful thought? Of course! The victory that overcomes the world (both the world within and the world without) is our faith.

There is One “who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Have faith in His ability! Apart from Him you can do nothing – but with Him you can do everything.

GOOD AIR

The best air we can ever breathe is the breath of God. Physically we breathe out bad air and breathe in the good, and we would be unfaithful to God if we didn’t treat our thoughts in like manner – out with sin­ful thoughts, in with the precious thoughts. Build one good thought upon another.

The best thoughts we can ever have are those of God Himself. The Lord is wonder­ful. Think of Him.

“We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). His thoughts can be your thoughts.

David J. Terry

Discipleship Journal, Issue 12, 1982, pp. 5-7

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