Those sins that won’t budge.
You give your anxiety to God, but an hour later its weight is back on your shoulders.
You ask God to control your temper, but you blow your top. You pray that you will not lust and even “reckon” yourself to be dead to sinful impulses. But the next day you can’t push that tall blonde out of your mind.
Every Christian at one time or another yields to God, only to be squeezed back into the same mold, the same habits.
Can we really be delivered from the one-step-forward and two-steps-back routine? At times I’ve thought the answer was no. Despite my sincere attempts at yielding myself to God, I retained certain weaknesses (sins is a more honest word) that I concluded I would simply have to live with. We’re all human, you know!
But I knew my private failure was no credit to the Christ who won the victory on the cross. Did He not promise that we could be free indeed? That might not mean perfection, but surely it implies spiritual progress – moral and spiritual liberation. About a year ago I heard a sermon that helped dislodge me from my spiritual roller coaster. Biblical principles were presented that convinced me that I need not compromise with sin, even those secret ones that were safely tucked away in the inner crevices of my soul.
The remedy was not surrender to God; I had already done that as fully as I knew how. Nor was it a further explanation of how to reckon myself to be dead to sin; I had already rejoiced in my union with Christ.
Such matters are necessary, but in themselves not sufficient. At least they weren’t for me.
In a day of instant coffee and the worship of convenience, our generation craves quick and easy spiritual formulas. But the Bible does not teach that we can be holy in a hurry. Biblical principles must be consistently applied before there is measurable spiritual progress.
WE CONQUER those secret sins only as our thought patterns are changed by the Word of God. Every temptation comes to us via our thoughts. These must be replaced by wholesome thoughts, derived from the Word of God. This is basic to proving Christ’s power in our lives. Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, NASB).
The difference between worldliness and godliness is a renewed mind. Your mind shapes your life. The Scriptures teach, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). The adage puts it succinctly: You aren’t what you think you are; but what you think – you are!
Suppose we could flash all the thoughts you had last week on a giant screen (I’m glad we can’t. Agree?). Within minutes we’d know how you are doing spiritually. Your thoughts not only shape your life; they are your life.
A man recently released from prison was having difficulty adjusting to his freedom. He tried this experiment: he took a glass bottle with a distinct shape and crammed it full of wires, some small, some large. After some time had passed he smashed the bottle with a hammer. The result? Most of the wires retained the shape of the bottle. Those wires had to be straightened out one by one.
The man had established his point; it is possible to be free and still retain the traits of bondage. Even though a man is liberated, he must adjust to his freedom and carefully dismantle the habits of the past.
All believers are legally free in Christ, but can still be enslaved by the fantasies of the flesh and the vices of the world. We can yield, surrender, and “pray through.” But our minds will revert to familiar territory as soon as our experience wears thin. We must outline specific strategy for experiencing the freedom we have in Christ. We must accept the victory that already is legally ours.
Is This REALLY possible? Yes. But not without locking horns with wicked spiritual forces. Read carefully Paul’s words. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, NASB).
We have the spiritual artillery needed to destroy the fortresses of the mind. Vain reasonings, powerful imaginations, and perverted attitudes can be routed. We have the spiritual equipment to track down every thought and make it captive to Christ.
Specifically, how can we do this? To begin, we must learn to discern the difference between the thought patterns of the world and those of God. “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psa. 1:1, NASB).
David warns against receiving advice from the world. As Christians we have been slow to take his warning seriously. Often we adopt the values of the world under the guise of realism. A church member can be in love with money. He dreams about it, craves after it, and is stingy in his giving. He justifies his preoccupation with money by saying, “A person has to live.” Without realizing it, he is taking his cue from the world. He is worldly to the core.
Other thought patterns are less subtle: pride, lust, anger, bitterness, and worry. We must take inventory of our thoughts and ask: where did this thought originate? Blessed is the Christian who can clearly distinguish between thoughts that are from the world and those that are from God.
THE FIRST STEP in house cleaning our mind is to identify specifically the thoughts that must be swept out. Make a list of these sinful imaginations, then isolate the three that are the most troubling. You’ll need this list if you want to have the furniture in your mind replaced, piece by piece.
Next, be prepared for the discipline of spiritual warfare. The world, the flesh, and the devil do not surrender without a struggle. The person who is blessed by God is one whose ‘delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he does meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2).
Sometimes we are told, “We are in a spiritual battle. As soldiers of the cross we must be disciplined; we must put effort and sacrifice into the Christian life.” Then, perhaps a week later another Christian appears to say just the opposite. “I was working too hard at being a Christian; God showed me that I must just hang loose – rest in the Lord.”
Though these viewpoints appear contradictory, they really are not.
Only a Christian who is disciplined in the Word of God can rest in the Lord.
Yes, we must cease our striving and learn to relax in the confidence that God is equal to every situation. But a lazy, undisciplined Christian cannot do this; he falls apart at the seams when tragedy strikes. The believer who is like a tree planted by the rivers of water is the one who meditates in the law of God every free moment; his thoughts turn to the Word of God like steel to a magnet.
Declaring war on your thought life means that you must set aside time every morning to begin your offensive attack. I suggest twenty minutes as a minimum. Meditation in the Scriptures requires effort; nothing worth having can be achieved without exertion.
You’ve heard the cliché, “A chapter a day keeps the devil away.” Don’t believe it. You can read a chapter with your mind on tomorrow’s business deal or with a heart full of revenge. Real meditation requires quality time. We must assimilate a passage and give it our unhurried attention.
Third, you must be prepared to memorize the Word of God. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11, NASB). Rather than memorize verses at random, take your list of troublesome thought patterns and find verses of Scripture that speak directly about it.
Memorize these verses so that you have them at your fingertips during the day. You’ll need them. These are passages that God will use to demolish the present strongholds of your mind and construct a new edifice.
HERE IS HOW these verses can be used. First, prepare your mind before the temptation comes. Suppose your boss habitually irritates you. An hour after you arrive at work you wish you could scream. Don’t wait until your boss shouts at you before you decide how you will respond. If so, you’ll probably react in anger. Use the Word of God in anticipation. During your time with God in the morning, recite the verses you have memorized and claim Christ’s victory before your boss blows his fuse.
If you wait until temptation comes to decide how you will react, you’ve waited too long. Choose beforehand to claim God’s promises for whatever circumstances you expect to encounter.
Learn to obey the first promptings of the Holy Spirit If you are tempted to enjoy a sensual fantasy, deal with those thoughts immediately. Each of us knows when we let our minds skip across that invisible line into forbidden territory. The moment we do so, we sense that we are violating the purity that the Holy Spirit desires. That is the moment to say, “I reject these thoughts in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and then quote the passages of Scripture you have learned for that temptation. Undoubtedly, you will often fail. But with time, your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will develop.
Use your temptation as an alarm system – a signal to give praise to God. If, for example, you fear cancer, stop yourself short when this fear comes and give praise to God. Quote Rom. 8:35-39 or read a Psalm (e.g., Psa. 103, 144, 145). Then thank God for all the blessings you have in Christ. Thank Him for forgiveness, for His sovereignty, power, and love. In this way, your stumbling block will be changed into a stepping stone. You’ll be praising rather than pouting.
WHENEVER NECESSARY, deal directly with Satan. Even if you consistently apply these suggestions, certain insidious (subtle) thoughts dart right back into your mind. For example, you may be filled with resentment. You reject those feelings in the name of the Lord Jesus; you even use Scripture. But angry thoughts force themselves upon you uninvited. The origin of such thoughts is no longer merely your sinful nature but demonic forces.
How do we confront these powers? We follow Christ’s example who commanded, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written…” Use this formula (out loud if you are alone) and command him to depart on the basis of the Scripture you have claimed. Of course, shouting a verse of Scripture at demonic powers does not make them cringe (in the temptation of Christ, Satan retorted with a verse of his own). The power of the Word of God is unleashed when we bring ourselves under its authority.
God has given believers the right to deal with demonic forces, as long as the believers are under God’s authority. To put it simply, only those who are under authority can exercise authority. Satan and his forces must flee when confronted with the bold use of biblical truth by a yielded child of the living God. So don’t be afraid to confront satanic forces directly when you are wrestling with those sinister thoughts that refuse to exit.
How long does it take for our minds to be renewed? That depends. Some Christians who apply these principles recognize a noticeable difference within a week. Others, however, are steeped in decades of sin. For them it might take as long as thirty days before they can say, “I’m free!” And, of course, no one reaches perfection. The more we meditate on the Word, the more clearly we see new areas of our lives that need to be changed. Subtle motives often surface only after long exposure to the light of God’s Word.
A homosexual who was freed from his life-style by using the above suggestions confessed that he often lapsed back into his former thought patterns before the strongholds of his mind capitulated to the power of Christ “But now,” he said, “when I think the thoughts I used to think, I get sick to my stomach.” He is proof of what God can do in the life of anyone who persistently meditates in the Word of God and applies it directly to areas of spiritual conflict.
I’m convinced that Christ intended us to be free from mental bondage. His Word provides the resources to make our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. We can be free indeed.
These Scripture references can help in bringing your thoughts under the control of the Holy Spirit. Additional passages can be found through careful reading of the Scriptures along with the use of a concordance or Naves’ Topical Bible.
James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5-6; Gal. 6:14; Gal. 6:3.
Eph. 4:22, 24; 1 Pet. 2:11; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:4-5; Rom. 6:11-12.
Psa. 119:36; Luke 12:15; Col. 3:1-2, 5-6; 1 Tim. 6:6; Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11-12.
Psa. 37:8; Prov. 14:29; 16:32; Eph. 4:26, 31; Col. 3:8; James 1:19-20.
Lack of discipline
Rom. 12:11; 1 Cor. 9:26-27; Heb. 6:12; Phil. 4:12-13.
Phil. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:7.
Eph. 4:31-32; Heb. 12:15.
Erwin W. Lutzer, Moody