If you could flash on a screen all the thoughts you’ve had in the past week, you’d have a pretty good idea of your spiritual condition.
Receiving Christ as Savior gives us a new nature, but the old thought patterns often continue. Paul warns, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
If we are careless, Satan can put ideas into our heads, as he did with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3).
In his classic allegory The Holy War, John Bunyan presents Satan’s tactics. Although the great fortress Mansoul was besieged by enemy forces, they could enter only if the gates were opened from the inside. Diabolus’ strategy to persuade the defenders to open their gates to him was to “delude them, pretending things that will never be and promising things they shall never get. Lies, lies, lies.
The most common lie Satan deposits in the human mind is that we must be subject to our desires. His strategy is to win a few key battles so our faith will waver and we will never contest his authority again.
But God has not left us to the whim of our sin nature or to Satan. We have been given the equipment we need to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This obedience is possible because of what Christ has already done.
A woman in St. Louis felt guilty about her relationship with a married man who had been living in her home for more than a year. He refused to move out, saying he had a right to stay. But when she got a court order that he be evicted, the man finally left. Then she changed the locks.
What gave her the authority to evict him? The law was on her side. No matter how much he shouted, he had no rights.
Because of Christ’s victory on the cross, we have a right to evict the thoughts that come from our sin nature and the devil. Like the man in that woman’s home, these thoughts won’t leave peacefully. They’ll make promises to change and remind us of the benefits of letting them stay. And even after they’ve been forced out, they will approach us again to see if we are ready to compromise.
Unless we know who we are and understand our rights in Christ, we won’t be able to change our thoughts, no matter how hard we try. We must be firmly convinced that we are in Christ and thus have already won the war.
We must refocus our thought life, not to win the victory, but to receive the victory that has already been won. Only if we understand our authority can our minds be renewed.
A Worshipful Mind
To change our focus, we must begin with worship. Someone has said, “The smaller your God, the bigger your problem; the bigger your God, the smaller your problem.”
Often we want victory as an end in itself, but Christ-likeness is God’s ultimate purpose. Fellowship with God is more important than victory over sin (although we need the victory to enjoy the fellowship).
For us to be free from those sinful thoughts, God Himself must be first in our thinking. Do you want to master your passions just so you can have a clear conscience, live a successful life, and raise a fine family? Or are you fully committed to living to the praise of God’s glory?
God lets us struggle so that in the end we will have a greater appreciation of Him. Too often when we fail we run away, hoping to hide from Him as Adam did in the garden.
But even through our shame and guilt, God is calling us. He’s waiting for us to give up our toys and fully surrender our hearts to Him. He’s testing us to see where our loyalties really lie. When faced with fierce temptation, which side do we take?
Fellowship with God is the best deterrent for impure thoughts. One man writing anonymously in Leadership about his struggle with pornography said the negative arguments about guilt or a failing marriage didn’t work for him.
But a book by Francois Mauriac gave him the motivation he needed. Mauriac stated there is only one reason to seek purity: “It is the reason Christ proposed in the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.’ Purity is the condition for a higher love – for a possession superior to all possessions: God Himself.”
The writer concluded, “We are the ones who suffer if we sin, by forfeiting the development of character and Christ-likeness that would have resulted if we had not sinned … By continuing to harbor lust, I was limiting my own intimacy with God.”
Feeding Our Minds
We must fill our minds with truth, not vain imaginations. Soap operas, movies, and erotic literature have caused millions to base powerful fantasies on the lie that man’s way is better than God’s.
Some are caught between day-to-day reality and the lure of the imagination. The real world becomes dull by comparison.
When the tension becomes unbearable, a man or woman abandons everything and takes the plunge into that fantasy world. Families are split, promises broken, and lives fractured – all because of lies.
Samuel Baker tells of a regiment dying of thirst in the Nubian Desert. In the distance they thought they saw water, but their Arabian guide warned it was only a mirage. They argued, the guide was killed, and the whole regiment rushed toward the water. Mile after mile the mirage led the thirsty troops deeper into the desert. Too late they realized the truth. They died pursuing a fantasy.
Here are some of the most popular lies:
- God is unfair in giving us passions and then restricting their fulfillment.
- By careful planning, we can sin secretly without harm.
- A great enough pleasure is worth any discipline God may impose as a result.
- We can live in a world of fantasy and still be committed Christians.
We must firmly reject these lies, then get on with meditating on the truth.
This is the principle of replacement. You can’t recite Psalm 23 and count to 20 at the same time. Reprogramming our minds with God’s Word will increase our faith and push out lust. Our lives would be changed if we spent 20 minutes with God each day before 9 A.M. It would keep us spiritually refreshed, and we would begin each day committing ourselves to God.
Guarding Our Minds
We must be rude to sinful thoughts. Think of your mind as a castle. When lust, greed, ungratefulness, or other enemies knock, don’t let them in. Treat them as you would someone who rings your doorbell at 2 A.M. Regardless of his sweet words, you’re in no mood to negotiate. “Watch over your heart (mind) with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (your actions) – Prov. 4:23.
We’re wrong to think we can entertain these thoughts only for a little while and then expel them. They will try to reappear under a different label. They’ll remind us that other Christians struggle with lust, too: “It’s part of being human.” They may encourage us to pity ourselves: “You deserve a break.”
By now these thoughts aren’t knocking on the door; they’re pulling it off the hinges. What can you do?
Thank God for the temptation and view it as an opportunity to prove that Christ is stronger than your sin nature. Re-mind yourself that you are in Christ, seated above every principality and power. Because of what He has done, you needn’t submit to this temptation.
Most important, have verses of Scripture ready to quote at a moment’s notice. If you don’t know in advance what Scriptures you’ll concentrate on, you may be swept away by the power of the temptation. We must always be ready to combat lies with the truth of God’s Word.
A young man who struggled with looking at pornography in drugstores came to me for counsel. I suggested he memorize several specific verses of Scripture, such as “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), and that he recite them before touching the magazines. Later, when someone sent him a pornographic magazine, he was able to throw it away without opening it.
Don’t be put off by repeated temptations. Satan will try to wear down your resistance, but continue to submit your mind to the truth of who you are in Christ.
Paul records what happens when we meditate on God: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Nathaniel Hawthorne told the story of a rock formation on the side of a mountain that resembled a man’s face. When the little boy Ernest asked his mother about the sweet and noble expression on the face, she told him its legend: One day a child would be born who would be the greatest person of his time, and he would resemble the great stone face.
Ernest never forgot the story. He spent every free moment gazing at the face and yearning for the day when the right man would come to the valley. Men appeared, but they never resembled the face.
By the time Ernest was old, he was full of wisdom and kindness. People came from far and near to talk with him. One day a poet came to the valley, and Ernest thought he resembled the beautiful face on the mountain, but the poet disclaimed the honor.
But as Ernest addressed the audience gathered in the open air, the poet recognized, and the people agreed, that it was Ernest who had become the likeness of the great stone face he had gazed at for so long.
We will never be Christ-like by trying to resist temptation, as necessary as that may be. We must fill our minds with the wonder of Jesus Christ and have an insatiable desire to be like Him.
Then slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, we are transformed into the image of Christ. Our temptations, which were so powerful, lose their attraction when we become consumed with all that Christ means to us.
Satan wants us to focus our attention upon the lust of the flesh. But when we know our authority, we can take command over the enemy. Only unbelief can keep us bound in the grip of sensuality. Glancing at temptation, but gazing at the promises is the way to victory.
Dr.Erwin W. Lutzer, Moody