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  • Paul Reich

Take Every Thought Captive (Part 2)

Faulty thinking can wreak havoc in our minds and in our lives. Destructive thoughts must be recognized, renounced, and replaced with God's truth if we are to experience victory.

 

Photo by Molnár Bálint on Unsplash

 

After completing my master’s degree at Briercrest Seminary, I pastored in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan from 1995-2000. One of the single men in my church, a talented artist and sound engineer, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He came to visit me one day in my office bearing a gift … a picture he had painted depicting his inner turmoil when he was not on his prescribed medication.


Shown below, the picture is of a conflicted man embroiled in a war between light and darkness. A battle is raging in his mind as soldiers from opposing sides fire their rifles through his head. His use of red amidst the stark contrast of white and black highlights the severity of his inner turmoil. While his left hand cradles his head that is clashing with discord, his right hand reaches for the medication he uses to silence the cacophony warring within. On the back of the painting, he wrote these words, “The way I feel when circumstances seem overwhelming. Faith is hard alone.”


Painting by my friend Arthur


I cherish this gift of vulnerability and have shared it with numerous people over the years who have come to my office for pastoral counseling. Though schizophrenia is a rare brain disorder affecting less than one percent of population, most of us can identify at some level with a battle waging war in our minds from time to time – moments of anxiety, fear, bitterness, anger, confusion, and more. We all know the pull of lustful thoughts, covetousness, and jealousy. We have all experienced such times of mental war, wrestling to overcome negative thinking and fighting to refocus our attention on thoughts that are positive, nurturing, and helpful. Amidst these troubling thoughts, God is offering peace, forgiveness, patience, love, and victory.


In my two previous posts, I talked about this battle for the mind and we briefly looked at an important passage written by the apostle Paul on taking thoughts captive. If you haven’t yet done so, I recommend reading the previous two posts to gain a broader biblical context and personal background for this post. I once again cite Paul’s vital passage.


2 Corinthians 10:4–5 (NIV)

4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.


The context in 2 Corinthians shows that Paul is publicly dealing with “some” who oppose him and are seeking to lead the believers at Corinth astray (2 Corinthians 10:2, 10-12; 11:1-4, 12-15). He is using truth to cast down their faulty teaching and break their influence on the lives of the Corinthian saints. When false teaching is promulgated in the church, there are times when it must be confronted publicly with truth so that strongholds of wrong thinking are demolished and arguments and pretensions contrary to God are taken captive and brought in alignment with Christ and His teaching.


However, this passage is also applicable personally. Faulty and destructive thinking can wreak havoc in our own minds. Lies that we believe and reinforce can result in habitual thinking patterns blinding us to truth, influencing sinful behaviors, and fortifying destructive habits. The enemy will feed his lies to us. Once we embrace them, he will then use those entrenched lies to erect strongholds that keep us in bondage to deception and sin. These mindsets must be torn down and replaced with truth if we are to experience victory.


Kevin McClure, a good friend of mine, insightfully defines what a stronghold is, gives two symptoms that reveal a stronghold, and presents the important role that repentance plays in tearing down a stronghold.

A demonic stronghold is a power base that is constructed in the individual human mind or in the thinking of a group/culture, one lie at a time. It is fair to say that when there is a stronghold, the devil has a strong hold over someone or something. The two primary symptoms that reveal the presence of a demonic stronghold are loss of freedom and loss of hope. Christians can thrive in most areas of their lives but may have one area where they have become a captive and believe things will never improve. Belief is powerful and it is the structure of belief that God wishes to change. A change in thinking is the beginning of the destruction of a stronghold and it is what repentance is about.
Repentance is not about merely saying the words, “I repent.” Repentance literally means a change of thought that initiates a change of direction. . . . [1]

Demonic strongholds of thinking are evident everywhere in our society. Anywhere you see oppression of people, suppression of truth, brazen immorality, addiction, and abuse, you will find demonic strongholds of thinking fueling these behaviors. In fact, behind any habitual sin of anger greed, bitterness, and others, is entrenched thinking that must be changed to experience freedom. But even to lesser degrees, we can find our thinking has been infected by subtle lies, faulty paradigms, and misunderstandings. Regardless of the degree to which we have embraced wrong thinking, the strength of the stronghold, or the extent of influence wrong thinking has on our behaviors and relationships, we all battle with temptation, intrusive thoughts, and faulty thinking at some level. It is a war we will fight as long as we live.


How to Take Thoughts Captive


So how do we take our thoughts captive? I personally have found three steps helpful in taking my thoughts captive: 1) Recognize, 2) Renounce, and 3) Replace. In this post I will discuss the first of these three.


1) Recognize


The first step in taking our thoughts captive is identifying which thoughts need to be cast down. This means we need to discern the source and nature of each thought. This further requires that we recognize the voice of God and can distinguish His voice from the contrary voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are the guardians of our minds and individually responsible to protect it from destructive voices and thoughts that seek to find a place there.


Relationally, we recognize the voices of our loved ones and friends because frequency of communication brings familiarity with the unique micro tones of each voice. Similarly, the more familiar and intimate we become with God, the more we will know the sound of His voice and also recognize voices that are contrary to Him. The more our minds are renewed, the more we are able to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The devil also has a tone to his voice as do both the flesh and the world. By knowing God’s voice, we are better able to detect the voices that do not resonate with the sound of His voice.


Rather than physical tones, the tone of these spiritual forces vying for attention in our thoughts can be recognized by their character. The voice of the Holy Spirit can be identified by the nature and character of God. His voice reflects the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23 NASB). His voice is also characterized by righteousness, holiness and truth – “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:24 NASB). Any voice that exemplifies and promotes these qualities is from God; any voice that doesn’t exhibit or leads us away from these qualities is not of God.

Image by Paul Reich


James also provides a key to discerning God’s voice when He describes the wisdom from above as “pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” and will show itself in “good behavior,” “righteousness,” and “peace” (James 3:13, 17-18 NASB). God’s voice is distinguished by these traits and behaviors that reflect His nature and character.


In contrast, the wisdom from below is characterized by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” along with “arrogance,” and “lying against the truth.” James describes the source of this wisdom as “earthly, natural, demonic,” and he tells us this wisdom will result in “disorder and every evil thing.” (James 3:14-16 NASB). Words or thoughts depicting or leading to these traits are ungodly and need to be rejected.

Image by Paul Reich


The voice of the evil one can further be identified by his character. Jesus describes the devil as “a liar” and “a murderer” (John 8:44), and reveals that the purpose of the thief is “to steal and kill and destroy” the sheep (John 10:10). The apostle John exposes the devil as one filled with “hatred” and “unrighteousness” in contrast to God’s character of “love” and “righteousness” (1 John 3:6-15). Deceptive and destructive thoughts that reflect these traits of the enemy need to be captured and subjected to Christ.


Jesus recognized Satan’s voice behind Peter’s words because Peter’s counsel was contrary to God’s purposes and it presented a stumbling block by seeking to prevent Jesus from going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). Peter recognized Satan’s influence in the hearts of Ananias and Saphira because their deception and lies reflected the nature and character of Satan (Acts 5:1-10). Thoughts of a godly nature come from a godly source while thoughts of a sinful nature come from a sinful source. We know the root by the fruit (Matthew 7:15-23). Lying reflects the devil's character and is also part of the old self with its evil practices (Colossians 3:9), while it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).


The voice of this fallen world is characterized by “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:15-18). The flesh is characterized by sinful deeds, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19–21 NASB). Again, thoughts along these lines must be cast down.


These are just sample passages. Numerous other passages also have relevance to this issue. For example, 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” or Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”


The bottom line is that thoughts that reflect the character of God and those qualities the Scriptures approve are from Him and are to permeate our minds. These thoughts will lead to a godly and peaceful life. Thoughts that reflect the character of the world, the flesh, and the devil will lead to a life of sin and disorder. They are to be cast down and subjected to Christ, being brought in obedience to His will.


The intrusive thought that entered my mind inciting me to throw my son into the raging waters of the North Saskatchewan River (see previous post) was a murderous thought from the enemy. This is now easily discerned because the nature of that thought aligns with the devil’s character as a murderer and his purpose to kill and destroy. Similar destructive thoughts that are demonically inspired would include ideas of suicide or self-harm. Remember, the devil even tempted Jesus with self-harm by asking Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. He even twisted God’s word, like he did with Adam and Eve, to seek to accomplish this purpose. Jesus responded by quoting a relevant verse of Scripture, showing us the importance of rightly interpreting and understanding the Scriptures.


God’s word is key to helping us discern the source of our thoughts, for it is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart“ (Hebrews 4:12). The more we know God’s word, the better we are able to know God’s voice and distinguish His voice from aberrant ones, even when they distort God’s own words in an attempt to deceive.


Closing


Listen to your self-talk. What types of messages are you telling yourself? Are your thoughts leading to peace, hope, forgiveness, purity, faith, and godly behaviors, or are they resulting in anxiety, discouragement, bitterness, anger, and ungodly behaviors. Are you allowing your mind to stew in juices that pull you down emotionally and are destructive in some way to your life and relationships? Have you allowed the world, the flesh, or the devil to have a place in your thinking? Are there strongholds of the enemy that need to be torn down?


The first step to taking your thoughts captive and bringing them into alignment with Christ is recognizing any thoughts that are harmful to spiritual and mental well-being and built on the lies, purposes, and values of this world, the flesh, and the devil. In my next blog post, we will look at how to renounce faulty thinking and replace it with the truths, purposes, and values of God and His word. See you in August!



REFERENCES:

[1] McClure, Kevin. Get Ready to Fight. Self-published, E-book, 10.

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