When I am tempted to become complacent or careless about my spiritual state, the Lord may remind me of some exhortation or command that has limitless implications, that requires daily, even moment-by-moment attention, and lifelong diligence. Paul provides us a series of those in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians: “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. . . . Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks . . . . Do not quench the Spirit . . . . But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (5:12-21). Phew! It is impossible to become self-satisfied if we love the Lord and take those commands seriously. But there is another command that has arrested my attention on multiple occasions that may be more demanding and thoroughgoing than any of those listed above, namely this: “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5b).
What could be more challenging or more foundational to living a victorious life that pleases the Lord than the thought contained in that statement? There is an occasional quality to all the commands listed in the paragraph above. But this one . . . this one is as incessant—and insistent—as breathing. It is intended to occupy every conscious moment: Taking. Every. Thought. Captive. To the obedience of Christ. Some studies suggest that humans have 6,000 conscious thoughts per day, and the estimates go up from there as much as more than twelve times. Regardless of the actual number. We all have an incredible number of thoughts daily when the random ones are taken into consideration. And it is often the random ones that most accurately reveal our spiritual state.
Who hasn’t experienced a momentary lustful thought, an envious thought, a jealous thought, one of self-pity, anger, bitterness, resentment, a prideful thought, or one of contempt, a self-righteous thought, or an unthankful one? Who has managed to avoid an unloving thought or a thought of unbelief? It is the rarest of believers who manages routinely to avoid such sins; the best we often do is to quickly recognize our sinful thoughts, confess them, and pray that the Lord would help us to think on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right; whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute,” whatever is “excellent” and whatever is “worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).
What a task it is, but also what a privilege. As challenging as the requirement may be, it, nevertheless, reflects the marvelous power of the grace of God because without the Lord’s redemptive power, we would find ourselves fitting the description of the unregenerate people of Noah’s day. The Lord’s observation of them was “that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The Word of God is not given to hyperbole, so the grim truth is that unregenerate man is incapable of producing a single thought that is pleasing to God! It is not possible to imagine a more desperate and hopeless state than that. And yet from that depraved beginning, the saving work of Christ can so transform a sinner that even his thoughts can be brought “captive to the obedience of Christ.” They can be pure, wholesome, believing, rejoicing, Christ-praising, and God-honoring thoughts. It is possible because of redemptive grace to please and honor the Lord at the most private and foundational part of our being—our thoughts. Long before Paul wrote his epistle, David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psa. 19:14). How great is our salvation that we have the ability through Christ and His indwelling Spirit to bring our thoughts into captivity to Him. What profit there is for us and glory for Him as we allow Him to control our minds.
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