What Are You Thinking?

The apostle Paul had a clear understanding of how your thinking affects the success of your spiritual growth. This understanding is expressed in several of his letters to the various churches. Indeed, the fact that he mentions the significance of our thinking so often should give us an indication of the importance of controlling our thoughts.

Paul covers a wide-ranging number of topics in his second letter to the Corinthians. It will be interesting to discuss with him once we cross the Jordan what provoked some of the things he wrote. However, it should be evident on this side of the Jordan how important he felt it was to be in control of our thoughts.

Toward the end of the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–5

Clearly one of the “weapons of our warfare” that is “mighty in God” is exercising our ability to “[bring] every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

Paul also refers to this weapon in his letter to the Colossians where he wrote, “Set your mind [affections] on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2

Then twice in his letter to the Philippians, Paul mentions this weapon again, addressing it from two different angles. In Philippians 2:5, Paul, speaking imperatively, wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Then in the next chapter, he speaks of “the enemies of the cross of Christ” who “set their mind on earthly things.” Philippians 3:18, 19

Inspiration addresses over and over again the importance of controlling our thinking and setting our mind on things above.

“When God’s people take their eyes off the things of this world and place them on heaven and heavenly things they will be a peculiar people, because they will see the mercy and goodness and compassion that God has shown to the children of men. His love will call forth a response from them, and their lives will show to those around them that the Spirit of God is controlling them, that they are setting their affections on things above, not on the things of the earth.” Maranatha, 322

“God wishes us to have the mastery over ourselves. But He cannot help us without our consent and co-operation. The divine Spirit works through the powers and faculties given to man. Of ourselves, we are not able to bring the purposes and desires and inclinations into harmony with the will of God; but if we are ‘willing to be made willing,’ the Saviour will accomplish this for us, ‘Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 10:5.” The Acts of the Apostles, 482, 483

It is next to impossible to accomplish this essential objective without the surrender of the whole heart to the control of the Holy Spirit. Remember, this is warfare. Each of us has our own personal great controversy to deal with. It may seem counter-intuitive, but winning this war requires surrendering—not something one learns in the usual terms of worldly warfare, but “When we submit [surrender] ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness. Then as the Lord looks upon us He sees, not the fig-leaf garment, not the nakedness and deformity of sin, but His own robe of righteousness, which is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 312

“Moral purity depends on right thinking and right acting. Evil thoughts destroy the soul, while a right control of the thoughts prepares the mind to labor harmoniously for the Master. Every thought should be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Gospel Workers, 126, 127

“To the heart that has become purified, all is changed. Transformation of character is the testimony to the world of an indwelling Christ. The Spirit of God produces a new life in the soul, bringing the thoughts and desires into obedience to the will of Christ; and the inward man is renewed in the image of God. Weak and erring men and women show to the world that the redeeming power of grace can cause the faulty character to develop into symmetry and abundant fruitfulness.” Prophets and Kings, 233

“You should keep off from Satan’s enchanted ground and not allow your minds to be swayed from allegiance to God. Through Christ you may and should be happy and should acquire habits of self-control. Even your thoughts must be brought into subjection to the will of God and your feelings under the control of reason and religion. Your imagination was not given you to be allowed to run riot and have its own way without any effort at restraint or discipline. If the thoughts are wrong, the feelings will be wrong, and the thoughts and feelings combined make up the moral character. When you decide that as Christians you are not required to restrain your thoughts and feelings you are brought under the influence of evil angels and invite their presence and their control. If you yield to your impressions and allow your thoughts to run in a channel of suspicion, doubt, and repining you will be among the most unhappy of mortals, and your lives will prove a failure.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 310

“The religion of Christ never degrades the receiver; it never makes him coarse or rough, discourteous or self-important, passionate or hardhearted. On the contrary, it refines the taste, sanctifies the judgment, and purifies and ennobles the thoughts, bringing them into captivity to Christ. God’s ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. He has given in His holy law a transcript of His character.” Ibid., vol. 8, 63

It is this transcript that should be the guiding force in our thinking, and when this is the case, the efforts of Satan and his evil agents to inject unchristlike thoughts into our minds proves futile.

Paul provides a succinct set of criteria in his letter to the Philippians that those seeking to overcome can use as a guide for their thinking: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Perhaps understanding the challenge that the effort to restrict one’s thinking presents, Paul provided encouragement by asserting his faith in the power of Jesus to enable us to think and thus act aright: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verse 13). It is evident from the context that Paul is not referring to physical strength, but rather to the strength which Christ provides to enable His followers to thwart the efforts continually and incessantly exerted by the enemy of souls to enshroud his victims in spiritual darkness.

It is imperative that we do not allow our actions to be influenced by thinking on inappropriate topics, thereby giving Satan ammunition in his desire to corrupt our characters.

“When we talk discouragement and gloom, Satan listens with fiendish joy, for it pleases him to know that he has brought you into his bondage. Satan cannot read our thoughts, but he can see our actions, hear our words; and from his long knowledge of the human family, he can shape his temptations to take advantage of our weak points of character. And how often do we let him into the secret of how he may obtain the victory over us. Oh, that we might control our words and actions! How strong we would become if our words were of such an order that we would not be ashamed to meet the record of them in the day of judgment. How different will they appear in the day of God from what they seem when we utter them.” The Review and Herald, May 19, 1891

Thus we see the critical connection between our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Satan is ever on the watch to “take advantage of our weak points of character.” We also must be ever watchful to ensure that we think appropriately so that improper thoughts do not result in improper words or deeds.

Although experience has perhaps revealed to us the difficulty that is inherent in controlling our thinking, remember Paul’s encouraging acknowledgment: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

 John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: johnpearson@stepstolife.org