One thing I want to make clear - your mind generates a bad thought before you can stop it. (Very occasionally, as you mature in this area, you may be able to stop a half-formed thought in its tracks.) At this point it is only temptation. If you do not quench that thought; if you do not acknowledge it as bad; if you continue to think thoughts along that line, then that is sinning.
Sometimes I get very discouraged about my thought life. I ask myself questions like, "Why can't I stop thinking bad thoughts?," "Why can't I get these thoughts out of my head?" and "Will I ever conquer my thought life and make it obedient to Jesus?" However, this is Satan tempting me to give it up as hopeless. So I must take courage in the power of Jesus again, and keep fighting the battle. Even King David said "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:2) But he also declared in that same Psalm, "I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me." (Verses 5-6, italics added by me.)
And there's another important point - we fight a continuous battle. It will not be won in a short amount of time. Actually, our bad thoughts are part of our sinful nature, and will only die when we do. Our thought life (just like the rest of us) will not be perfect until we are resurrected for eternity. But God tells us through Isaiah to "Give up your crooked ways and your evil thoughts. Return to the Lord our God." (Isaiah 55:7, CEV) If we stop fighting because we will never really 'win,' long term, the Devil gains a foothold and triumph after triumph. And so the battle must continue.
If you were wondering, there are many verses in the Bible that talk about thoughts. Very few are commands; most are warnings. Here are some;
- "You used to let the different parts of your body be slaves of your evil thoughts. But now you must make every part of your body serve God, so that you will belong completely to him." (Romans 6:19, CEV)
- "Do not allow your weak thoughts to lead you into sinful actions." (Romans 13:14b, NLV)
- "A man is tempted to do wrong when he lets himself be led by what his bad thoughts tell him to do. When he does what his bad thoughts tell him to do, he sins. When sin completes its work, it brings death." (Wow, pretty straight forward! James 1:14-15, NLV)
You must notice that in this post I'm talking about thinking unhelpful, distracting thoughts (dreaming romantic dreams, etc). There are however, many other avenues of bad thoughts - thinking nasty things about others, selfish thoughts, greedy thoughts, impure thoughts, inappropriately worried thoughts, etc. There are warnings and commands about these things too; take Hebrews 13:15b for example - "Do not let wrong thoughts about others get started among you." (NLV) Now, I know it warns against nasty thoughts about others among you, but guess where this gossip starts? It starts with bad thoughts in someone's head!!
After saying all this (you still with me?), there is one last point to make. It is very important. If you don't recognise it, basically you're doomed to lose this battle over and over again.
OK, I'm going to say this slow: Think of your thought life as a big hole. Satan wants to fill it with bad thoughts. You know you shouldn't be thinking that kind of stuff, so you push those thoughts out of the hole. But now you're back where you started - a big hole that Satan desperately wants to fill with thoughts disobedient to God! And just because you pushed him out once, Satan ain't going to give up that easy, let me tell you! He will keep trying to fill that hole with junk. And at some point, we're going to just let him stay for a bit. So, what are we going to do to get Satan to stay out of our hole? FILL IT UP WITH GOOD, GODLY THOUGHTS!!!!!!!!! I'm sure we all know Philippians 4:8. But have you noticed that it's in the positive? It doesn't say ''Don't think about this, this and this kind of bad stuff," it says "Think about this kind of good stuff"! When we fill up the hole of our thought life with good, godly thoughts, there is no room for Satan's junk.
Phew! Hopefully you got something out of that huge post! I really, really, really don't want to just heap guilt on you. I simply want to challenge and encourage you. PLEASE, PLEASE tell me if you feel hurt or guilty (so you just feel horrid and dirty, not challenged) after reading my post. I won't be hurt or angry; you will be doing me a huge favour. And I promise not to publish your comment. Thanks!
"We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ." (2 Cor 10:5b, GW)