Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Updated: How can I guard my thoughts and renew my mind so it's like Christ?

This morning John MacArthur published a devotional impressing on us the importance of the thought life. The essay recommends essentially the same things I'd presented below, but more concisely, lol. If you would like to read about guarding our thoughts and how sin begins in the thought-life, from a male elder's point of view, I invite you to go to "Discipline Yourself'" He opens the devotional this way:

"Do you realize that the difference between a sincere, Spirit‑controlled, devoted, godly, obedient Christian and a defeated, weak, struggling Christian is what takes place in the mind? They may be attending the same church, active in the same ministries, and externally doing the same things, but one is defeated and the other lives a spiritually fruitful life. The difference is the thought life."

---------end update--------------

On Tuesday I wrote about the Sikh Temple shooting, and how the sins we see performed in the world are only the tip of the iceberg as far as what is in a man. If we see an enormous volume of sin in the world then that means the volume of sin in the world is exponentially greater, because being inside a man it is unseen but it is still there. Thoughts are sins, too. The seat of sin is in the thoughts and the heart. Verses from Mark 7:21-22, James 1:14-15, Matthew 5:27‑28, Genesis 6:5; and Jeremiah 17:9 confirm that our heart and our mind are deceitful and cannot be trusted. That is where sin begins.

It is why the world says "Follow your heart." "Satisfy the desires of your heart." Satan is the god of this world and he tells us constantly that the heart is the most important aspect of our engagement with ourselves and with the world. It isn't.

This is why it is important to guard your thought life. The bible reminds us of the importance of our interior life:

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:5).

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

When a law student goes to Harvard or some such law university, they learn that the educational approach to teaching new information is completely different than what they had been exposed to before. The Socratic method of teaching and learning is used.

Wikipedia defines the Socratic Method--

"The Socratic method, named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict himself in some way, thus strengthening the inquirer's own point."

Instead of the students asking questions of the teacher, the teacher asks questions of the student. In this way, the Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination. It is a unique way of training the mind to think differently.

When a student enrolls in Police Academy, the educational emphasis particular to that career will train the cadet to think differently and thus see the world in a new way. He is transformed from civilian to law enforcement officer. As the NYC Police Academy description explains, cadets will be "equipped with the necessary academic and tactical knowledge to protect the life, rights, property, and dignity of all the residents." Their minds are trained to see and remember details of every scene they come across that escape most civilians. They are trained to be restrained in emotions and clear thinkers in situations where most people would erupt in anger or allow natural adrenaline to carry them away.

You can see those examples are ways that those with higher knowledge engage in a process in which the person seeking that same knowledge is transformed by the renewal of their mind.

The difference between career training of the mind and spiritual renewal of the mind is the Holy Spirit. Our minds without the Holy Spirit can be re-trained within its own box, because we can go from one man's kind of thinking to another man's kind of thinking. But the Spirit's renewal is from fleshly and corruptible to spiritual and incorruptible, a totally different box. Man cannot and will not ever be able to think of God in the way He wants to reveal Himself to us as long as we do not have the Spirit. When we repent, we receive Him into our flesh (brain) and we can have no better teacher in this renewal process! (John 16:13).

John Piper explains our natural state: "When we speak of man's depravity we mean man's natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man."

God says that whatever we do apart from Him is sin. "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:23b).

And so Piper says, "The terrible condition of man's heart will never be recognized by people who assess it only in relation to other men."

That is why those who are not saved can renew their mind into other ways men think, for example going from Transmissive method to Socratic as in the case of a Lawyer, or Emotional response versus Logical deduction in the case of a Detective. But renewing our mind from Sinful to Pure is impossible without the Spirit's help. That is a box we in which we do not dwell until we repent. Everything we do in the flesh is a total offense to God and everything we do in the Spirit is a total pleasure to God. Once we're saved, His ministry is to help us:

"to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:24).


This is called regeneration. He makes us into a new man, day by day, year by year, decade by decade. But remember, it's not like when He dwells in us He takes over. We have to put in effort. We have to read the bible so we know what He is like, understand by prayer and His confirmation back to us what His expectations of us are, and how to apply what we've learned about Him into the world for His glory.

We want the mind of Christ. So...HOW do we get it?

1. First, after we're saved we continually submit to Him:

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The NLT says, "And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30).

2. Read the bible. There are no shortcuts. We must replace our thoughts with God's thoughts. His thoughts are recorded for us and on the pages of any good, standard bible. Our dreams, our intuitions, our desires, books about the bible are not God's thoughts. His mind is on the pages of the bible. So, read it.

3. Pray. Ask the Spirit to help you develop discipline to read the word, to study it, to memorize it.

4. Be aware of what you think. If you're saved, you are not a slave to your brain and the thoughts it produces. YOU have control over it. You just have to develop the discipline to be aware of what's crawling around at the bottom of your brain that is sinfully distracting you.

Let's say that you're having lustful thoughts about your boss, or a person you've met and are attracted to. But those thoughts are unwanted because the bible says those thoughts are a sin. (Matthew 5:28). Or let's say that you really want a new set of golf clubs, (or a dress), but your family budget prohibits you from purchasing them at this time. However, you keep thinking about that which you want. The bible calls this lust if it's a person, greed if it's in a store and covetousness if it's owned by your neighbor. These thoughts are sins. (Exodus 20:7; or James 4:1-3, below)

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

These sinful thoughts are like the news tickers that crawl along at the bottom of the TV screen.


Look at the amount of information on the screen, which we can say is your brain. From the flag at top, to the 'Live' notification, to the split screen photos that your brain decodes is the location of the picture, (Washington DC) to the channel identification, to the descriptor of RNC headquarters, to the stock exchange information, to the ticker. That is a LOT of information! The ticker is your sinful nature. All the information in your brain that you see, identify and absorb into interpretation are your daily thoughts. The ticker is the sin nature underneath it all. It runs constantly. The bigger it is on the screen, the more annoying, it is, right? It is really distracting to keep focusing on what the rest of the screen is showing us when the news ticker crawls fast or is too large.

But it is there, all the time, saying, "I want that dress/golf club...I wonder if I just swing by the store to see if it is still there...I could wear that dress to church, that's a good thing, right?...I could use the clubs for clients, and get more business, right? That's a good thing... gee, I wonder if they reduced the price..."

Be aware that it is there, and be aware of what it is saying. When you find your thoughts drifting toward the sinful ones you don't want because they dishonor God, tell those thoughts to S-T-O-P.

Yes, just like that. STOP. You are not a slave to them. When you're thinking about the things you ought not, stop it, and then pray to the Spirit for help. I yell 'stop' in my head. I ask Him to forgive those thoughts. I put those thoughts in a balloon and make them go away. Pervasive unwanted thoughts I lay at Jesus's feet. You can use any mental imagery you want to help you stop them. Tell Him you don't want those thoughts, and why. Yes, at first this is constant. You might pray a thousand times a day to stop unwanted thoughts. Jesus never said it was easy.

Remember, you want to replace sinful thoughts with Godly thoughts so that you can undergo the renewing of your mind. Stopping sinful thoughts isn't enough. It has to be replaced with something. Where are the Godly thoughts? The bible. Ask Him to help you identify when you're having them, and develop a habit to become aware of these thoughts, and say or pray 'stop'. Then, ask for Him to help you resist them by substituting Godly thoughts. Say a memory verse instead. Ponder the main point of last Sunday's sermon. Review your Sunday School lesson. Read your bible for five minutes. Sing a hymn.

Like this: "I wonder what that new gal will be wearing today. She looked really good in that green sweater the oth--- STOP. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound..."

Or this: "I really do need those golf clubs. They're titanium and -- STOP. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters...."

Jesus said, "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation." (Matthew 12:43-45).

Sinful thoughts will always come back. If you have not allowed the Spirit to replace them with Himself, satan will come back in force worse than before and pretty soon all you can think about is your neighbor's wife, that dress, those golf clubs...

5. Action. Take action if you have a problem with sinful thoughts.
--5a. Take negative action: If you lust, have lusty thoughts, put your computer in your living room. Move your furniture in your cubicle so you're not in line of sight with that pretty girl or handsome man. Or ask for a transfer. If you have a problem with consumerism and greed, cut up your credit cards.
5b. Take positive action: Do the actions that the bible says, engage in action of ministry and helps and concern for others. Helping others and thinking about them instead of yourself is another way to replace the sinful ticker's information and allow the Spirit to renew your mind.

We can never do away with our sinful thoughts ticker crawling along the bottom of our brain, not until we are glorified and have no sin-nature anymore. But you can slow it down, make it smaller and replace what is on it with Godly thoughts that occur in an increasing basis.

Now two warnings,

1. This process takes a long time to adopt efficiently. Don't expect miracles overnight.
2. Once you've banished thoughts about your neighbor's wife or that dress or those golf clubs, satan will try to make you adopt another whole set of sinful thoughts. So thoughts about covetousness don't bother you much anymore, but now you criticize people in your mind. Doh! It is a battle, and we haven't won the war until we are in heaven and we can thank Jesus for the victory. That is why Christianity is hard. It takes work.

But now hopefully I've given some strategies to help you understand the renewing of your mind and How the Spirit delights in transforming it into His likeness.

You control your brain. Though you cannot control your sin nature, that is what the Holy Spirit does! He vanquished sin that is why He and only He has the control over it. The more you submit, pray, read the bible and put practice into action, the more He will renew your mind and with His help, gain increasing mastery over how you think.

7 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post Elizabeth. I have been struggling with sinful thoughts and you have given me clear instructions on how to deal with this. You were specific and that's what I needed to hear. Thank you so much. Laura.

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    1. Fantastic! I praise our Triune God for all His ways. He is truly a help in these troubled times.

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  2. Thank you Elizabeth for this post!

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  3. That was really a blessing reading this. Thank you Elizabeth.
    -Vincent

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  4. You're welcome Sara G and Vincent. May the Lord bless you!

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  5. Thank you Elizabeth for another great post. I feel that yours is not only head knowledge but that you have been in the trenches. I like your practical approach to this problem and all the good and practical illustrations you use in your teaching.

    The Lord is always present and willing to help us in the never ending battle against the flesh. The Epistles are full of essential good and great advices in living the Christian life. Discipline is a constant practice that never stops.

    You gave me the last push to finally do what I have wanted to do for a while. I just ordered " The mind of Christ" a great book for study on Philippians 2 that I used when teaching a sunday school for adults in NC. Unfortunately, I left it there when I moved. It will be good to get back into it and my wife has already agreed to study it together.

    I like this illustration by Gordon Mc Donald that I read a few years ago. He compares the Christian life to the yard of a newly constructed house. It´s easier when we becomne born again to renounce and forsake the bigger sins, like killing, stealing, adultery all obvious, discoverable and punishable by man´s justice. He compares these to big rocks or boulders visible on the top of the dirt. Then come the smaller ones like lying, stealing little things, etc. that he compares to smaller rocks that are visible to any one passing by.

    Then on down the little to pebbles, gravel that can be raked. But still they now present in the life of the mind with impure thoughts, anger, lust, revenge etc, that take place hidden from everybody´s sight but God´s and ours. If these are not controlled by the help of the Holy Spirit and confession, they will fester and turn into intentions and actions. Already even in thought form, they are really like murder and adultery according to what Jesus said are sins of the heart.

    These inner thoughts need to be constantly removed or as the Bible says to be “destroyed and taken captive! Because no matter what we do they will always exist as part of the sinful nature as long as we are in the body. And we have to reckon our flesh crucified on the cross which is one of the great liberating truth provided by the word of God.

    God bless you. Jean-Louis.

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  6. It's not just a battle against our flesh but also against the powers and principalities and evil forces ie demons. From personal experience these attacks on the mind are as bad as physical torture. This will happen to you if you sin and don't repent, you will be oppressed by the enemy. Or it will happen if you are making way for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the enemy obviously doesnt like that..The amazing news is that if you draw near to God and ask for repentance and forgiveness, the devil will (has) flee from you! :) great article it's much needed information in the body of Christ.

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