When it comes to dealing with lustful thoughts, feelings of jealousy, temptations, etc., we in the Christian community often tell each other to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). That command always seemed so impossible to me. How in the world does one grab a thought and get rid of it? No one told me what the rest of the Bible had to say about it. So I started by simply reading the whole verse:
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 (1 Corinthians 10:5).
It is “the knowledge of God” that is being attacked by our thoughts and that we need to protect. The second half of the sentence is where Paul explains how to do this and is where the common charge to discipline our thought life comes in. The questions this brings to my mind are, “What is the knowledge God gives?” and, “What do thoughts obedient to Christ look like?”
I believe the answers to both of these questions can be found in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, in a verse that further expands on the explanation of how we properly and effectively handle our thought lives. One of the professors here at Focus Leadership Institute refers to this verse as the Replacement Principle:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8).
If we are not to think about things that set themselves “up against the knowledge of God,” then simply erasing problematic thoughts will not fix the problem. We must replace them with truth and the knowledge God gives us, making them become beliefs of the heart, not just knowledge of the head.
When I have a persistent thought that I know is negative, unhealthy or untrue, I think about these two verses. I strive to grab the truth and cling to it so tightly that it becomes deeply impressed upon my heart.
A practical way I do this when the thought just won’t seem to relinquish to the truth is by writing “Truth” across the top of a page and writing “true,” “noble,” “right,” etc. down the side, leaving a few lines in between each. I then will proceed to take captive the negative thought, and turn it into a thought pleasing to Christ and in accordance with godly knowledge; I take the thought and write down the truth of that particular struggle or issue. Where can nobility come in? What is admirable about the situation? What is the truth God says about what I’m going through? What would excellence look like here?
Though it has become a Christian cliché to “take captive every thought,” it is still a biblical charge to us and has good reason. It protects the truth, it brings us peace and it sets us free from the thoughts that captivate us.