Some thoughts on thoughts

For a while there it seemed that America’s Evangelical Christian sub-culture was obsessed with something called “spiritual warfare”. (Google it if you’re not familiar with the term.) These days, I still hear some people using the jargon associated with spiritual warfare, but it looks like that the fever has cooled a bit. One word that features prominently in the speech of believers in spiritual warfare is “stronghold”. This word, lifted from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, came to mean any sinful behavior or thought that is particularly difficult to give up. Yet, this doesn’t appear to be what Paul had in mind when he originally used the word. For Paul, strongholds were “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”. These arguments are less like the out-right lie that Satan told Eve when deceiving her (“You will not surely die.”), but more like the faulty logic that he put before Jesus when he took Him up to the pinnacle of the temple (If you’re God’s Son, jump. The Bible says that God will protect you.).

Recently, one preacher that I listen to said, “A stronghold is an entrenched pattern of thought…contrary to the truth of God.” As an illustration of such an entrenched thought pattern, he told the story of woman who lived for thirty years believing that she was unwanted and unworthy because she grew up with her father telling her that a) she was unplanned and b) he had hope she would be a boy. Thirty years of dwelling on this in her mind fuelled perfectionism and robbed her of joy.

While I don’t think that this is what Paul was getting at with his use of the word “stronghold”, I do think that he had something to say about such negative thoughts. In the same letter, in the same sentence no less, Paul says that we “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.

That same preacher offered two ways to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the process of renewing our minds, one of which is basically a way to take our thoughts captive. He said, “We can think about what we think about.” Rather than remain passive when a thought enters our minds, we can seize it and critique it. Hold it up to the light of Scripture, of Christ and examine it. This is easier to do when we have the Scripture in our minds whether by means of intentional memorization or incidental familiarity born of lots of exposure. The more of God’s word (which are God’s thoughts) we have in us, the better we will be able to take every thought captive to obey Christ. In this way, we will not only gain ground against “arguments and pretensions” that are against the knowledge of God, we will also make progress in rooting out those “entrenched patterns of thought” that are “contrary to the truth of God”.

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