“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
Sounds simple enough, right? No problem – just think about the good stuff and the bad stuff won’t be a problem. But then the news comes on, or your favorite old song, or that movie the folks at work said was so good, or you’re just checking your email, but the side and top banners are just staring at you…and before you know it, those good things have slipped quietly away.
And really, what difference does it make, anyway, I’m not actually doing any of that stuff. I’m just looking/listening.
Well, author Craig Gross would disagree with you.
“In his book Eyes of Integrity, Craig Gross contends that our battle with sexual immorality (and other sins) often begins in the mind. Then he shares the following personal story about identifying the battle for our mind:
“It was spring break in New Orleans, the streets were packed with college-age partiers, and the debauchery had reached an all-time high. My friend Donald and I … had no idea we were going to be stepping into a raucous street party. A few minutes of the madness swirling around us, and both of us knew we needed to get out. Quick. The smell of beer infused the air, and high above the street level, lined along the apartment balconies, women revelers danced, flashing the crowd. Spontaneous applause and cheers erupted in every direction every few seconds.
“Waiting for a cab, I was torn as thoughts of these women flooded my mind. I was thinking about who they were. I thought of my own little girl at home and wondered if any dads knew their little girls were here, dancing. But while one side of me wanted to pray for the lost little girls, I felt the other side being drawn in, tempted to stop and stare. I was engulfed in a war of conscience and conviction, between my commitment to guard my mind and a strong call to take mental snapshots.
“‘Take every thought captive’ the apostle Paul declared …. Why? Because he knew the mind is the root issue, the systematic cause of all moral failures. The mind begins the process of every action we take, and I had to ask myself: Am I willing to arrest these thoughts that are producing an insane magnetism towards unhealthy action? When I sat in the taxicab with my mind on erotic autopilot, I had to make a decision …. [Thankfully], God was faithful and really did provide a way out for me.”1
Okay folks, that’s pretty straight forward – immorality, or any sin for that matter, doesn’t start with action but with thought. And where does thought start? Thoughts are started by what we see and hear – with what we put in our brains. That’s why the text I started with in Philippians and the text that Gross referenced from Second Corinthians:
“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, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6
Taking every thought captive…I really like the mental picture that those words make and the encouragement that they give. They let me know that I can’t always control the thoughts that pop into my head, but as soon as an inappropriate thought pops in, I, with the help of the Holy Spirit, need to “grab it” and throw it out. Then I can take the things from Philippians 4:8 and fill up my brain with good thoughts again.
Ellen White gives us advice on how to have fewer thoughts that need to be taken into captivity:
“Those who would not fall a prey to Satan’s devices, must guard well the avenues of the soul; they must avoid reading, seeing, or hearing that which will suggest impure thoughts. The mind must not be left to dwell at random upon every subject that the enemy of souls may suggest. The heart must be faithfully sentineled, or evils without will awaken evils within, and the soul will wander in darkness.” (Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 518.)
Paul reminds us that God has called us to live a pure and holy life. The enemy is doing his best to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Our world is so sexualized and out there that there is almost no escape, immorality is almost everywhere. It is accepted as and even celebrated while chaste, pure life choices and those who try to make those choices receive derision and laughter.
The only way we can be successful is to put our hand firmly in God’s Hand and to walk close beside Him and to keep our eyes fixed on His face.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”2