“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
In the realm of spiritual warfare, one of the chief strategies deployed in the fight has been developed from a phrase found in the passage cited above, “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Typically, this wartime strategy, around which several popular “Christian” books have been written, is viewed as a command to control the thoughts of the mind and should one get out of line, we are to capture it immediately and bring it into conformity to all that our Lord commands. While this is likely an appropriate way to avoid thinking unholy thoughts, by “capturing” them, literally forcing them out of your mind by meditating on Scripture or the attributes of God as He has revealed, this is not an accurate interpretation of the passage.
Note again the larger context of the Apostle’s argument, “3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
We may observe that the context for this statement is indeed spiritual warfare, “we are not waging war according to the flesh.” However the opponent that Paul identifies is not one’s own thoughts, but the thoughts of others. He is not describing a personal strategy in which he takes his own thoughts captive, instead he is describing the warfare that takes place between himself (and likely other Apostles) and those who raise “arguments and every lofty opinion…against the knowledge of God.” It is those contrary thoughts of others that the Apostle identifies as the target of captivity.
Turning again to our own internal battle of spiritual warfare in the mind, is this a passage that we can employ to exhort us into taking rogue, sinful thoughts captive? Yes and no. We’ve seen how the context dictates that the warfare the Apostle has in mind is with those who raise thoughts contrary to the knowledge of God. However, we may well find ourselves in the cross-hairs of the Apostle should our own thoughts be contrary to the knowledge of God. Some examples of these thoughts would be:
The desire for control
All these and more are contrary to the knowledge of God, or better, contrary to what we know about God as He has revealed concerning Himself through His Holy Word. Therefore we may say that the exhortation derived from this passage to take every thought captive is not an immediate rallying call for spiritual warfare of the mind. However, we must set our minds on things above, as we read in Colossians 3:2 and elsewhere. Should we find ourselves given to rebellious, sinful thoughts, this passage from 2 Corinthians puts us in the cross-hairs of God’s Word that, like a two-edged sword divides and discerns our thoughts laying them open and bare before the Almighty.
Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war. In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war: 1) Don’t conform to the world 2) Renew your Mind 3) Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him. If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us. It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.
Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious. Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war. There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand. This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide. This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ. It is He that arms you with His Spirit.
Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to. Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months. That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war. What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week? Have you already lost the battle? Will you start the 6-month period again? What would be the point in that? A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.” This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it. That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made. How then did our “list” strategy fail us? Especially when we had intentions of doing good. These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.
In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states, ‘ForGod has done what the law,weakened by the flesh,could not do. By sending his own Sonin the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh.” The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created. If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God. Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification. The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who begana good work in youwill bring it to completion atthe day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV
Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you willkeep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed. But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile. How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts? By loving Jesus. If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments. It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping. Do you want to move toward victory in your war? “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us. Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.
“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”
“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living
It’s been nearly a year since I asked the following questions on this blog, “What’s it going to take Christian? What will it take for you to stand and say enough is enough? What will it take to arm yourself with the sword of the Spirit and prepare yourself for this war?” If you read that post, The Unseen War, or Make War from October, or Battle Cry in November, then you know this battle is not something to be taken lightly. I would really like to know, why it is that most Christians are not only unwilling to fight, but most don’t even realize there is a war going on?
Pastor John Piper puts it like this,
“Until you believe that life is war – that the stakes are your soul – you will probably just play at Christianity with no bloodearnestness and no vigilance and no passion and no wartime mindset. If that is where you are [this morning], your position is very precarious. The enemy has lulled you into sleep or into a peacetime mentality, as if nothing serious is at stake. And God, in His mercy, has you here [this morning], and had this sermon appointed to wake you up, and put you on a wartime footing.”
If you’re reading this message today, then I pray too that God would have mercy and awaken you to the battle that is taking place. It’s literally all around us and it is taking place on multiple fronts. It’s an unseen war, but the casualties are very real, very visible. The primary front where the war is taking place lies within you. Be honest, did you ever think that 24/7 there is a war going on right inside of you? It is a battle for your soul and if you are a Christian you need to be made fully aware of this fight, which you are equipped to defend yourself against, and that you should not be satisfied with anything less than victory.
Have you ever wondered why it is that you have so much inconsistency in your Christian walk with God? Consider the ups and downs, triumphs and failures that seem to happen so frequently in your life, as though you were being tossed around like a ship at sea. Maybe you make it a week reading the Bible consistently, only for it to make it back to the shelf for a month. Perhaps you are battling a particular sin: lust, alcoholism, laziness, gluttony, anger, greed, indifference to everything that doesn’t include you, pride, fear, or jealousy. You want to fight and make some progress, but can never seem to claim victory. Do you know why that is Christian? It’s because you haven’t declared war!
Author Alan Redpath offers the following statement, “Every gain I have made in Christian character will be resisted by the devil down to the end of life’s journey, and there will be no personal experience of the power of Jesus Christ in victory until I declare war on sin.” Do you get that Christian? This isn’t a game. Christianity is not a show up once a week and play church. “Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion, like most Christians live there daily lives.” It’s a war. Yet it’s not a war against anyone else, but against every one of those sinful desires that are battling inside of you. As the Apostle Paul states in Romans 8:13 ESV, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit youput to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Each of us needs to come to the realization that “The only foothold Satan has in your life is your flesh and your sin.” Now read that second part of Romans 8:13 again, “put to death the deeds of the body”, that’s war! That is an all out war against sin and you need to learn how to fight.
How then do we fight? Romans 12:2 ESV states, “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed bythe renewal of your mind, that by testing you maydiscern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The First assault for you to make in this war is to break free from the world, “Do not be conformed to this world.” The pattern of the world lies to you and makes you believe that you have rights and freedoms that you can enjoy because after all it’s your life right? The world tells you that it’s all about you, about you making money, you having a nice job, you having a big house, you having a new car, you saving for retirement. What about God? The world also lies to us and wants us to make peace with sin. For instance, it’s not ok to make peace with pornography, it’s not ok to make a few clicks of the mouse and visit certain sites. It’s not ok to go out drinking with the “guys/gals” or to subject yourself to offensive language in Rated-R movies or Explicit Lyrics music. It is not ok to make peace with anger, greed, pride, or laziness because you are resolved that “this is who I am, so I might as well live with it.” No, all of those are conforming to the world’s pattern and making peace with sin.
You’re probably thinking, “wait a second, this sounds like legalism, you can’t say what I can and can’t do. I’ve got rights and freedoms.” It’s not legalism, dear friend, it’s holiness, it’s living Christ-like and trusting in Him to complete the good work He has started in you. Legalism means that you are depending on your “good works” or morality to improve your standing with God. Sanctification, or the process toward holiness, is wholly dependent on Christ, who has not only justified your standing with God if you’ve trusted Him as Savior, but it is Christ continuing to work in your life to make you more like Him. It’s understanding that your power to fight doesn’t come from within, but instead comes from Jesus Christ. It’s knowing that, “I have beencrucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who livesin me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me andgave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 ESV
The second advancement in this war is found in the latter part of Romans 12:2 ESV, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Renewing your mind comes from thinking not on the everyday trivialities of this world, like money, a big house, or nice/new car, but on eternal things, like treasuring the Son of God, worshiping and loving the Lord, serving others. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 ESV Have you ever thought about just taking off a day of work to spend time with the Lord, or to do something for someone other than yourself? What about focusing on your relationship with Christ, instead of focusing on the fleeting material possessions of this world? What about filling your mind with Scripture, not just the lyrics of your favorite song or catchy sitcom phrases. This is the renewal of your mind.
The third wave of your attack in this war on sin is to realize your identity in Christ and that if you have trusted Him as your Savior then He has given you the Holy Spirit to help you wage your war. Just like we alluded to earlier, this is where your true power towards victory comes from. Ephesians 1:4-14 describes perfectly this identity we have in Christ. 1) vs. 4, We are chosen in Him 2) vs. 4, We are to be holy and blameless before Him 3) vs. 7 We are redeemed in Him 4) vs. 11 We have obtained an inheritance in Him. 5) vs. 13 We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. How can we not win this war, if we have fully realized our position in Christ? As the Apostle Paul writes in his Roman epistle, “Butput on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14 ESV Every morning we wake up, our goal should be to “put on Christ” so that we are “clothed with the armor of light” and prepared to face the battle of the day.
Redpath tells us to declare total war in our souls, “against everything that has not yet been judged, condemned, and confessed before God.” As Pastor Piper concludes, “So immerse your mind and heart in the fountain of truth and life and power – the promises of God, and when the temptation comes, take this all-satisfying word, this sword of the Spirit, and believe it, and by it sever the root of sin. Kill it.” Isn’t it time to make war Christian? If you don’t pick up the sword of the Spirit, the Bible, and engage in war, you will be swept away when the more difficult battles begin. There is no sideline in warfare, the battle rages on and you can either be a casualty or a victor.