Taking Thoughts Captive


There are times when we think about things that are unseemly. Such thoughts include things that are not Godly such as hating people in our hearts, fornication, idolatry, adultery, theft, murder, covetous thoughts, etc. Sometimes lustful, hateful, or ungodly thoughts seem to get stuck in our consciousness. It seems as though we cannot get away from these thoughts.

The Bible gives us important guidance in how to rid ourselves of such vile thoughts. Here is some good advice given to us by an ancient man, Paul. Let us follow his thoughts.

2 Corinthians 10:3 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh”:

Walking in the flesh, of course means that we are still in our physical bodies in the physical world. Some translations render the flesh, (Greek σαρξ, sarx, 4561 ), “the sinful nature”. Thayer’s fourth definition applies here: “the flesh, denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.” While we saved are still in that flesh, and that makes us prone to sin, we no longer follow the dictates of that sinful nature Paul calls the flesh. Such a statement is akin to “we are in the world but not of the world”. That statement, though it does not appear in that form in the Bible, can be gleaned from reading the last chapters of John.

So the subject of this thought is that although we are still in our flesh, we have Christ in us and therefore we have the power, from Christ, to resist sin, walk circumspectly, and not follow after the worldliness and lusts of the flesh. Paul is now going to give us some pointers in how to accomplish this difficult task of walking circumspectly in Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:4 “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)”

Here Paul talks about weapons. In the discourse about the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:12-17 , Paul only mentions one offensive weapon, that is the Bible. But in that discussion, in verse 18, he tells us to pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” So not only is the Word of God an offensive weapon, but so is prayer. We pray for ourselves and keep watch in prayer for other Christians. And other Christians will do the same for us.

Every piece of the armor is a defensive weapon: The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. We must have each of these to stand against spiritual warfare directed at us. We must first be truthful. Satan is the father of all lies and will take advantage of a lie and use it against us. We must be righteous, that is, we must strive daily to be more Christ-like. And we must have the righteousness of Christ in us. When we are saved Christ’s righteousness is credited to us (Romans 4:24). We must not only have the gospel in us, but be prepared to share the Gospel with others. Belief in Christ brings peace and we have that inner peace and should help others gain that peace. That is why the gospel is compared to shoes—we need to be ever ready to go out and spread the Gospel. Additionally, shoes protect our feet, which are extremely important appendages. If you have ever temporarily lost the use of a foot or of both feet, you can attest to their importance. We use them to move from place to place. (Of course those who have lost the use of their feet permanently may use other instruments of locomotion such as prostheses or special equipment). Figuratively, the Gospel protects us in our daily walk with the Lord. Our faith is what keeps us going. Just like a shield or buckler repels arrows, spear thrusts, and sword thrusts, so our faith shields us from the Devil, and from worldly lusts. And of course, without salvation, none of the other armor can be obtained. Salvation is what gives us Christ and from Him comes the armor.

So we do have weapons in our fight against spiritual strongholds (and Satan has a strong hold over our flesh). Our weapons include the defensive armor of God, and the Bible, and prayer. But I would like to add one other that pertains to conquering our sinful nature. It is our fellowship. By coming together regularly with other Christians, our Christian walk is strengthened. If you have ever gone a long time without regular face to face Christian fellowship in person (that is, church), you will know that the longer we abstain from such fellowship, the more worldly, and less Christ-like we become. If you have not had this experience, I have. You have my word that this is true. I have spoken to many others about this and we have all had the same experience. Christian fellowship is essential, in my estimation, for maintaining strong Christian values. We rub off on each other, we provoke one another to love and good works, and we hold one another accountable. Christian fellowship helps us to “hold fast the profession of our faith with out wavering” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

To reiterate, our weapons are the Bible, prayer, fellowship, and the defensive armor of God.

The strongholds are simply the works, desires, and lusts of the flesh. Satan is the strongman and he fans the flames of these strongholds.

2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

The word imaginations here could be translated reasonings. These are not moral reasonings, but “carnal reasonings of the minds of natural men against God, his providences and purposes, against Christ, and the methods of salvation, and every truth of the Gospel” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible). That is why “imaginations” is such a good word to use. Our reasonings, though logical and believable by the world, are little more than imagining that falsities are truth. The world’s reasoning is foolishness to God  Jeremiah 8:9 , Romans 1:22 , 1 Corinthians 1:20). So we must cast down such false reasoning for truth. The Gospel casts down such foolish imaginations. Our belief in, and walking after the Gospel will enable us to cast down such imaginations.

Not only are we to cast down (get rid of) such imaginations, but we must also rid ourselves of every high thing that claims to be better than God’s knowledge. I will give you a current example of this. It is macroevolution, or Darwinism. The scientific evidence is not complete enough, nor are there examples in the fossil record to support Darwinism. Yes, there is that which some call microevolution, but I simply call it adaptation. Species are able to adapt to their environment, but there is no evidence in the fossil record of one species adapting itself so much that it becomes a new species (though some claim to have such evidence). In fact, many scientists are beginning to shift away from macroevolution as a way of explaining life. Macroevolution is an example, in my opinion, of men claiming to have a higher knowledge than God. In fact, the whole point of the exercise is to disprove the Bible and to claim that there is no God. Remember, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Whenever we think we have something right, even after God says we are wrong, we have exalted our knowledge above God’s.

Along these same lines of ridding ourselves of things that are not of God, we are to take our very thoughts captive. What happens to one in captivity? In the case of a caged bird, for example, the bird may no longer fly freely in the air; it may no longer alight in the trees; it no longer has the freedom to do as it wills. In the case of men, Jesus told Peter that his life would end in captivity: John 21:18 “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” When Peter got old, he was taken prisoner by the Romans, and they dressed him, and they led him about, and finally they led him into the amphitheater in Rome and put him to death. In captivity, Peter lost all freedoms. He was not able to even decide what to wear. He was led around and told where to go. He was forced to go where he did not wish to go. He was not free to do what he wanted, he was only able to do what others wanted.

Hence, to take one’s thoughts captive is not to allow them the freedom to wander where they wish to go. Taking them captive shuts down all thoughts that are not thoughts that God would wish us to have. If our thoughts are captive, we will not have imaginations to cast down, nor will our thoughts ever exalt themselves above God.

This is the ideal. As people are still in the flesh, it is very difficult to accomplish this task 100%. We should strive to do so, and when we fail, we may claim the Blood of Jesus to cover our sins.

I have found a sure-fire way of taking such thoughts captive. Paul tells us how in another Epistle.

Philippians 4:8-9 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. {9} Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

Here are some definitions of the words Paul wrote:

  • true = not concealed, truth
  • honest = venerable, honorable, devout
  • just = equitable, of good character, holy
  • pure = innocent, clean, chaste
  • lovely = acceptable (or perhaps friendly)
  • good report = reputable
  • virtue = excellence
  • 2 Corinthians 10:6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.

    This last verse in the discourse is also important. To help us understand this verse, let us look at a military campaign. Iraq is a good example. After the fighting is over and the foe is vanquished, there still may remain pockets of resistance, rebels who still fight against the victorious army. Each of these foes must be rooted out and justice must be meted to them. If not, the insurgency will never end. In Iraq, our troops are doggedly searching out those rebels in an effort to stop the violence. For with such violence, it will be difficult for an Iraqi autonomous government to exist.

    It is the same with our thoughts. In the flesh, even with Christ as our Savior, and even though we take every thought captive, there will still be some improper thoughts that sneak in. We must treat them sternly and root them out and bring them to justice (which is what revenge means here) and get rid of them. And with all the weapons we have, defensive armor, the Bible, prayer, and fellowship, we can overcome these insurgent thoughts.

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