Christ Transforms Our Thoughts
Our thoughts shape our attitudes, actions, and habits. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). God has fashioned us so that the way we think and what we think about are determinative for the entire course of our lives. Two people burdened with similar adversities can lead two very different lives. One determines to make the best of his difficulties, work hard, trust God, and love others. The other is embittered, frustrated, and blames God and everyone else for his problems. If our thoughts are “pure, peaceable, and gentle,” we can bear up under the worst of circumstances. If our thoughts are resentful and bitter, we poison our lives and those around us.
No one can now say: “I cannot help what I think about.” Yes, we can. Our Lord Jesus Christ is now exalted to God’s right hand and given all power as our Mediator, so that he is able to “subdue all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). His gospel is not a surface cleansing but a deep-down renewal that also renews our thought life. He tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2) and “bring every thought captive to his obedience” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is his work in us by the Spirit of holiness. We are blessed to partake of these blessings that he has obtained for us by his life, death, and resurrection. His alone is the religion of “Behold, I make all things new!”
The privilege and duty of a sanctified, Christ-submissive mind has several implications. First, the child of God is not a slave to sinful thoughts; we are freed by our Savior’s power from vain and sinful thinking to think God’s thoughts after him and thus restored to peace. Second, our thoughts are not morally neutral but a leading indication of the state of our hearts. Third, Jesus owns our minds, and we must work to yield to him in our thinking. Fourth, the desires of our hearts, the hungers of the soul, our fears, hurts, loves, and frustrations, determine the course of our thinking, and these can all be transformed and progressively sanctified. Fifth, we must love God with our minds. In Christ, no longer do we “walk in the futility [or vanity] of our thinking” (Eph. 4:17), with darkened understanding, at odds with God and his word, ignorant and blind.
And yet, we can sometimes go back to that kind of vain and worthless thinking: as when I imagine that a brother thinks something negative about me, give way to a free fall of sinful imaginations and false realities about what he is thinking, then impute my vain thought world to him as if it were true, and treat him on the basis of those vain thoughts. Many relationships are destroyed because of false thoughts about another person that we deceived ourselves into believing. Or, we might reach a stage in life that we do not feel as valued and important as we once did. Then, we begin thinking of ourselves as useless and imagine that others must feel the same way – or worse, that God thinks of us as useless. We need to be very careful what we think and careful of thinking we know what others are thinking, for we will form our little worlds around these imaginations, often with very bad consequences.
Within Christ’s body, his church, vain thoughts must be faced and forsaken – out with the old and foolish, in with the new and holy! Sinful thoughts about others harm relationships, offend the Lord, and quench the fervent love that should reign over us and unite us. We are absolutely forbidden to think badly of each other, remember wrongs suffered, hold grudges, or brood over ill treatment (1 Cor. 13:4-7). We are commanded to make peace, forgive as we have been forgiven, and think on one another with kind, gentle, and tender thoughts (Eph. 4:32) – like Jesus thought upon us (Phil. 2:5). We are commanded to think well of one another – to prefer others to ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
These commands are impossible to obey outside of the indwelling Spirit, who unites us to Jesus Christ and brings his resurrection power to bear in our lives. He has purchased us with his precious blood, and this includes our thoughts. Following him obligates and empowers us to think of him, of others, and of ourselves as he has commanded us to think: soberly, graciously, lovingly, thankfully. In learning to control your thoughts, begin with these considerations. Do I think of Jesus Christ as owning my thoughts? Have submitted my thoughts to him? As one who loves Jesus Christ and wants to obey him, am I seeking to bring my thoughts under his lordship? Am I thinking as he would have me about others in my life, even about someone who has truly offended or sinned against me?
This realization, that Jesus Christ owns our thoughts and that our following him includes our thoughts, presses us to “abide in his word” (John 8:31-32; 15:5; Col. 3:16). About his word, he said: “My words are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). “The flesh profits nothing” – all thoughts not tending to his honor and submissive to his word are unprofitable. To abide in his word means that are thinking about his word – not reading and forgetting but remembering, praying, thinking, committing, and doing.
To take another example about the impact of thoughts – our older children (and how we miss those who have left home to begin their own lives!) now have a path to walk before the Lord. We have no daily control or direct responsibility for those who have families of their own. We might worry – how are they doing? Why don’t we feel more a part of their lives? Why are they neglecting us? Has anything happened to them? None of this downward spiral of thinking is true – but it is a progression of vain thinking that easily entraps us when we give free reign to our sinful worries and fretting.
Instead, the Lord tells us to think well of our children and fellow-believers by thinking trustingly of him. When we set up an idol in our thoughts – life is about me, how others are treating me – then God is dishonored, and we make our relationships much worse. No one can ever measure up or bear the emotional weight and expectations we place upon them when we look at life from a self-centered perspective. Rather than fretting about our children or suffocating them, we must trust God’s covenant promises. He is always a better parent than we are, and he will take care of our children and grandchildren. Think adoringly of God’s merciful promises, pray for them, as Job prayed for his adult children, and commit them into God’s powerful hands for safekeeping.
To control our thoughts and bring them under our Savior’s authority, we must learn to trust him. This is especially necessary if we struggle with fear and anxiety, or anger, resentment, and bitterness. These are fundamentally trust issues, trusting-thought issues. Our Lord went to the dreaded cross of judgment trusting his Father. He was thinking about and living Psalm 16, 22, and Isaiah 53. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Ps. 22:1). But then thoughts came back to: “You will show me the paths of life” (Ps. 16:11). Deepest horror, heaviest judgment, utterly cursed, judicially condemned and forsaken, trusting his Father. He could only descend into hell because he thought trusting thoughts about his Father. “He will not leave his Holy One in hell.”
Like your Savior, do you trust God in your thoughts? Or, do they insult him by doubting his care? Trusting him is the key to honoring him in our thoughts. And since our Lord walked the hardest path and overcame, in his fellowship and strength we can walk as he walked – not bitter, blaming, resentful, angry – but trusting our Father and establishing our complete happiness in doing his will. The remedy for fearful and anxious thoughts is to believe, think, and pray upon his wisdom, sovereignty, unchanging love, holiness, faithfulness, and power. Angry, bitter, and frustrated thoughts toward others are quenched and transformed by thoughts that trust God, thoughts are lowly and meek like our Savior (Phil. 2:3-5), and thoughts of love and mercy – His for us and then ours for others.
Our Savior calls us to have transformed, obedient, Word-saturated thoughts (John 8:31-32; Col. 3:16). This is not because we believe in the power of positive thinking but in the power of Jesus Christ to renew our thinking through his word. His words are spirit and life (John 6:63)! As our thoughts are set upon Jesus and his word, our attitudes, hopes, and peace will follow – and progressively restored relationships, wisdom, and courage. The more we think like Jesus –and bless God that we know much of what he thought, for his Father’s word was his delight – the more we shall enjoy light and peace and joy.
It is a profound revelation of God’s grace that he pledges to renew our thoughts so that we can think wholesome and pure thoughts (Phil. 4:8). Your thoughts may be defiled, but the Lord Jesus can purify and redirect them, thus changing your life. Begin by repenting – confession and turning to God – for daring to think your own thoughts rather than thinking His. Yes, it is sinful not to be captivated by God’s thoughts so that we delight in his thoughts (Ps. 139:17). Then, begin a daily walk of thinking God’s thoughts by reading, praying, and thinking about his word. The light of his word will gradually dispel your dark thoughts; his hopeful word will chase away your gloomy thoughts. The power of his thoughts will bring your thoughts under control and direct them into the paths of righteousness, in which your taste buds will change. As the tongue of your soul is healed and loves the taste of holy things, you will be made more like Jesus, and therefore enjoy more of his joy and peace.