On Monday, we sussed out that little phrase in 2 Corinthians 10 (admittedly a touch out of context), in which Paul says to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Like the ultimate dork-dad, I drew on Pixar’s Inside Out, lamenting how too often our every little thought actually take us captive instead. One of those little marbles of thought, desire, or impulse, which should be dropped post-haste into the memory dump, is instead allowed to embed itself in our hearts and minds, where it grows into full-blown sin (James 1:14-15).
But how does this happen? Sure, in any big factory or warehouse, things are bound to get misrouted from time to time. But the Scriptures tell us that it’s the Holy Spirit is at work in us—the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity—not hundreds of goofy little animated worker slugs, like on Inside Out. And one of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin.
So, how can we miss like that? And how do we fall into downward spirals of being taken captive by thought after thought after thought? The Spirit is far greater than my flesh, right? So even if my sin nature throws Old-Zach thoughts against the wall all day long, waiting for something to stick, shouldn’t none of them stick?
Being Taken Captive By Thoughts
Depends. If we are walking in the Spirit, we’ll be wise to this and these thoughts will be burned up like mosquitos on a bug zapper. But, for whatever reason, God gives us the power to sear our consciences, to pull the plug on this warning system.
It may happen all at once as a conscious act or it might be the net effect of slowly building tolerance, like the Dread Pirate Roberts ingesting a little iocane powder every day until he’s immune to it.
When this happens, it’s easy for our thoughts to elude capture and instead take us prisoner. I really can’t get over the irony of that. Talk about inside-out! Instead of me working to take every thought captive, a little thought takes me—a man made in God’s image and filled with his Spirit—prisoner.
And in those moments, when you know you’ve been caught off guard and captured, in those moments, the temptation is to say, “Well, I lost this time. Too bad. I gave in and now chemicals are flowing in my brain and I’m committed—captured. Game Over. Guess I’ll try harder next time.”
For Christ’s sake, do not—I repeat—do not fall into that trap! Yes, you may be wearing leg irons and an orange jumpsuit, but it’s not over. Let’s pop back from 2 Corinthians 10 to 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul tells us that, whenever we are tempted, God will provide a way of escape (v. 13). Remember that?
Bust The Devil In The Grill
I never liked that verse much. In my earliest youth group days, I was on a constant diet of Carman music videos, in which the hero/singer gunned down Satan in the street, in an Old-West duel, gritting the words, “Satan, bite the dust.”
Later, I moved on to the Christian rapper T-Bone, which was basically ‘90s gangsta rap, but with the human-on-human violence replaced with demons getting “blasted in the grill.” There was a certain awkward false spiritual bravado to all of this—the kind of thing that made me want to go mano e mano with the devil and knock him out cold.
Thus, I liked the passages about the armor of God, but not all the stuff about fleeing temptation (1 Cor 10:14, 1 Tim 6:10-11, 2 Tim 2:22). I mean, I wanted to be the hero in the Carman video and that doesn’t work if, halfway through counting out our ten paces, I just bolt.
And besides, 2 Corinthians 10 not only talks about us “taking captive” our thoughts, but about how we “wage war” with weapons that “destroy strongholds.” That’s the opposite of cutting and running! However, I don’t think these metaphors are as mutually exclusive as they first seem. “God will provide a way of escape.”
That sounds a lot like Paul is talking to someone who has been taken captive. Even when we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into enemy hands and we’re either they’re in prison or being escorted there, God is going to provide an opening for us to slip away! (Cue Mission Impossible music.)
This is not backing down! If I’m captured, I can’t do anything for the Kingdom I serve until I escape from my enemy. How foolish would it be to “defiantly” sit passively in a cell, having been captured and neutralized, declaring, “I’m not running away! I’m staying right here. You won’t get the best of me . . . ” even while an opening to escape comes and goes.
The enemy loves it when we live in this kind of macho denial. It’s not the smart move and it’s not the bravest move and it’s not going to further the cause I serve.
Instead, when you drop the ball (Inside Out pun!) and are caught unawares, taken captive by your own thoughts, don’t give in to defeatism . . . look for that opening! Know it’s there, trusting that you’ve got someone coming presently to your rescue. Shank the guard, slash the tires, and make a break for it, never looking back.
When we flee, it’s not about conceding victory, it’s about living to fight another day (more likely, living to fight again today!) and changing our status from helpless prisoner back to active combatant. I’ll be back to kill you later. But right now I’m making my daring escape.
Of course, even that sounds a bit self-aggrandizing—like a Carman video waiting to happen. And it shouldn’t. Because I’m not the one who broke myself out of prison; I’m the one who let myself get captured by a tiny little thought in the first place. At best, I was sleeping on the job. At worst, aiding and abetting the enemy by looking the other way. But thank God that he doesn’t disavow us when we’re captured a la Mission Impossible. He leaves no man behind! And he will leave a way of escape.
Be Killing Sin (Or Be Taken Captive)
The Christian life is a war. It’s “Take captive or be taken captive.” Of course, that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like “kill or be killed.” Paul worked to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
And so must we—holding on, controlling, discerning. And when it comes to the appetites of the flesh and the impulses of the sin nature, we take no prisoners. It is kill or be killed.
One of my favorite quotes about the Christian life is from John Owen: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” It sounds big, epic, extreme—and it is. The stakes are unbelievably high. But it always starts tiny—with one of those tiny little marbles among millions.
This Lent, I implore you to remember that the change-the-world aspect of Christianity begins invisibly small in your heart and mind. It happens from the inside-out. Beware of thoughts, desires, motivations, and impulses, which left unattended will capture you and jerk you into obedience to the flesh.
Instead, take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. And when you do drop the ball and find yourself at a disadvantage, don’t give up on Lent. Don’t fall into that trap of, “Oh well, I blew it. Maybe next year.” Don’t even give up on that moment. You’ve got the Spirit helping from within and a sovereign God helping from without, providing a way of escape.
And finally, if you’ve seared your conscience and it feels like your soul is full of the deafening clatter of thought-marbles in free-fall, realize that Lent is the perfect time to return to him.
Lent is when, historically, notorious sinners would repent and be restored to the church. It’s a time for turning away from sin and rediscovering the power of the cross. Just as God took your heart of stone when you were first saved and gave you a heart of flesh, he will sluff away the scars tissue and leave you once again sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Cling to Christ.
May God be glorified by what he does in your heart and your life this Lent.