“What are you thinking about?” – Has anyone ever asked you that, wondering why you are just staring into the distance? But I don’t always want to share what’s going on in my mind. Often, I’m glad that it’s a secret area, which no other person can see. But there is One who can read my thoughts, who is watching closely and nothing is hidden from Him. God, my Creator, knows exactly what I am thinking and is very interested in what is going on there in the secret places.
The problem is, I can’t always control what comes up in my thoughts. Feelings, pictures and words pop up without warning. These thoughts can be good or bad, positive or negative, upbuilding or damaging. Sometimes I can be amazed, even shocked at what comes up in my thoughts. Where do these thoughts come from? What does God think about them; does He judge me for these thoughts?
Every human being on earth has been born with a human nature, which in some Bible translations is called the flesh. Our human nature became sinful when Adam and Eve, the first people, sinned. People, the best of God’s perfect creation, gave in to temptation and let sin and the curse that was the result of sin, come into their lives. As a result, people’s thoughts turned away from serving and loving God, to living for themselves. As a human being, I have inherited that nature, and this means that those hard, unforgiving, discouraging or dirty thoughts all come straight from my sinful human nature.
Most people will accept this as a part of life. “I’m only human, after all!” Many think that as long as it is just a thought, it’s not so bad – after all, I’m not hurting anyone else. But Jesus Himself makes it very clear that this is not the case: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that if a man looks at a woman and wants to sin sexually with her, he has already committed that sin with her in his mind.” Matthew 5:27-28 (ERV).
In other words, giving in to adultery in my thoughts is sin, just as much as the physical action – even though the effect on other people is not the same. Of course, this is the same for other sins like anger, fault finding, jealousy and discouragement, in fact any sin that I give in to in my thoughts!
Who is the real “me”?
This can seem discouraging – how can I possibly stay pure in my thought life, when many of these thoughts just come up without me wanting them? Paul writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells [lives] in me, that is, in my flesh … For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” Romans 7:18-21 (ESV). From this, it is clear that there is a difference between the “me” that is my sinful human nature (my flesh), and the “me” that is my mind and that wants to serve God. Then I can ask: who is the real “me”?
There is a war between what my mind wants and what my sinful human nature wants. I have to ask myself a few questions that should be easy to answer. For example: Why should my human nature and the sin that lives there be in control? Whom do I believe – God or my own sinful human nature? Is the power of sin stronger than the power of God? What does God’s Word say?
In the Bible they only talk about defeat (which is giving in to sin) when it is because of a person’s weakness or lack of faith. The Bible makes it clear that defeat should be an exception. The normal Christian life is that of an overcomer – in thought, in word and in deed! So how do I overcome in my thought life?
A battle and an example
In James 1:14-16 I read that it is my own sinful desires that cause me to be tempted. A temptation is a desire to sin that usually comes as a thought or feeling. When my mind agrees with the temptation, it will soon lead to sin, often also in words and actions.
But the whole Bible tells us to resist the enemy. In the New Testament, this enemy is the sin that lives in my human nature. Being tempted is not the same as doing sin, but I have to take up a battle against the lusts and sinful desires I see in myself, otherwise the temptation will lead to sin.
It can seem impossible to do this, but when Jesus returned to His Father in heaven, He promised to send us the Helper, His Spirit. With the Holy Spirit’s help we get strength, not only to hold out in temptations, but also to totally overcome the enemy. This is the fight of faith. 1 Timothy 6:12. As long as I am fighting, I have not sinned! This is the life of an overcomer! This also means that I remain pure, and that God doesn’t judge me for those thoughts that come up without me wanting them.
How do I know it is possible? It is written that Jesus was a man like me and was tempted in all areas like I am, but He never sinned. Not once! This means that it is also possible for me. When I am tempted I can go to Him to get help. (Hebrews 4:15-16.) The help is in God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, who strengthens my will to hold out in the fight against sin when I am tempted.
A new creation
This fight has amazing results. When I am faithful to resist the sin each time I am tempted, it actually dies. (Colossians 3:3-5.) My sinful human nature is little by little replaced with something new and good. The negative and sinful thoughts lose their power over me more and more. Positive, good and hopeful thoughts and actions take their place. This is God’s work, which He does in me while I am alive here on earth!