Our Thoughts Matter
We are motivated by what we love; we are driven by what we believe is valuable. As has been said often, if you want to know what someone loves, see how they use their time. Let’s take this same principle and press it into the individual a few steps deeper. Rather than looking at how we spend our time, let us instead consider our thoughts. Our minds tell the story of how we view the world, and it is within our thoughts that the true condition of our hearts is on full display. Unfortunately, we take little time to make an effort to reign in our thoughts. Too often we let them run free because they are hidden, invisible to the world, and free from judgment. This is an abomination to our God who has rescued us from bondage (Romans 6), including the bondage of our thoughts. Indeed, Scripture repeatedly calls on us to be intentional with our thoughts. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Think About It
Football fans of the same team will purchase apparel to wear, tickets to attend games, and support teams in the midst of both bad and good seasons. However, though each supports the team, they may not see a particular season the same. Let’s take a bad team with a 4-12 record (perhaps like the New York Giants of last season; too soon?): If a fan can tell himself that the team is rebuilding in order that they can be better in future seasons, then a poor record simply reflects that and can be understood, even appreciated and enjoyed. On the other hand, the fan that has expectations for the team to be a championship contender will be sorely disappointed when his team’s winning percentage is on par with a little league batting average. This happens despite watching the same team and living within the exact same reality. What the fan has told himself, or has believed about the team, will impact both his current status and his future hope; thoughts influence and inform beliefs, emotions, and even actions. Although each person witnessed and experienced the very same thing, the thoughts that each had played a seminal role in the way they viewed the outcome.
Just as the fan had a particular perspective on the season, we also have certain expectations regarding our own lives. Our expectations and perspectives are shaped by what we think. The political world consistently uses phrases like “lowering expectations” because they know the candidate will be viewed through the lens of the expectations that were set. The narrative of a campaign often hinges on “outperforming expectations.” Unfortunately, our emotional states can just as regularly hinge on the similar notions of worldly expectations. There may be external pressure, but ultimately, your view will depend on how you have allowed yourself to think. Paul Tripp writes, “No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one else talks to you more.”
Few would argue that our own personal, private thoughts impact our perspective, and even less controversial is the idea that our perspective informs our expectations and emotions. What we think is of great consequence. Yet how often do we talk about making a serious effort to change the way we think, to alter the very voice that is speaking to us? I fear that to answer this question with “rarely” would be too generous. It is far more likely that many of us would hold that we are captives of our thoughts, unable to change what or how we think. Even if we do not espouse or “believe” this myth, we are adherents to it in practice. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes this, “I suggest the main trouble in the whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.”
Proverbs 28:26 says it like this, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” Notice that the writer calls the one who follows his own mind, a sin-stained mind, a fool. Our minds, just like our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), are deceptive. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). How can we avoid being conformed to this world? By the renewal of our mind! If we allow our thoughts to go unchecked, we will continue on like the world, even if it is hidden within our minds. What precarious footing! There is perhaps no more deadly sin than the one that is “hidden.” Therefore we must answer this question, how do we renew our minds?
Certainly the very best answers to our questions about Scripture come from Scripture. Peter, looking back at the salvation that we have been given, writes, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). Peter calls followers of Christ to prepare their minds for action, and they do this by setting their “hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, set your mind on the hope of the Gospel! He continues, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15). By first preparing your mind through intentional rumination on the Gospel, you will move towards holiness in “all your conduct.”Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). If we live in a world where our thoughts are “free to roam about the country,” then we will struggle in an insurmountable war against disobedience. We must continually take aggressive action against our own thoughts. Classic theologian Charles Hodge writes, “It is the indispensable condition of salvation that our understanding should be brought into captivity and be led submissive, as though bound.” Additionally, of the text in 2 Corinthians, Kenneth J. Foreman writes, “What this probably means is that he is not content with mere outward assent…’It is your very lives I want,’ he might have said.”
Think Gospel Thoughts
Just as the football fans had different perspectives despite sharing the same reality, we too must have a different perspective than those who are without the Spirit of God. As our minds are changed and brought into line with Christ, our current status and future hope will be increasingly unchangeable. Although we live in the same world as those without Christ and experience the same things, our beliefs, emotions, and actions are not dependent on ever changing circumstances. As our minds are focused on the Gospel, our hearts will be drawn to God, and our actions will follow(Proverbs 4:23).
Gospel Thinking Leads to Holy Living
- Love cannot be rightly experienced or given until our thoughts on love have been renewed. We must submit to God’s understanding of love. The Gospel is a revelation of God’s love for us. 1 John 4:10 provides this definition, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God’s love is not an earned or deserved love. As we dwell on this, we will desire to give the same kind of love that was given to us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We will love others not because of who they are or what they have done, but because Christ loves us. When our thoughts are right, we can truly love others with an undeserved, unending, unselfish love.
- When our minds are focused on the Gospel, nothing can rob us of our joy. Though all the world may crumble, though our dreams may be shattered, though a spouse or child may be lost to death, if our thoughts are right then we cannot lose our joy. This is because our joy is not built upon a foundation that can crack or waver (Romans 8:38-39). Our joy is safely and forever fixed to the cross. When our thoughts remain fashioned to the cross, despite the most dire circumstances, joy will not depart.
- Finally, true peace can be ours when we set our hope on the cross. JD Greear says it like this, “If you have a God who is all-loving, all-powerful, and ever-watchful, who demonstrated his commitment to you when he died on the cross, and revealed his power to save in the resurrection, it is patently illogical for you to worry.” Thinking of and meditating on the Gospel removes all worry and anxiety replacing it with peace that comes directly from God (Philippians 4:6-7). Fear and anxiety cannot reign in your heart if they do not have dominion over your mind.
Church, we think differently because humanity, including the mind, has been stained by sin. We think rightly because God is worthy of our thoughts. We renew our minds so that Christ may receive the praise He deserves, a praise that will last for all eternity. Christians think like Christ so that the Gospel may spread to the ends of the earth. Above all else, our thinking is for the glory of God, and graciously, God’s glory is for our good.