How to Overcome Bad Thinking

We need to make our minds captives of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we will never be more free.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on May 11, 2017

The liberation of 82 schoolgirls from the radical Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria has made international news. Our hearts are lifted by the knowledge that these vulnerable young women can now return to their families.

Setting victims free is celebrated throughout Scripture. But there is a certain type of captivity we all experience: captivity of the mind.

Paul’s War Mentality

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul the apostle had to refute the claims of false teachers. He told those early Christians not that he wanted to hurt the enemies of the Gospel personally, but that he would “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (10:5).

The false teachers accused Paul of weakness. He quoted them as suggesting “(Paul’s) letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (v.10).  They made these claims to appeal to the Corinthians’ sense of pride. As pastor David Guzik explains: 

The Corinthian Christians tended to rely on and admire carnal weapons for the Christian battle … Instead of the breastplate of righteousness, they fought with the image of success. Instead of the shoes of the gospel, they fought with smooth words. Instead of the shield of faith, they fought with the perception of power.

Paul was ready to do combat with the spiritual predators corrupting the faith of the Corinthian believers. This is why he uses such vivid imagery. For example, the apostle says “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (10:4).

Paul uses military language to emphasize what he will do with the false ideas about Jesus and salvation.

This is military language. The term “weapons” is hoplon, used in John 18:3 for the weapons carried by the soldiers accompanying Judas. It’s also related to the famous Greek infantry battalions known as hoplites. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Hoplite as “a heavy infantryman who fought in closely packed formation, acquired his name from the hoplon, a convex, circular shield.” In other words, the shield wasn’t for show — it was for battle.

Even more compelling is the word for “captive.” The early Christians understood this idea very well: The term is a compound of two words meaning “a spear” and “to be captured.”  They knew what it was like to be seized and then threatened with a sharp Roman spearpoint as they were taken to prison or worse.

This is how Paul emphasizes what he will do with the false ideas about Jesus and salvation with which his opponents were infecting the Corinthians. As the theologian Clint Arnold writes, “in its original context, demolishing strongholds refers to changing wrong ideas about Christ in the minds of believers who have been influenced by demonically inspired teaching” (Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, 54-55).

Taking Thoughts Captive — A Battle

What does all of this have to do with us? This: for Christians, “taking every thought captive” means not only that we have to fight error in teaching about the Gospel but also errors in our own beliefs, conscious and assumed.

To do this, we have to recognize the ways in which falsehoods infiltrate our culture and our own lives. 

There are three ways in which lies about God and all that reflects His goodness, truth and beauty affect us. One is false teaching about the essentials of the Christian faith. For example, in times of crisis, we like to think of God as our comforter. He is. But much of the rest of the time, we like to envision Him as an indulgent grandfather Who finds our sins humorous and our self-centeredness acceptable.

Then there’s false teaching about what is valuable, good, true, and beautiful. We are surrounded by a culture that celebrates cheapened sex, substance abuse, disrespect for parents, intolerance of orthodox Christianity, and gratuitous violence in our entertainments. 

To take “every thought captive,” we have to recognize the ways in which falsehoods infiltrate our culture and our own lives.

One obvious but tragic example is the way we discard unborn life in the womb and destabilize children’s lives through divorce. An unborn child is not an appendix, and a home is much more than just a house.  

Finally, there’s false teaching about the nature and existence of truth itself. In a recent Barna survey, we learned that “A majority of Americans, including three-quarters of Millennials and nearly a third of practicing Christians, say that morality is based solely on their personal feelings.”

Many of us are susceptible to the allure of truth-denial. Saying we’re not sure something is wrong or that taking Scripture as its writers intended is extreme makes disobedience to God a lot easier. 

To recognize what is false we have to know what is true. Let’s spend some time talking about this.

How to Combat Wrong Thinking

Christians need to consciously fight wrong thinking, joining the apostle Paul in demolishing it through corrective mental and spiritual combat.

How? Here are a few suggested steps:

Identification: Using the Bible as our authority, we need to watch what we’re believing and why. Will that new car really meet our deepest need? Is watching a lewd film really “not that bad?”

Recognition: If something is not of God, it is of the Enemy. Resist him, says James, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). 

Replacement: Study Scripture and memorize it. Shove out wrong and harmful thoughts and beliefs with the Word of God.

Dependence: Rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, discipline, and strength.

Accountability: Have close friends who will challenge and encourage you on an ongoing basis.

Girls and young women deserve to be with their families, living in security and hope. That’s why we rejoice with those in Nigeria just freed. Their captors lost their victims. 

We need to free ourselves from wrong beliefs, to stop considering seriously what’s untrue, evil, and ugly. We need to make our minds captives of Jesus Christ. Ironically, in doing so, we will never be more free.

Let’s get to it.

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