Do Christians need to “take every thought captive”?

While visiting a Christian counseling ministry last month, I skimmed through one of their booklets.  The author mentioned his thought life, and the way he reacts when he catches himself thinking pessimistically.  He urged his reader to do likewise.  “We must take every thought captive and make them obedient to Christ,” he commanded, “or else we will be guilty of having a weak mind.”

He went on to discuss the various verses in the Bible that urge us to think about things that are true and praiseworthy – excellent advice to be sure – but, it was that phrase, “take every thought captive,” that remained in my mind for days to come.

Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ? Really?  Because in reality, it would be maddening to pause and pay attention to every single one of the thoughts that race through your brain.  I do not think that a Christian should or even possibly could accomplish such a feat.

Those who disagree with me will say, “but this verse is in the Bible!”  . . . Okay.  But where, and in what context?

The verse is found in 2 Corinthians 10 verse 5.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Does this section in Corinthians have anything to do with a person’s thought life?  No.  Paul is describing the spiritual warfare he is involved in, and how he is working to “capture” every false teaching and “make it obedient to Christ.”  In case it has been a while since you have read that section, here it is:

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.  (2 Corinthians 10:1-11)

Christian leaders pull the phrase “take every thought captive” completely out of context and they turn it into a command.  That command becomes a law, and law leads to sin. Since this ‘law’ is impossible to obey, the Christian has now become a law-breaker, a sinner, and is left feeling even more miserable than before.

“…the power of sin is the law.”  1 Cor 15:56

And law-breakers feel ashamed, so now the person trying to obey this principle has been driven away from what they really need to help them overcome sin – they have been driven away from the love and acceptance of their God.  Right?  ‘Cause they assume God is ashamed of them!  Not only is that NOT true, it is the exact thing that Paul was fighting against.  (I’ll expand on that in Part 2 of this message which I’ll post in a week or two.)

Going back to 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the phrase “taking every thought captive” to talk about the battles he fights in this spiritual war.  Like any war, there are captives, or prisoners of war.  The captives that Paul and Timothy take are thoughts, arguments or false assumptions that set themselves up against the truth found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul says that he takes these false ideas captive so that he can lock them up as prisoners, so that they can’t escape.

Paul is discussing this topic in 2 Corinthians 10 because the people in Corinth had been judging him, and saying that he is timid in person, but bold in his letters.  Paul argues that, first of all, what he is in his letters is the same as what he is in person, in his actions.  And second of all, the judgments that people are making against him are not important because his real work is in a war (that cannot be seen).

He tells the Christians from Corinth that it doesn’t matter whether they think he is bold or timid.  What really matters is that he is fighting to proclaim the gospel.  He is tearing down strongholds of lies and falsehoods, and making them obedient to Christ, to the truth.  He is working alongside the Lord Jesus and using the power of the gospel to capture false ideas —  false ‘thoughts’ that are disobedient to Christ — and through his teaching ministry he is making these erroneous thoughts and ideas obedient to Christ, who is the truth.

Paul says that his weapons have divine power, because the gospel that he preaches is the power of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

The power of the gospel is found in the fact that Jesus Christ took away the law.  He accomplished the Law for us, so that we may rest in Him.  We are obedient to Him if we are resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  There is no work for us to do; we do not have to take every thought captive, and we do not have to do anything else to make ourselves complete.  All He asks of us is that we believe Him (trust Him, rely on Him, depend on Him).  That is the only work that He requires.

The only work left to do, is to fully believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.””  John 6:28-27

Do Christians need to “fully surrender” to God?

My 16-year-old and I attended a mother/daughter Bible Study this past Sunday in which the overall message presented to the teenage girls was to “dream big” for God.  To dream up grand ideas.  To imagine bold plans.  To further God’s kingdom while solidifying your own faith.

A supporting argument was, “if you are fully surrendered to Him, then He will be able to use you.”

But what does it mean to be fully surrendered to Him?  I’ve been meditating on this question for the past five days.  In order to fully surrender to God, what are the prerequisites and requirements?  What are the markers used to determine the halfway mark, for example, and how will you know when you’ve reached “full” status?  How will you know when completion has been achieved?

My opinion is that you will never know.  The idea is too nebulous to ever be achieved.  Because the fact is:  He is the One who is fully surrendered to you.

Jesus Christ Himself – The Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us — was fully surrendered to God.  God Himself left His heavenly realm, was born through a virgin, lived a sinless life and eventually paid the ultimate sacrifice:  He died.  What He did on the hill of Calvary by dying for the sins of the world was nothing less than full surrender.  You can’t get any more surrendered than that.

To tell a room full of teenage girls that they must be fully surrendered to God, without specifically defining the exact meaning of that phrase, is, I feel, insulting the work of Jesus on the cross.

But is there any place at all for surrender in a Christian’s life?

Well, yeah, there is.  First, we must surrender to the gospel.  And second, we must surrender to the New Covenant.

Surrendering to the gospel is the primary work that a human must achieve.  Otherwise, you remain in a state of death – spiritual death.  So, first, believe in the gospel, and receive the life of God through faith, by His grace.  That is the main WORK an earthling is required to do.

“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.””  John 6:28-27

Believe in, trust in, rely on, depend on and fully surrender to the fact that Jesus Christ alone provided for the forgiveness of sins, and that He alone can offer to you the Holy Spirit of God which gives life to your mortal soul.  A simple prayer to the Creator is all that is required to accomplish this work.  Say yes to Him; tell Him you want to accept His free gift.

“Most certainly, I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life.”  Jesus’ words in John 6:47.

After you receive the Spirit of life and are born from above – just as the Israelites wandered around for 40 years – you also will inevitably spend a few years of wandering in the wilderness of Churchianity.  But after you realize that your devotion to religion is empty, then you are ready to fully surrender to the New Covenant.  This is not a burden.  Surrendering to the New Covenant is like crossing the Jordan River.  It may take a bit of struggle to make it across, a bit of wrestling.  (The word Israel means, “He who wrestles with God.”)

So wrestle with God!  And then surrender to His grace!

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Surrendering to the New Covenant means that you have come to believe in the complete forgiveness of sins.   It means that you no longer quote 1 John 1:9 to get forgiven.  You have come to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “It is finished.”   You realize that the sin issue between you and God actually is finished.

God had to forgive the sins of the world and cast those transgressions as far as the east is from the west, so that He could clear the slate, wipe the table clean and finally have a bunch of humans – forgiven humans – to whom He could make an offer.

The offer is this: “Will you eat from the Tree of Life?”

So, do you see how surrender to the New Covenant allows you to understand the gospel in which you believed?  To really grasp that the two are part of one whole?  Things finally makes sense!  You are no longer trying to put new wine into old wineskins.  You have walked through the door.  You are finally inside the Promised Land of Rest.

Don’t let anyone judge you or condemn you for resting.  Don’t let anyone put a burden on you by saying you must fully surrender your life to God, and by implying that God is waiting for you to shape up, and if you don’t, He will ship you out.  When they essentially say that God is powerless and impotent without your FULL surrender…  just remember that it’s a lie.

Lies keep you in bondage; God wants to lead you into all truth, because the truth sets you free.

“But when He the, Spirit of truth, shall come, He will guide you into all the truth.”  Jesus’ words in John 16:13

 

 

What goes on in most churches is heartbreaking.

The sheep are being beaten.  And, bottom line, THAT is what is heartbreaking.  But what is perhaps even worse, is that the sheep are allowing themselves to be beaten.  They sit idly in their chairs or pews as the guy up front tells them all of the things they are doing wrong.  Forgetting that Jesus Christ paid a tremendous price to take away the sins of the entire world.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  (John 1:29)

The last time I was in an actual “real” church — as opposed to the outside-of-the-box Bible Studies I’ve been attending the past decade — I witnessed one of these public beatings.  I went to hear their guest speaker, a famous author of “Christian books” (How did his books become a Christian?  I guess the books got saved?).

He gave an end-times message which ended by telling the humongous audience (1,000 or more) that since Jesus was coming back soon they had better shape up.  They were reading the wrong novels and magazines, watching the wrong movies, and doing all sorts of other things wrong, and “When Jesus comes back, people, do you really want to feel ashamed when you stand before Him!?”

By this time in my life, I had only recently surrendered to the fact that I am a completely forgiven person, so my own welts and bruises were still raw; the lashes on my own back from 12 years of such beatings were not yet healed.  So when the guest speaker finished his message and asked the packed-out crowd to bow our heads in a prayer of repentance, I wanted to scream out, “No!”  Instead of bowing my head during his prayer, I kept my head lifted high and searched the room for the pastor of this church; why wasn’t he running up to the podium to interfere and apologize to everyone for letting this happen!?  Why wasn’t the pastor reminding the crowd that Jesus is NOT ashamed of us!! (Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 11:16).

But it wasn’t only his fault . . .

The sheep accepted their beating; they took their lashing without complaint.

Once it was all over, I walked among the huge crowd looking for anyone who might be as upset as I was.

Nope.  They were all fine.

Some were visibly giddy.  They were busy chatting to friends, and perhaps making plans to watch “Fireproof” for their next movie night.

Meanwhile, I felt as if I were about to burst into hysterical sobbing.  (Which I later did, once home, and after holding back the storm of tears during the 20-minute drive home.)

What I experienced that night was not unique.  I have been to an enormous number of churches in my life, and these beatings are taking place everywhere.

Yet, He is not ashamed of you if you have believed in Him and believed in the gospel.  If you have done that, then you have done all the work that He requires of you.  Now it is time for you to rest.

“Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.””  (John 6:28)