Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.
If you want to gain control over your thoughts, first of all, you have to refuse to feel guilty about wrong thoughts. Let’s suppose you are awakened at 3 o’clock in the morning by a robber trying to break into your home. What do you do? You might call the police. You might turn on the outside lights to try and scare him away. You might go get some sort of weapon in order to defend yourself. What you would not do is start wallowing in guilt: “What is wrong with me that somebody would choose my house to break into? This is all my fault!”
You would not feel guilty that an intruder was trying to break into your home. Yet many times, we feel guilty for the wrong thoughts that break into our minds. Now, there are some things we do to stimulate wrong thoughts, like watching certain television programs or visiting certain internet sites. But the truth is, even if you were alone on a desert island, you would still struggle with wrong thoughts. How do I know that? Because in Luke 4, we see that even Jesus battled wrong thoughts when He was by Himself in the wilderness. For forty days, He was bombarded with temptations that were all centered in wrong thoughts: “You don’t have what You need to be satisfied.” Or, “Why don’t You forget God’s timetable and take charge of Your own life now? Jump down from the pinnacle of the temple, and everybody will recognize You as the Messiah.”
Did those wrong thoughts make Him any less the perfect Lamb of God who could take away the sins of the world? No. Having wrong thoughts, in and of itself, does not make you a sinner. If you are going to seize control of your thoughts, first of all, refuse to feel guilty when those wrong thoughts come into your mind.
Instead, second, resist allowing wrong thoughts to linger in your mind. It is one thing to have wrong thoughts come into your mind; it is another thing to embellish or fantasize about them. In his book “When The Enemy Strikes,” Charles Stanley explained that the first time we entertain a wrong thought, it is just a toehold for Satan. But if we turn that thought over in our minds and begin wondering how we might act on it, that toehold becomes a foothold. The more we obsess about that temptation, the more we make plans to experience it, the more that foothold turns into a stronghold for Satan. At that point, all Satan has to do is dangle the bait out in front of us, and we become spiritual roadkill. That is why it is so important not to allow wrong thoughts to linger in our minds.
How do you know if a thought that comes into your mind is from God or Satan? Ask yourself:
- Is this thought true?
- Does this thought motivate me toward faith and obedience, or toward fear and disobedience?
- Does this temptation in any way contradict the clear teaching of God’s Word?
The problem is, after recognizing a wrong thought, most of us just do everything we can not to think about it. But that approach is absolutely useless in spiritual warfare. If you do not believe me, try this: For the next thirty seconds, do not think about a pink elephant. That is the one thing you have to try not to think about. I am betting there is now a herd of pink elephants stampeding through your mind! It is not enough to recognize wrong thoughts; we need to replace them with God’s thoughts. That is exactly what Jesus did when He was being tempted by Satan in Luke 4. Satan said, in essence, “You do not have what You need to be satisfied in life. Why don’t You turn these stones into bread?” Did Jesus try to put that thought out of His mind? No, He responded to that wrong thought with the right thought by quoting from Scripture: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (v. 4). Jesus did the same thing for the other temptations Satan put into His mind–He replaced those wrong thoughts with the right thoughts from God’s Word. That is how we “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “When Satan Comes Knocking” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2010.