Obeying the Lord involves not only our actions but our thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” We can dwell on many ideas that contradict the knowledge of God set forth in Scripture. “Cast down imaginations and every high concept that exalts itself against the knowledge of God …” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We experience peace, joy, and rest when our minds attend to matters which accord with the knowledge of God. But anguish and pain come if we are foolish enough to yield to some pressure to dwell on things contrary to what it means to know God. We all want to avoid pain and to enjoy peace; therefore, following this command to let the knowledge of God control our thoughts, far from hobbling us, will bring us into full freedom.
The most basic aspects of our knowledge of God are that he loves us and wants to work for our benefit. “I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Now, to be sure, things happen in life which, by themselves, seem to portend evil and a future with no hope. But the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that the things which are seen are not the whole story. They are only one step in the development of our narrative. The end of the story is that “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of God” (Numbers 14:21). That’s why 2 Corinthians 4:18 says that “the things which are seen are transient,” whereas “the things that are unseen [but promised by God] are eternal.”
So, keeping our thoughts obedient to the knowledge of God means discounting the evil portended by what is seen in our present experience, and rejoicing instead in the happy future that the loving God has planned for us. If we confine our attention to the bleak prospect that may come from the things which are seen, we are rebelling against God and what he has promised. How terrible to regard these things as the whole story when they are only transient! It not only questions God’s trustworthiness, but also inflicts on the soul pain that can remove all joy from life.
It is very important, then, for each of us to repel thoughts that are contrary to our knowledge that God loves us and has in store plans for our welfare. To repel such thoughts is to quench the fiery darts of Satan so they won’t wound our souls. According to Ephesians 6:16, we do this by holding a firm grip on “the shield of faith” as we focus attention on some statement in the Bible where, contrary to the evil we might fear from something which is seen, God promises instead to do good for us.
In this way we keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21). Nothing is more important than this. “Guard your heart with greater care than anything else (a literal rendering of the Hebrew), for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
A rule of thumb for alerting us to danger is that any thought of ours that inflicts pain on our heart is contrary to the knowledge of God and must therefore be cast down. If God loves us, then pain is not the end he has in view for us. (An exception: pain that arises from a guilty conscience must be faced until we see how we have sinned and then confess it to God.) Of course, this does not mean running away from life as it is. We must always be aware of the way things really are in our life situation. But if we are truly realistic, while taking note of all that is seen, we put everything in the context of the loving promises that God has made. When we keep our thoughts in accordance with God’s love, then we enjoy that blessing of having God himself comfort us. “I, even I, am he who comforts you” (Isaiah 51:12).
A promise in Scripture, visible to us only as ink on paper, may seem to be no match for what is happening in the visible world around us. But “the word of God is life-giving and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12). And as we trust, with only a mustard seed of faith, what God has promised, then he, with his great power, guards our hearts so that we enjoy his peace (Philippians 4:7).
“Christian,” in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, felt completely overpowered as he was locked in the deep dungeon of “Doubting Castle,” which was ruled by “Giant Despair.” “All day he spent his time in nothing but sighs and bitter lamentations.” But just before dawn, after a night of singing and praying, Christian remembered something. “What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called ‘Promise,’ that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” This key unlocked the dungeon door and the door to the castle yard. “After that, he went to the iron gate, for that must be opened too, but that lock went desperately hard; yet the key did open it.” And then Christian resumed his journey to the Celestial City, his heart filled with joy.
Daniel P. Fuller