Taking Thoughts Captive
Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” (ESV)
As Christians, we are commanded to forgive. Sermon after sermon, book after book, article after article and friend after friend, we hear of how we are to find peace in forgiving those who offend us, or our loved ones. Scripturally, we are told to keep on forgiving for as long as it takes and to love and pray for our enemies. For many, this is “said” much easier than it is “done”.
In order to understand “how” to forgive, we need to understand what forgiveness means and what does God intend for us when we forgive.
Before we became Christians, our primary need was to be forgiven by God (Romans 5:8, Colossians 2:13), which is not of anything we did or can do but wholly because of His grace and love. This same concept applies to forgiveness; in that, it is not us who has the power to forgive but “He” who is in us; and by prayer, we must commit the sin and the offender (even if the offender is our very self) to the Lord (Matthew 16, James 5). Committing the offender to Christ for His supernatural strength is the beginning of the forgiveness process.
We should remember that forgiving others is not the same as reconciliation, nor is it a feeling; it is a decision and willful intent that is very hard to do by ourselves without Christ’s strength in us. We should also remember that by giving this to Christ, rather than dealing with it the “world’s way” or in our “flesh”, we are not being weak nor taken advantage of, nor are we allowing ourselves to be trampled over like a doormat. The offender is not “off the hook” and although we may never know how that person is to “pay” for the offense, we must believe, trust and have faith that Christ will do a work in him or her much more profoundly than we can imagine (Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”).
Perhaps we are in a position of “wanting” to forgive but there is just too much weight, too much pain and too much anger to simply hand it over to God and let it go. Why is it so hard and painful to forgive? There are some particular barriers to forgiveness that doesn’t just “stumble” us in the process, but completely “blocks” us from any movement in the right direction. Below are some ideas of possible roadblocks.
- The idea doesn’t seem “fair” and we need to feel that justice is done.
- We enjoy a sense of “power” by holding a grudge and being the one to determine if their apology is “real” or not.
- We believe our bitterness is normal.
- We have tried to forgive but only to be ridiculed by our offender.
Do any of those scenarios sound familiar? They are all the results of “feeling pain”; pain from betrayal, injustice or “fill in the blank”. But feelings can’t be trusted; they are a poor barometer of truth. So then “how” can we get past our feelings in order to forgive our aggressors has Christ has commanded and modeled? According to Ephesians 4:32, God has enabled us to forgive others without relying on our feelings (1 Corinthians 13, Colossians 3), but by acting upon our will (John 14:15, 2 Corinthians 5, I John 3 and 4), and doing so in a loving response to God (I John 4). So, the first thing we must do is pray and ask God to help us understand and overcome any barriers to our act of forgiving another. The second thing we must do is keep ourselves strong in the spiritual disciplines in order to remain aligned with God’s Will. The third thing we must do is exchange our thoughts for God’s thoughts and not dwell on the offense once we’ve given it to God.
Exchanging our thoughts for God’s thoughts takes a willful intent and with practice it can soon become an immediate reaction instead of feelings such as anger, resentment, justice and vindication. Exchanging our thoughts for God’s thoughts does include the spiritual disciplines but even if all the disciplines are practiced, it isn’t until we can moment by moment, daily renew our minds from our own “stinking thinking” and put on the thoughts of Christ. If our basic thinking patterns are not dismembered and changed, then our emotions, desires and actions will not change; nor our lives; no matter how much we read the Bible (although at this point it may be helpful to read Romans 12-14).
According to Romans 12:2, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, and a renewed mind is the key to our walking in the truth of God (Romans 7:25). A renewed mind, then, is “taking off” our fleshly thoughts and “putting on” God’s thoughts of wisdom and understanding thereby enabling us to see all that is happening not just from our viewpoint but from God’s.
So then, “how” can we exchange our thoughts in the heat of a moment?
After prayerfully asking God to take our offender and release us from that burden, we should understand that we may not feel like the burden has disappeared from our aching hearts. When our heart still aches, we must immediately recognize the feelings and ask God to rein in our fleshly thoughts so that His thoughts can replace them.
- Find a quiet space where you and the Lord can commune. Allow His Spirit to help you recognize all the negative thoughts flowing through your mind; express to the Lord your feelings, be specific such as “I feel embarrassed, betrayed, etc.
- Sit in silence and wait for the Holy Spirit to help discover the root reasons for those feelings; is it pride?
- Confess all that the Holy Spirit reveals.
- Choose to forgive those involved, asking God to purge all emotions from your mind
- Read pre-selected scripture verses or memorized verses in order to fill your mind with His Word.
- Pray thanksgiving in all things.
- Every time a negative thought fills your mind immediately replace it with a prepared message from God’s Word.
- With practice and time, this will change not only how you feel, but it will change behaviors for all to see and there will be a new sense of joy and a new level of maturity that Christ has walked with you through during this trial.
Through the hope we have in Christ, our “old selves” have been crucified and our new selves have been put on as a new person empowered by the resurrected life of Christ to be conformed to His image. As a result, we are directed by God’s Spirit and we are able to understand the things of God, which are revealed in His Word, and we are being continually renewed through our practice of obedience and discernment. With such power and our faith, we can forgive and we can help others around us forgive for the glory of God.
Questions for Reflection
- Who do you need to forgive today?
- Try using the above techniques and add or delete thoughts as the Holy Spirit reveals things to you.
A few Scriptures to have handy:
Psalm 119:27,73,105,130; 32:8, 119:9, 119:42, 138:3
Luke 24:31, 21:19,36; Acts 9:6; Mt 7:7, 26:41,
Ephesians 1, 3, 5:17, 6:6
Proverbs 2:6, 3:5, 25:5, 8:34,
2 Chronicles 27:6; Numbers 9:18; Josh 23:14
Isaiah 1:18, 40, 34:16,
1 cor 2:14, 7:37
Heb 4:12, 10:13, 35,
Gal 5:16, Rev 2:17, 1Jn 5:4, Rom 4:20,