You know how it is. There you are, sitting in a Bible study, watching a video of some middle-aged Christian celebrity pastor, probably with an earring and a tattoo, saying something that just doesn’t sit right with your discernment meter. You are the only one in the room with formal training in exegesis and apologetics and you wince. Are you going to be that person again? It’s a lonely job but somebody has to do it.
The topic was the “battle for the mind.” I was in a study group with people I love as family. I didn’t pick the video series, but it wasn’t half-bad given that I’d been to seminary (Seminary ruins sermons forever).
The teacher, earring and all, was talking about how to battle those pervasive thoughts we all have that earn Satan his name in Hebrew: The accuser. You know the ones: “You’re a lousy Christian.” “You are always going to be at the mercy of that sin.” and my favorite “No way they aren’t going to figure out you are a fraud.”
I’m always worried about where this sort of study is going to go. Is the speaker going down some new-age path, talking about our personality type or our Enneagram number? Are they going to spout some pablum that is warmed over Freudian nonsense? Are they going to rip 2 Corinthians 10:5 “Take every thought captive” out of context?
He didn’t even mention 2 Corinthians 10:5 (he waited till the next video session to do that). Instead, he provided a two-step plan for dealing with these thoughts from the enemy. First, you bind them in Jesus’ name as often as they come up and then you counter them with Scripture.
Everyone is nodding their heads. A few whispered Amens. Do I say it? Do I dare? I do dare. Something doesn’t sound quite right. When talking about these negative thoughts of anger, resentment, shame, etc. He says something like, “You have to bind these things as often as they come up. When that thought comes into your mind, you just bind it in Jesus’ name. You do this all throughout the day until it becomes like breathing.”
And all I’m thinking is “If you bind it in Jesus’ name, then why does it keep getting loose?” Now as with most misapplications, there’s a kernel of truth to this one. There is some value to recognizing “I’m having this thought. It’s just a thought. I don’t have to act on it.” That sort of stepping outside our thoughts has a long history. The Stoics of Ancient Greece taught one could endure any circumstance as long as one recognized that thoughts did not have to be acted upon.
The Stoics went so far as to claim one could flourish even under torture because no physical harm could touch the soul–the realm of thought. This is rubbish but it sounds hopeful. Especially if you are a Roman patrician who has the leisure to study stoic meditation.
Stoicism, however, did not conquer the Roman world. Christianity did. While there may be some value in detachment from our negative emotions as the Stoics taught, it is woefully insufficient for human fulfillment. Even the great Stoic Seneca said Stoicism could not solve the problem of deep depravity. As Paul said in Acts 17, these exercises are groping in the dark.
What is not groping in the dark is bringing scripture to bear with intrusive thoughts and out-of-control emotions. This pastor/teacher was totally right about this. Marinating ourselves in scripture reorients us to what is most real and most important.
Whether or not intrusive thoughts like those above are from the enemy or just our own messed up, fallen nature, doesn’t really matter. The cure is to have the mind of Christ, reminding yourself and the principalities and powers who’s in charge. Spoiler: it isn’t you and it isn’t them.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
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