A number of years ago in campus evangelism, we used an illustration calculated to make our collegiate audiences vividly aware that they were personally sinners. We would say, “If I could flash on a screen before us tonight all of your thoughts of this past week, you would have to leave town.” This remark not only made the point, but always drew a laugh. But for the Christian such a charge is no laughing matter. Our thoughts are just as important to God as our actions, and are known to God as clearly as our actions (Psalm 139:1–4, 1 Samuel 16:7).
Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that God’s commands are intended not only to regulate outward conduct, but inner disposition as well. It is not enough that we do not kill; we must also not hate. It is not enough that we do not commit adultery; we must not even entertain lustful looks and thoughts.
Just as we must learn to bring the appetites of our bodies under control, so we must also learn to bring our thought lives under obedience to Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul warns us against misguided and wrongly motivated attempts to control the body that leave our thought lives unrestrained (Colossians 2:23). It is possible to curb the natural appetites of the body outwardly and yet be filled with all manner of inner defilement.
The Bible indicates that our thought lives ultimately determine our character. Solomon said, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, NASB). An old well-known verse puts it this way:
Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character.
It is because of the importance of our thought lives that Paul said, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds (Romans 12:1–2, Ephesians 4:23, 1 Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important.
The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?
The world around us constantly seeks to conform our minds to its sinful ways. It is earnest and pressing in its endeavors. It will entice and persuade us (Proverbs 1:10–14). When we resist, it will ridicule and abuse us as “old-fashioned” and “puritanical” (1 Peter 4:4).
Too many Christians, instead of resisting, are more and more giving ground to the world’s constant pressure. A few years ago sincere Christians were quite selective about the movies they attended, if they attended them at all. Today the same movies that were avoided are being shown on television in the living rooms of Christians across the nation. A friend of mine told me of a young couple in full-time Christian work who came to him wanting to know if it was wrong to attend X-rated movies! That the question should even be entertained illustrates the degree to which the world has infected our minds.
The music we listen to often carries the message of the world, and the world uses the medium of music to squeeze us into its mold. And a Christian cannot help being gradually influenced if he continually listens to the world’s music.
Perhaps it should go without saying that Christians are to abstain from indulging in or listening to suggestive stories and jokes. But Paul could not take this for granted among the early churches, and neither can we in this century. Listen to Paul’s clear warning on the subject: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3–4). “Not even a hint of immorality” places any suggestive speech whatsoever outside the bounds of a holy walk.
Bridges, Jerry. 1978. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: Navpress.
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