When Satan comes against your mind with wrong thoughts, you don't have to concede defeat. Use these practical actions to confront loose thoughts by securing them with the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14).
Action 1: Refuse to feel guilty for wrong thoughts
Imagine you are awakened at 3 a.m. by someone pounding on your front door. More than likely, before you open the door, you'll look through the peephole to see who is causing the commotion. If it were a neighbor, a friend, or a family member, you would probably open the door and invite him in. However, if it were a stranger wearing a ski mask and carrying a pistol, you would hopefully refuse them entry.
If you were certain the person seeking entry into your home intended to harm you, would you feel guilty over his wanting to assault you? Would you lament to yourself, What is wrong with me that would cause this person to want to hurt me? No, you would call the police immediately to apprehend the would-be assailant.
We are not always responsible for the harmful thoughts that come knocking on the doors of our minds. Although allowing outside stimuli such as certain TV programs, reading material, or internet sites to fill our minds can incite thoughts of immorality or greed, we are not always to blame for the first assault of these ideas. If you were stranded on a deserted island, you would still battle against wrong thoughts.
How do I know that? Consider Jesus' experience in the wilderness immediately following His baptism. For 40 days Christ was completely isolated. No other people, no newspapers, no e-mail. Yet during those 40 days, Jesus was tempted with thoughts of discontent, greed, and pride.
"Since God hasn't provided you with what you need to survive, turn these stones into bread."
"You don't need to wait to reign over the kingdoms of the world; they can be yours now if you are willing to worship me."
"You don't need to follow God's timetable. Demonstrate you are the Messiah now! Put on a spiritual circus to demonstrate you are the Son of God."
Where did these thoughts originate? "The devil said to Him" (Luke 4:3) — nowhere in the biblical account of Jesus' temptation does Luke record that the devil appeared to Jesus. Possibly, Satan spoke to the Lord the same way he often communicates with us: through the mind.
Yet did these ungodly thoughts make Jesus a sinner? Of course not! He remained the perfect Lamb of God whose blamelessness qualified Him to be our Savior. If you and I are going to win the mind games, we need to first stop feeling guilty when evil thoughts invade our lives and, instead, learn how to deal with those unwelcome intrusions.
Action 2: Refuse to allow wrong thoughts to linger
If we entertain and embellish wrong thoughts for any period of time, those ideas have a way of transforming into obsessions. These, in turn, result in overt actions or attitudes of disobedience. Pastor and author Charles Stanley vividly demonstrates:
"The initial thoughts the devil sends to us may be just a toehold the first time we entertain those thoughts and dwell on them or fantasize about them. The longer we entertain the thoughts, however, the more likely we are to start making mental plans about how we might act on them.
"It is then the toehold of an idea becomes a foothold. The more we develop plans for acting on a sinful idea or temptation, the more we find that the foothold has become a stronghold. We come to the place where we feel compelled to try out the idea in our behavior. We come to the place where we want to act on that idea more than we want to banish the idea."
When we reach that point, we are in trouble. How can we prevent our thoughts from turning into strongholds for the devil?
Action 3: Recognize and replace wrong thoughts with God's thoughts
My analogy concerning a burglar attempting entry into your home is flawed in one respect. While we may be successful in preventing an intruder from coming into our home, we cannot keep unwanted thoughts out of our minds. The fact that we are thinking about something means that the alien idea has already gained entry.
Nevertheless, we do not need to allow the intruder to sit down in our favorite chair, engage us in an extended conversation, and announce that since he has been so welcomed, he is taking up residence in our spare bedroom! Instead, we need to follow the Apostle Paul's advice for dealing with an undesirable guest:
"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Remembering the words recognize and replace will help you seize control over wrong thoughts. Use the questions we discussed previously to help recognize whether or not a thought could have satanic origin.
Is this thought true? Does this thought motivate me to fear more or to trust God more? Does this thought contradict God's Word?
But know that simply labeling a thought as harmful and attempting to dismiss it from your mind is not enough. In fact, the more you try to reject an unwanted thought, the more you will find yourself obsessing over it.
To dismiss Satan's thoughts we must replace them with God's thoughts, just as Jesus did.
When Satan attempted to plant seeds of discontent, Jesus responded by quoting a verse from the Old Testament. "Man shall not live on bread alone" (Luke 4:4).
When Satan enticed the Lord with thoughts of power and riches, Jesus recited God's greatest commandment: "You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" (Luke 4:8).
When Satan tempted Jesus to act independently from God, the Lord quoted: "You shall not put the lord your God to the test" (Luke 4:12).
Jesus understood that the best way to dismiss an unwelcome thought is to replace it with another, more-powerful thought. The best way to dispel darkness is to confront it with light!
When fearful thoughts try to seize control of your life, you can replace those thoughts with, "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV).
When you are tempted with thoughts of discontent, you can replace those thoughts with, "We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6:7-8).
When you are tempted by fantasies of sex with someone other than your mate, you can replace those thoughts with, "The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it" (Proverbs 6:32).
I believe it is this process Paul has in mind when he encourages us to gird our loins with truth (Ephesians 6:14). Our success in spiritual battle depends on confronting any loose thoughts with the truth of God's Word.
(Adapted from THE DIVINE DEFENSE by Robert Jeffress, Waterbrook Press, 2006)