GIGO theory: Proverbs 23:7

I explained the “GIGO doctrine” in a previous post, and said that several of the verses used to support it are taken out of context. The most seriously misinterpreted one is Proverbs 23:7. Here is Proverbs 23:6-8:

Do not eat the bread of a selfish man,
Or desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
He says to you, “Eat and drink!”
But his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten,
And waste your compliments.

The important phrase for our purposes is “as he thinks within himself, so he is.” The GIGO teaching uses this to establish the principle that whatever we think about we soon become. If we think about sin, we will soon begin to do it. If we think about godly things, we will soon begin to do those.

What does the phrase mean in context? The point of the passage is that if a man is selfish, you should distrust his generosity. Even if he says to you, “eat and drink!” you should realize that he doesn’t mean it. His heart is not with you. As a matter of fact, he is not at all the man he pretends to be. The man he really is is shown by what he thinks privately to himself, in thoughts he keeps hidden from the rest of the world. As he thinks within himself, that is the real man.

In other words, these verses do not teach that as we think, we shall become; they teach that whatever we already are will govern how we think. It is almost the exact opposite. It is not that thinking determines character, but that character determines thinking. This doesn’t say that our thoughts change who we really are, but it certainly says that our thoughts reveal who we really are.

This applies to the issue of GIGO, but not the way most people expect. It explains to me why I have the thoughts I do. Do I think selfish thoughts? Then it means I am a selfish man. Do I struggle with thoughts of revenge? Then I am angry, at some level. Do I worry all the time? Then down deep, I do not trust God. Freud would have said that the subconscious keeps injecting its desires into our conscious mind. Jesus simply said, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” This verse says something more like, “Out of the heart, the mind thinks.” Who we are in our hearts will keep showing up in what we consciously think about.

This explains why sometimes it is relatively easy to change our conscious thoughts and sometimes extremely hard. When we get our hearts right on an issue, it is just a matter of discipline to begin to think according to new patterns. If we haven’t dealt with things at the heart level, we can struggle for years and never really gain mastery over our thought life.

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The GIGO theory of holiness

My life’s been crazy-busy recently, and I’m having a hard time getting blog posts written. Therefore, here’s my plan: I wrote a long analysis several years ago of a particular Christian doctrine I call the GIGO theory of holiness. I’m going to break it into smaller chunks and post pieces of it for a while, so that I can at least be blogging about something!

So, for now, here is an introduction to the GIGO theory of holiness.

GIGO, as many of you know, stands for “garbage in, garbage out”. The phrase is used about computers, to make the point that even the best software depends on getting the right input. If the input to a program is full of errors, the answers it comes up with will be wrong.

In the same way, say most evangelicals, our Christian walk can only be holy if we protect our minds from corrupt input. If we read, watch, listen to, or think about sinful stuff, it will eventually come out in the way we behave. If we want to grow in holiness, the key is to protect our minds from the kind of thoughts that will lead us astray.

Teachers of the GIGO doctrine have a mental model of the Christian’s mind as a kind of storehouse of images and memories. The contents of this storehouse are the sources of temptation in our life. If we fill the storehouse with immoral images and memories, they will spring up again and again in our thoughts and lure us away from God. If instead we filter out dangerous influences and keep our thoughts relatively pure, we will face a lot less temptation and be able to live godly lives much more easily. The key is to guard our minds from exposure to damaging imagery.

I believe there is some truth in this perspective, but only some. I think the GIGO model of Christian growth needs to be improved a lot before it reflects Scriptural teaching or practical realities.

There are four key passages that teachers of the GIGO theory use to prove their doctrine.

  • Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewal of our mind. Therefore, the way to change our behavior is to change what we think about. As we learn to guard our thoughts, to keep out anything that is not of God, we will find our behavior being transformed as well.
  • 2 Cor 10:5 talks about taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It exhorts us to carefully screen every thing that passes through our mind, so that we can avoid even thinking about whatever is not honoring to our Lord.
  • Prov 23:7 says “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he”; in other words, whatever we think about is what we will become. Our thoughts determine our character, eventually.
  • Philippians 4:8 says “whatever is true, whatever is right [and several more things like that] … dwell on these things”. In other words, we shouldn’t think about anything that doesn’t please God, but only about those things that are good in His sight.

The problem is, none of these verses means exactly what the GIGO teaching assumes it does. Each of them has been taken slightly out of context.

Over the next few weeks I want to take a closer look at each of these passages. As I go, I want to construct a revised, more balanced version of GIGO that differs from the original in subtle but important and practical ways.

Part 1    Part 2     Part 3     Part 4    Part 5    Part 6     Part 7    Part 8

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