(This is part 4. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.)
2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”. A lot of times this passage is taught as though it means, “I am guarding my thought life carefully, so that whenever a stray sinful thought passes through my mind I can eject it”.
It is true that Christ’s Lordship in our lives extends to everything about us, including not only what we do but everything we think. We are supposed to be obeying Christ with our thoughts and attitudes as much as with our actions. However, that’s not at all the point of this particular verse, which has been taken pretty seriously out of context. Here is the whole paragraph:
I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 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, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:2-6.)
Paul is not talking about taking his own thoughts captive – he is talking about taking other people’s thoughts captive. He is warning the false teachers at Corinth that when he comes he will use the spiritual power and authority God gave him to tear down all their corrupt doctrines and punish those who have distorted the truth.
This is an exciting verse if you are doing Christian apologetics. There are lots of heretical theories out there, lots of speculative systems that are being used to discredit the gospel in people’s eyes. When Paul faced such systems, he described them as “fortresses … raised up against the knowledge of God”. He didn’t become angry or discouraged though. Instead, he confidently expected God to give him supernatural power to combat these enemy doctrines. “[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Are you frustrated by the systematic belittling of the Christian faith that occurs in so many circles? This verse implies that you can be confident in God’s power to help you destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” It is in this sense that you can take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
So what does this have to do with the GIGO doctrine? Very little directly, but there are some implications that may be useful. The key insight is that we ourselves have been affected by the fortresses of falsehood that Satan has erected. Each of us begins the Christian life badly confused about the truth of the gospel. Our minds are full of heresies of which we are only vaguely aware. These heretical ideas are not stray fragments of falsehood, they are complex, interrelated systems of thought (“fortresses … raised up”) that affect our actions far more than we know.
Therefore, we will sometimes need to take our own thoughts captive, to do to our own thinking just what Paul was going to do to the doctrines of the false teachers at Corinth. We need to ruthlessly weed out the lies we have been telling ourselves, and learn to believe the truth of the gospel instead.
How is this different from the standard GIGO teaching? The answers should be starting to sound familiar by now. First, the focus of this passage is not on disconnected images or random tempting thoughts; it is on systems of interconnected false beliefs. Second, the passage never implies that there is any danger from having false thoughts simply pass through our minds – they danger comes when we believe these thoughts, when we have incorporated them into a world view. On the other hand, when we do believe a fortress of falsehood, just keeping guard over our conscious thoughts won’t really help much. We need to dismantle the fortress; we need systematically to identify the lies in our own belief systems, repent of believing them, and begin to reorient our thinking to be more Biblical in those areas. Finally, the passage emphasizes that God wants us to rely on Him for all this. It isn’t just a matter of our practicing more self-control.