GIGO theory: Changing our thoughts from the inside out

The GIGO theory (described and critiqued in detail here) is the idea that one of the most important things we can do to grow in holiness is to guard our minds from being exposed to the wrong kinds of thoughts. What comes into our minds will eventually affect how we act and think.

I’ve spent several weeks arguing that the GIGO theory is only partly correct. I’ve looked at four different passages often used to support it and tried to show that they are being misinterpreted to some degree.

Even though the GIGO teaching misinterprets all those passages, I don’t think that it is all bad. It says we need to honor God in our thoughts, not just our actions. I agree. It says that what we think affects the choices we make. I agree. It says pornography is a bad thing. I agree. It says that what we think, do or say today affects what we will think, do and say tomorrow, and it offers a practical way to use that fact to grow in holiness. That’s a great idea, one which I fully support.

So where do I disagree? Mainly in this: the GIGO doctrine frequently leads people to focus in the wrong place in their battle against sin. It locates the enemy chiefly outside of us rather than in our own hearts.

The Bible talks about the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, but all three sources of temptation are connected. The world and the devil only succeed in pulling us down because there is something in our own hearts that answers to them. I heard a story when I was growing up about some monk in the middle ages who went into seclusion in order to become more holy, and ended up writing “I went to a monastery to escape the world, and discovered the world was in me.”

It may seem funny that I would connect the GIGO doctrine with the idea of fighting external influences, when it is all about controlling our thoughts. What could be more internal than our thoughts? But the point is that the GIGO teaching encourages us to solve thought-life problems not by changing our thinking but by changing the input to our thinking. We need to change from the inside out: it offers us a way to work from the outside in instead.

So my concern is that people tend to use the GIGO doctrine to avoid having to confront and repent of the wrongness in their thinking. Instead of doing so, they just redouble their efforts to control all those evil media influences out there. Satan is happy to let us rail against Hollywood as long as it distracts us from dealing with our own self-deceit.

Jesus talked once about this tendency to try and control our sins from the outside. In his case he was responding to tendency to do so through the rituals of the Old Testament Law, specifically the food laws. You can find the story in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23. In my next post I want to analyze Jesus’ words and see how the principle he illustrates in that passage is applicable to our view of thinking.

Jesus: “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” — Mark 7:14-15


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

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