Breaking out of Prison Thinking



breaking chains.jpg

Have you ever been in the situation where you’ve been offered a lift in someone else’s car, but then are unhappy with the way it’s been driven? You don’t like to say anything about it, since they’ve been good enough to offer the drive, but you just wish they’d slow down a bit, take the corners more carefully, and pay attention to other vehicles. And the child-lock makes you feel trapped!

The situation is quite close to the way that your thinking is often governed by prevailing worldviews, or “driven” by external, sometimes hostile influences. And you are “locked-in” to that pattern of thinking.

I remember working in a prison. The sheer amount of abusive language that I heard all day, every day, somehow coloured my speech patterns, until it was really hard not to just join in. (And that was just the guards”).

But the processes of thought are on a deeper level than speech. And even if I could, with a measure of success, “set a guard on my lips,” it was much harder to stay clear of the prevailing thought that the prisoners were of less value, second-class and somehow less worthy of respect as human beings.

And this is the heart of racism (the view that one race is inferior to another), of misogyny (the view that one gender is inferior to another), and of social snobbery (the view that one class is inferior to another).

So Paul counters this false-thinking by a statement of the truth as it is in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:28). We are challenging this old, worldly way of thinking with a new one: we are “all one in Christ Jesus.” And according to this new centre, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” (racism) slave nor free (class-ism) nor is there male and female (sexism).”

It is testimony to the radical nature of this concept that the challenge of that one verse is still sharp today. Our thinking is locked-in to a car driven by others. And, by and large, the car is on a different journey to the one God intends for you. This is what Paul meant, with the instruction to Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things,” (Colossians 3:2).

The word “set” here means to plant or fix and in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul discusses that “fixing” process. Is it merely a matter of doing your best to think in a different way? Not at all! “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. That is, they are not merely human.” (2 Cor 10:4-5).

Paul argues that, in the Spirit, we can derail a powerful train of thought that is taking us in the wrong direction. “The weapons of our warfare have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

A “stronghold” is an entrenched way of thinking. It’s like being “stuck” in a particular negative mindset.

And then he defines this powerful stronghold-destroying activity in two steps. Verse 5: “[First,] we destroy arguments and every lofty or proud opinion raised against the knowledge of God and [second,] we then take every thought captive.” It’s like when you move in a battle and you destroy the fortress and then you take captives.

We take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Some would apply this to themselves, and just try to be more obedient to Christ in their own thought life. But when Paul says first he is destroying arguments and arrogant opinions against God and, second, that he is taking thoughts or minds captive, we need to realize it is the minds and thoughts of others. He is not talking about taking his own thoughts captive. It is the thoughts of others.

In other words, it’s as is if Paul is saying, “I am moving against these false teachers in Corinth who are so proud of their philosophical know-how that I am going to demolish them not by counter philosophy, but by divine power. They are going to collapse in their thinking. And then I am going to take their thoughts captive so that they now obey Christ.”

So, Paul is the warrior, and the enemies are those people whose minds and arguments are proud and lifted up against God. And when Paul defeats those minds and arguments in the power of the Holy Spirit, their thoughts and their minds are taken captive and they become people with the mind of Christ or obedient to Christ.

So it’s not a command. It is a statement about what Paul is doing to his opponents. He is demolishing their worldview and then taking their defeated thoughts captive for Christ so that they become right thinkers.

But though this is not a command to do this work ourselves, the question of self-application is still valid. We just have to get ourselves in the right place, and the place we belong in is the group whose opinions and thoughts Paul is trying to demolish. That is where we belong.

So I can say, “Ok, Paul. Here I am. Do your demolishing work on me. Do your captive-taking work on me. Destroy in my mind any false or proud thoughts that I have about God.”

Which really means that we should submit all our thoughts and ideas and feelings about God and if anything is out of sync, we should let it be destroyed.

And second, we should ask the Holy Spirit to work, because Paul said we don’t fight with human arguments. Our ministry has power. So we should expose ourselves to that power. “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power.” In other words, he is tearing down arguments and God-belittling ideas, but he is not doing it merely by human reasoning.

Lord, I know that mere intellect will not dismantle the deeply rooted errors of my mind so I avail myself,

I open myself, to the Holy Spirit and I seek your face, Lord.



(Drawn partly from John Piper sermon)


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