Holding thoughts captive

Holding thoughts captive

The practice of renewing our minds causes us to discover His heart, His intentions for us. This causes us to align our lives with His character and naturally practice obedience, leading us in recognizing “what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God is.”

Travelling to all corners of the world, building friendship and being involved in discipleship is an aspect of ministry that is exciting and truly wonderful. Although building relationships and having to move on to the next field service is something that through the years has been difficult, it is wonderful that in spite of distance, I have been able to cultivate these relationships and continue to build into the lives of so many around the world through technology. 

Recently, a young lady I discipled while in the Netherlands asked me the following question: 

'Polly, I have a question about holding thoughts captive and how to surrender them to Christ'. How do you do that and what should you do when you find it very hard to give some of your sinful thoughts to Christ? Do you just need to pray, trust and know that it's a kind of process of sanctification that's grows slowly?

Thank you so much for entrusting your questions and your heart to me.

Let me start with the issue of holding our thoughts captive to Christ. I believe this is rooted in the principle found in Romans 12:2 where we are told that a transformed life comes through the renewing of our minds.

Our minds are powerful tools that have been given us for our benefit. Sadly, the secular world has taken great advantage of this fact and has distorted something the Lord intended for our good, while we, His people, neglect this great gift. This is seen in the Eastern practice of meditation as well as the Western idea of positive thinking. Both of these concepts take a healthy godly principle and distort it just a bit, leading those who practice them into idolatry or self-sufficiency that will inevitably fail them and lead them away from God.

Let me try to explain this in a physiological way…

Thinking is the habit of expressing what moves our spirit. In order to think, we have to concentrate, as it is a physical process. In the grey matter of our brains are multitudes of blood vessels equally distributed, and when we think, the blood gathers in the one part of the brain being used. We call this concentration. When we focus our will around certain thoughts, the blood congregates at that particular area, and if we willfully hold our thoughts there, we begin forming the habit of mental concentration. (The Moral Foundations of Life)

The opposite side of this coin could be referred to as dissipated thinking, meaning that blood goes back to the other parts of the brain and wakes up associated ideas. If we don’t learn to concentrate, the brain cannot focus itself anywhere; instead, it fusses all around. (The Moral Foundations of Life) 

So, when we are told in Rom.12:2 to renew our minds so that we can be transformed, this is how we can practically do it! We learn to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, to keep our imagination on God by deliberately concentrating and fixing our thoughts on things above. Phil.4:8 comes to mind: Whatever is true, noble, right, excellent or praise worthy… think about such things.

God has not only given us the Holy Spirit for holy living, but also for holy thinking! If we are not going to be “conformed to this world; but transformed,” we must use our brains. God does the spiritual, powerful part we cannot do, but we have to work it out, walk it out… 

The practice of renewing our minds causes us to discover His heart, His intentions for us. This causes us to align our lives with His character and naturally practice obedience, leading us in recognizing “what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God is.”  We need to make our own nature a collaborator with the Spirit of God. The grace of God never fails us, but we often fail the grace of God because we do not practice using the tools He has given us…

If we do not practice when there is no need, then we will likely never do it when there is a need. God created us with the ability to reason as part of his image (Gen. 1:27; Col. 3:10). It is by reasoning that we humans are distinguished from “brute beasts” (Jude 10). God calls upon his people to use reason (Isa. 1:18) to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) and right from wrong (Heb. 5:14). God will not bring every thought and imagination into captivity; He has given us the ability and free will to do that. 

If we are going to grow into His likeness, we must apply this principle. Proverbs 23:7 says: “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” This is gripping me afresh even as I am writing you this note. There is so much power in this simple truth because if we are what we think, we can also BECOME what we think! 

So, to put it simply: We hold our thoughts captive to Christ because our thoughts become actions, and our actions will not be God-honoring unless Christ rules over our thinking! 

James 1:14-15 says that we are tempted when we are lured and enticed by our own desire. This desire when conceived gives birth to sin and sin when fully grown brings forth death, which ultimately, means separation from God. 

All of this starts with our thinking, hence our desperate need to make them captive to Christ. 


By renewing out minds! 


By feeding it with truth, with the Word of God, the Word of life! 

How do we practically do that? 

We do this by dwelling on the Scriptures, by reading the Word daily, by memorizing passages and praying them over our lives. We can start by memorizing those that speak into the areas God is currently growing us in. 

For example, someone who struggles with fear – the way to combat that is to feed our minds with the truth of God’s Word for this area of life…

Rom.8:15 - For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “ Abba! Father!    

2 Tim.1:7 - For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self- control.

Phil. 4:13 - I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

As we meditate on the truth of God and fill our minds with God, with who He is, with all He has made available for us—as we focus on our identity because we are His, a divine exchange begins to take place in our hearts. Peace replaces fear, trust replaces anxiety, and we become powerful in the power of His might—our weakness is turned into strength! 

The Word is referred to in Ephesians 6 as a sword, a weapon that can demolish the strongholds that keep us from fully living a life of purpose, power and victory… This is one of the ways we battle using this weapon!

Our heavenly Father knows our frame. He knows we are but dust. He knows our weaknesses, and that is why He so clearly left us specific instructions on how to live. This is yet another gift of grace towards us. He not only calls us to live holy, but He also empowers us to do so and shows us how in His Word. This is a process that requires a well-balanced partnership. 

God does His part (Holy Spirit in us; instructions in the Word, a way out of temptation - Jn.14, Rom.12:2 1 Cor. 10: 12-13)

We do our part (We obey – 1 Pet.1:14-15; Eph. 4:22-24)

 THEN, surely we become! We become more like Him. We become people whose lives are conduits of Him! 

(God + us = a beautiful & powerful partnership!)

As we apply this principle, slowly but surely, we begin to be transformed. The Word of God really does transform us! We begin to exercise self-control, and as a result, ungodly thoughts lose the central place they used to have in our minds. We begin to respond to difficult situations with more grace, and eventually, we begin hating that which is dishonoring to God, that which grieves His Spirit, and that which harms our relationship with Him! We begin wanting NOTHING to do with those things! 

I write you these things because I have been through such a transformation, and this process is very real to me—I can truly testify to it!

You mentioned having a hard time letting go of some sinful thoughts… I understand! But as we feed ourselves with “LIGHT,” darkness will be dispersed. 

Let’s think of it this way…

When we arrive home late at night, we open the door and everything is pitch dark, but the moment we turn the light on, darkness is gone. This is an analogy for some areas of our lives. This was true to me in regards to cursing. One day I was driving with my two little sisters sitting in the back seat. Another driver cut in front of me, and I said the “s” word. As I looked in the mirror, I saw the horrified look of my two little sisters. I had been a poor example for them, and at that very moment, the Holy Spirit brought Eph. 4:29-30 to mind, a passage I had not memorized yet, but had meditated on it weeks before! At that moment, I made a very conscious decision not to ever say a cursing word again, and the Spirit in me has empowered me to walk that decision out!  

Other areas of our lives will be like “ambiance lighting.” Instead of turning the switch on at once, we turn it in a way that slowly increases the amount of light being released. It’s more of a process; nevertheless, as light emerges, darkness disperses. The area of godly relationships was more like this for me. Remember, God will always meet your efforts—He says, “Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you!” The more of the world we let go of, the more of Him we will have!  

Additionally, I have found that the TV shows, movies and music I listened to also had an impact on my spiritual purity. I think of it this way—our eyes and ears are doors and windows to our minds and hearts—what goes in through them will leave a mark and impression. They can bring about an awareness of God’s character or a numbness or immunity to His ways… 

And, of course, another influence is the people we hang out with. We are not to ignore the world, but reach out to them. However, they are not to be the people we constantly hang out with. I think the Dutch also have this saying: “Tell me the company you keep, and I will tell you what you are.” 

1 Cor. 15:33 alerts us to this danger as it cautions us not to be deceived but to realize that bad company corrupts good habits. Proverbs 13:20 also encourages us saying: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer.”  

The bottom line is:

(God + us = a beautiful & powerful partnership!)

As we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. 

The closer He is, the purer we become! 

As believers in Christ, we have all we need. The Word of God and the Spirit of God!

We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

Holding thoughts captive