Bringing every thought into captivity to Christ? How?

I woke up at 2:00 am, my mind thrashing away about things I was falling behind on, the new pains I was getting, the horrible way people dealt with each other in the movie I watched last night, and on and on it went. My mind was all over the place, like a herd of startled wildebeest.

It worried me, because if I don’t have the power to bring just those thoughts “into captivity,” how can I bring EVERY thought “into captivity to Christ,” as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5?

Well, I’ve clearly learnt that I can’t. Once my mind gets started on something it’s impossible to get it to stop. I’m just like Eve who couldn’t stop thinking about the forbidden fruit, and the Israelites who couldn’t get their minds off wanting what other nations had.

But why would God give us a mind like that? Why give us the remarkable ability to think, but not the ability to control everything we think, as well? Why give us powerful drives and appetites but not a powerful braking system that automatically kicks in every time our thoughts race out of control or drift off course? It’s like giving a teenager the keys to a Ferrari and expecting him to drive at the speed limit. Of course he can’t. So why would God expect us to keep our minds at his speed limits too, when he gave us minds that can’t?

Because, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9, our helplessness allows Christ’s power to be made perfect in us. What we lack in our brains is the power of Christ, and what better way is there of helping us admit it and want it, than hurtling through life in a Ferrari approaching a right angle bend and finding the brakes don’t work? That’s me at 2:00 am; I’m a Ferrari with weak brakes, a mind full of racing thoughts I cannot control, and it’s scary, because where might my thoughts take me if I can’t stop them?

We know the answer to that, because look at the state of our world today, with its endless and unsolvable conflicts in families, nations, between neighbours, and even among religious people too, and all because we cannot stop the thoughts in our heads that stir these conflicts in the first place. Clearly, then, we need a power in our brains that we don’t have, and that’s what Paul came to realize, but it turned into something wonderful, because any time his own brain failed him, he could turn to Christ for the power to bring his thoughts into captivity, and Christ’s power was right there for him.


But it seems like nothing is happening

Christianity in our Western culture puts a lot of emphasis on OUR acceptance and belief, our choices and decisions, our growth and responsibility, our free will and how we use it, and on us being good enough on Judgment Day to go to heaven, not hell. So much is up to us.

It creates a problem, then, when not much is happening. Perhaps our church isn’t growing, or it doesn’t feel like we’re growing much personally either. And what if people aren’t impressed enough with our Christianity to ask us about what we believe? It may even feel like we’re going backwards rather than forwards as our congregation gets smaller and we’re not having any impact in the community. What if we don’t bring anybody to Christ? Oh dear, we’re not doing our part very well, are we?

But what of the Scripture that says the Holy Spirit works everything out for good for those who love God? Isn’t that saying the Spirit has everything under control very nicely, thank you very much, despite appearances to the contrary? Well, it sounds good, but isn’t there an “if” in there somewhere, that the Spirit works things out for good IF we love God? So, do we love God enough to warrant the Spirit’s help? Oh dear, another thing to worry about.

But Scripture says it’s the Spirit that gives us the love. It’s the Spirit in our hearts that calls out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6), and Paul said it was “Christ’s love” that compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14). So it wasn’t his own love, or love that Paul had to come up with by himself. The love that drove Paul came from Christ, and there wasn’t anything Paul had to do to get the love flowing either. He simply found himself with it, and he couldn’t stop it coming either.

It didn’t mean that Paul was on an endless high of love and devotion, or that his focus was totally on God and off himself. It wasn’t. Life was extremely worrying at times, especially when people heard the gospel and wanted him dead, or a health problem threatened his effectiveness. He learned through those experiences, though, that even when it seemed like nothing was happening, or it looked like things were going backwards, Christ and the Spirit were still on the job.

He learned that God was up to something in everything, in negative times as well, so that rather than worrying, “Oh dear, not much is happening,” Paul said, “I press on.” He held steady and trusted, believing to the end that God was faithful and HE would make happen what needed to happen.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit: What difference does it make?

“I baptize you with water,” John the Baptist said, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” Mark 1:8. So what’s the difference between the two baptisms, and does it matter?

It certainly mattered to Paul when he discovered some disciples in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-2, because the big question on Paul’s mind was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” No, they replied, they’d never “even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” which made Paul wonder what baptism they’d received instead.

“John’s baptism,” they said, which to Paul was all well and good as a “baptism to repentance,” but far more important was belief in Jesus, verse 4. So they were all baptized again, this time “into the name of the Lord Jesus,” at which point “the Holy Spirit came on them,” verse 5.

But what difference did the Holy Spirit coming on them make? There’s a clue in verse 13. Some Jewish exorcists were using “the name of the Lord Jesus” to try and rid people of evil spirits. But it hadn’t worked (verse 15-16). To have power over evil, the name of Jesus wasn’t enough. More was needed. But what?

A famous sorcerer in Acts 8 knew the answer to that. He’d watched many of his followers being baptized when they heard about “the name of Jesus Christ,” verse 12. He was even baptized himself (verse 15). But when Peter and John arrived, “they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus,” verses 15-16.

So, again, the name of Jesus wasn’t enough. More was needed, and Simon the sorcerer saw what it was. When he “saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’.”

Simon knew where the power was. It was in the Holy Spirit, and if he could lay his hands on people like the apostles did and that kind of power was released in people, how much more famous Simon could be. He’d watched Philip, for instance, cast out evil spirits and heal paralytics (verse 7), so think of the power the Holy Spirit would give him too.

HE knew what difference the Holy Spirit makes. The Spirit has the power to cure anything that ails us. A baptism to repentance doesn’t do that, nor does baptism in the name of Jesus. It’s only by receiving the Spirit AS WELL that power over evil is possible.

Do non-Christans have a spirit?

All humans beings have a spirit, but while we were “dead in our transgressions and sins,” Ephesians 2:1, that spirit lay dormant. And while it remained dormant, our sinful minds continued on their merry way being “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7) and not the least bit interested in God or in anything he had to say. Instead our minds were tuned to “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,” verse 2. As such we were totally taken up with “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” verse 3.

That all changed dramatically, however, when “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” verses 4-5. When Christ died and rose back to life again, all us humans who were stuck in our dormant state were brought to life with Christ. Our spirits that were totally under the control of the spirit ruler of our world were released to have a chance at experiencing life as it’s supposed to be. That condition now exists for all human beings, non-Christans included, which is exactly the good news that Christians want everyone to hear.

God isn’t exclusive, he wants all of us to be saved from the dead empty life of simply gratifying our selfish desires, and he sent the Spirit to enable that to happen (Galatians 5:16, 24). And how the Spirit does it is remarkable, Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit himself testifies with OUR SPIRIT that we are God’s children.” Suddenly, we come alive to the fact that God isn’t some distant ogre, he’s actually our Father who loves us dearly (Galatians 4:6), and it’s the Spirit in connection with our spirit that does that. We always had that spirit in us, but it’s not until “the Spirit of God lives in you,” verse 9, that our spirit clues in that we have a Father and son relationship with God, just like Jesus has with the Father (John 17:26).

When “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” verse 11, that’s when our spirit comes alive, verse 10, and it comes alive in a most noticeable way. Where before we couldn’t care less about God or see any value in what he had to say, we now welcome him as our Father and look to him to take care of our every need. We literally “live to God,” Romans 6:10, rather than living to gratify self.

And in every human being this spirit exists, just waiting to be brought alive by the Spirit of Christ.

What do Christians have that non-Christians don’t have?

Some non-Christians seem a lot more Christian than Christians. They’re nicer, kinder, happier, more giving, more sociable, more involved in the community, more even-tempered, more disciplined, and better adjusted. It’s a bit discouraging when you’re a Christian bumping into people like that, because if non-Christians can be such good people, why bother being Christian? Or, put another way, what difference does Christianity make if you can be very ‘Christian’ without it? 

Paul answers that in Romans 8:9. “You (Christians), however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” The difference between Christians and non-Christians is who is in control of their lives. What a person does, therefore, isn’t as important as who’s doing it.

So, who is doing it? Is it one’s sinful nature or the Spirit, because it can only be one or the other. All people fall into two categories: those who are controlled by the sinful nature (the law of sin and death), and those who are controlled by the Spirit (the law of the Spirit of life). And it makes a huge difference as to which of those two is in control, because “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires,” verse 5.

So, what does “the sinful nature” desire? Well, it certainly doesn’t desire God, “because the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God,” verses 7-8. That’s stating it bluntly, but clearly – that the sinful nature has no interest in God.

In contrast to that, what does “the Spirit” desire instead? Well, the Spirit isn’t hostile to God, for “you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father,'” verse 15. The Spirit also desires that “the righteous requirements of the law be fully met in us,” verse 4, so that we can submit to God’s law. And as far as pleasing God, the Spirit “puts to death the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13, which pleases God immensely because it frees us personally “from the law of sin and death,” verse 2. In three clear ways, then, the Spirit’s desires are the absolute opposite to the desires of the sinful nature.   

So that’s what Christians have that non-Christians don’t have: They have the Holy Spirit constantly tuning their minds and hearts to God’s nature, rather than being blown all over the place by the whims and desires of the sinful nature. 

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?

We need the Holy Spirit because the Spirit makes Christ’s love real (Ephesians 3:16-19). And to Paul that was a burning passion, that we understand Christ’s love for us so well that we’ll trust our lives to Christ like a woman trusts her life to a man in marriage (2 Corinthians 11:2).

Paul knew what the Holy Spirit would then do in people who could love and trust Jesus like that. The Spirit would “transform (them) into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18. Just as the workings inside the body of a young, gangly girl transform her into a poised and beautiful woman, so does the Holy Spirit work inside us to grow us up into the beauty and likeness of Christ in everything (Ephesians 4:13-15).

We can “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us,” Ephesians 5:1. Imagine being a person like that – where nothing but “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” is what we think about and say to people, Ephesians 4:29. But this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. I can’t make myself into such a person, but the Spirit can, and wants to.

How I must “grieve the Holy Spirit,” verse 30 – or break the Spirit’s heart – when I forget I have the HOLY GOD living and breathing his life in me all the time. God has made himself as intimate to me as he can, by actually “sealing” himself inside me (verse 30). He’s willingly stuck himself inside me for life, with no escape. He has no intention of escaping either, because now that he’s in me he can do what it takes to repair all the damage, suture up the wounds, do a heart transplant and pump his life into my bloodstream. And I’ve got that now working inside me, simply for believing Christ really does love me and I trust him.

That was all it took for the door to my spirit to open up to the Holy Spirit. “Believe in the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” Acts 8:12, and because of that belief the Holy Spirit “comes upon us,” verse 16-17. Now the power begins – transformation, healing, and growing us up into an entirely new creation from the inside out, unrecognizable from the “infants” we used to be “blown here and there by every wind of doctrine and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming,” Ephesians 4:14.

No more are we the easily influenced youngsters we were. We’re being grown up to become wise, strong and beautiful, fit to be the wife of Christ himself (2 Corinthians 11:2). And it’s the Holy Spirit’s great pleasure to do that for everyone.

There is a way to solve world problems? Really?

I daydream about a world leader at the United Nations leaning forward to the microphone and saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I deeply appreciate being with men and woman like yourselves who want to change our world for the better, because I’ve just come to the realization how we can make it better. I know things look grim right now, and we’ve met here dozens of times before and the world hasn’t changed much for all our efforts, but what if the problem at the heart of it all is so simple and obvious?”

A pause to watch the reaction. Some delegates look up with mild surprise and even possible interest. Others sink down in their seats thinking, “Oh no, this is going to be painful.”

Time to plough on. “I’m aware of our history just as you are, that most humans would love peace and prosperity, but crazy people keep messing things up. They think war works. They justify killing innocent people. And while these awful people exist the world will never improve. But one thing they have done for us: We’ve learnt from them where our problem lies. It’s in our heads, because it’s obvious that something has gone horribly wrong in these crazy people’s brains for them to do what they do.”

“But don’t they, in fact, speak for all of us, because in one form or another we’re all just as crazy? We all do stupid things that hurt people. We all have good intentions, but selfish pursuits and motives constantly mess things up. But even the great apostle Paul cried out, ‘Oh, what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?’ And isn’t that the sad cry of all of us, that at heart we’re all a bit crazy?”

“But Paul also said he’d found the solution, a way round the monster. He even called it a new way, because he’d never experienced it himself before, either. And what this new way involved was simply the injection of Jesus Christ’s mind into his head by God himself.”

“And is that so weird, really, when surely it’s obvious by now we can’t solve our problems on the strength of our own minds alone? So, what if Paul was right, and God really will provide us with a counteracting force in our brains that enables us to do what we know needs to be done? But what’s the alternative? No system of laws we’ve come up with so far has worked, nor has chucking more money at problems. Isn’t it so much simpler just admitting we need help?”