Visual Covenants and Taking Thoughts Captive

God takes sexual purity and fidelity very seriously, and these are issues men have struggled with throughout the centuries—including Christians. Even so, when a man of God falls into sexual sin, it is not a “mistake” and it does not “just sort of happen.”

I am not pointing a finger or criticizing those who have fallen. The struggle is real for many of us, and we stand only by grace. Yet, I want to offer some Scriptural help for those who are fighting for purity.

Much of the battle really takes place in the visual sense and in the mind, does it not. As men, we are visual. It is the way we are designed. To say we do not notice attractive ladies is to lie. Furthermore, such initial noticing is not the problem. The problems come when we take legitimate vision and store them into memory banks, then submerge these into the sewage of our lusts. Thus, the problem is not seeing a lady and finding her attractive. This is natural. However, it is the going beyond this into the realm of fantasy that leads men into peril. Before any man falls into sexual sin, he must first go through his thoughts. The entertaining of thoughts does not just happen. Persons make a choice. Godly Job says,

I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? ~ Job 31:1

Job states that he made a covenant with his eyes that he would not stare and lust upon a beautiful virgin. Yes, he notices her, but that is as far as he will go with it.

Jesus says plainly,

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ~ Matthew 5:28

Here, the visual has gone beyond mere sight and acknowledgement of attraction. It has morphed into something, now, altogether different. We are warned of the danger of the process of the seed of desire becoming the plant of action.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. ~ James 1:14-15

We see this very thing played out in the life of King David. It is doubtful that many of us love the Lord the way David did. Still, we read of him:

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. ~ 2 Samuel 11:2-4

David did not simply notice a beautiful woman bathing. He gawked until he began to desire, and soon his desire became a burning lust. Before he ever laid with her it was brought to his attention that she was married. No, David’s fall into sexual sin did not come from mere happenstance.

We are told,

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5

As men, we are to take control of our thoughts and bring them under the authority of Christ. Just as we are not to violate a woman physically, neither are we to violate her in the dark chambers of our minds. In fact, elsewhere we are told,

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. ~ 1 Timothy 5:1-2

Did you catch that? We are to treat older women as we would our moms, and younger as our sisters, in all purity. Whenever a Christian man falls into sexual sin, never does it just “sort of happen.” It begins by him not treating a woman with the purity and respect he would have for his mom or sister. Thoughts and desires were entertained before any course of action was taken. And, no doubt, God sent numerous warnings  beforehand.

Men, the struggle and temptations are real; however, the flames of passion are not kindled without first dousing desires with fuel then igniting it with a spark. If we are going to walk in moral purity, then it will require effort and responsibility. We must guard our hearts, keep our visual limited, and take our thoughts captive to the obedience to Christ. Furthermore, we must honor the women around us. In Christ, they are most certainly family, moms and sisters. We must treat them as such with all purity.

Rising to Challenge Our Thoughts

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

The mind is an incredibly complex entity. Intangible, yet amazingly powerful. Still, for many of us there are predictable patterns—ruts—our thoughts will follow if we are not active in taking control over our thoughts. Such proactivity is not easy, but requires diligence and discipline.

Our thoughts, if left unchecked, can lead to the “gutter,” focus on destructive desires, toxicity (e.g., thoughts of sense of meaninglessness, failure, worthlessness, self-harm, etc.). Such thoughts trigger feelings, and the feelings will add reinforcement to unhealthy thinking. This will further distort our perception of reality and become a “stronghold” difficult to penetrate and conquer.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

The Illusionary Reality of Feelings

The French philosopher, Rene Descartes, once said, “I think, therefore I am.” There is truth to this, as his point is that his existence is proven by the fact that he could think and reason. One could not do so if he did not exist. Such logic is indisputable.

An error many of us make is thinking, “I feel, therefore it is.” That is, the way I feel necessarily reflects reality. However, our feelings truly have an illusionary factor that can be destructively deceptive if we are not careful. This is not to say our feelings are always wrong; nevertheless, our feelings are not always correct in interpreting reality. Mind you, the feelings themselves are very real, but the thoughts that lead to our feelings are not always truthful. Thus, our feelings can project an illusionary reality that is not real or correlating with the truth.

Consider whenever someone stubs his toes on furniture, the pain he feels corresponds to reality. This is no illusion, as anyone can attest who has ever stubbed a toe! Or whenever someone loses a person or pet she loves very much, the loss and accompanying emotional pain is connected to the reality of loss and grief; therefore, the pain is related to a legitimate loss. But what about when a person feels alone, unloved, hopeless, anxious, or worthless? While the feelings are quite real, do they (and the thoughts that fuel them) necessarily correlate appropriately with reality? Mind you, this is not to say that one’s illusionary reality does not contain any truth. However, our minds and emotions can work together like a biased news team, focusing on certain aspects, while jettisoning a lot of facts.

Our minds and emotions are incredibly powerful entities. This is strange, considering both are entirely non-material—seemingly non-existent; after all, neither can be handled, seen, or smelled. Neither are made up of molecules; nevertheless, these seemingly non-existent entities have the potential of erecting and enslaving persons within self-made prisons and hells. Beginning with a thought (often triggered from a hurt within actual reality: for example, an unkind word, rejection, ridicule, abuse, etc), this thought then becomes like a board. This (negative) thought is followed by another, and another—until a structure is formed. Eventually “walls” are built, with the intention of protecting; however, they actually end up becoming one’s imprisonment. While our intention is to protect ourselves, too often we isolate ourselves. In doing so, we tend to condemn ourselves, others, life, and even God Himself. The projected illusion then swallows everything that makes life meaningful—including any purposes for the legitimate pain and disappointments in life.

By nature, I have a melancholy temperament. I am introverted, analytical, conscientious, moody, and introspective. To say the least, I am not the life of a party. At a large gathering I tend to feel awkward, restless, and bored. Awkward, because I desire to fit in. Restless, because I feel as if I do not fit in. Bored, because I am too afraid to “let my hair down” and force myself to interact with those around me (for fear of rejection or appearing foolish). So my mind and emotions conspire against me. Negative thoughts (for example, “I do not fit in” or “no one wants to talk to me”) trigger negative feelings of rejection and isolation. The projected illusion is that I am isolated, rejected, and unwanted. But is this actual reality? My mind and emotions say it is, but the true reality is I am surrounded by people, in many cases persons who are friends and family who love and care about me very much.

Several years ago I resigned from a pastoral position. My family and I were betrayed and deeply wounded by some individuals. Within a month of my resignation my dad died, then several months later my mother-in-law passed. Within the next couple of years my wife and I had several family members and friends pass. Our family had to put one of our dogs down prematurely. This broke my heart in a way I had never quite experienced before. I earned my Master’s degree, but doors were not opening. During this time I felt like a failure as a minister, husband, father, friend—as a person. I felt abandoned by God. I felt as if I was a total disappointment to Him. My thoughts condemned and criticized me ruthlessly, and my feelings projected an illusion as though my mind was presenting truth. My mind and feelings equated my worth and identity with my sense of failure and abandonment.

The illusionary reality was that I was unloved by my family, friends, and God; that I was not needed, and this world would not be missing anything if I was dead. I felt extremely alone, disconnected, and trapped inside a deep, dark pit. This was the illusionary reality. But what was the actual reality? The actual reality was that I was depressed, hurting, and grieving. Although my wife and son were upset and hurt by my angry outbursts, they still loved me. While there were certain persons who, I believe, did forsake me, my family and true friends never did. Furthermore, when the light finally pierced my darkness, I realized God had not gone anywhere, but had been with me and lovingly watching over me the whole time. I did not stand condemned, but my salvation in Jesus Christ remained secure by what had secured it from the beginning—His grace and shed blood. The actual reality is faith, hope, and love had never evaporated, but continued to remain. I felt like I hated life, but in actuality it was the feelings of loneliness and inner turmoil that I hated.

But what about the projection of the world not needing me (or you, if your mind and emotions ever project this)? Most of us will not ever be called “world changers” or be remembered hundreds of years from now in history books. Yet, God places us where we are. The love (or hate) we share, and the choices we make affect those around us. We will have some who like us and others who hate us. We will be rejected by some, while others will admire us. While we will not see it, and might not be remembered for it, we never know how God will use our words and actions to influence another, who will then influence another, etc. With all this said, regardless of the illusionary reality my mind and emotions project, the actual reality is I am needed. I am not here by accident (and neither are you). God was personally involved even during my conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). The world and its communities need the philosophical melancholy to help remind them of the deeper things in life. Just as it needs the animated sanguine to remind them of the joys of life and hope; the dynamic choleric to give them a swift kick in the pants, and to remind them there is still work to be done; and the mediating phlegmatic, who reminds them to keep calm, and who reminds them of the need for peace.

Perhaps the most devastating effect of the projected illusionary reality is that it tends to hide God, seemingly taking Him out of the equations altogether. Even if the world was to hate me, my Creator loves me—so much, in fact, He gave His Son to die for me! My calling is not to be a world shaker. My calling is simply to honor God day by day, striving to love Him with all my heart, and to love others as myself. Whether this ever makes the history books does not matter. For when the time does come for me to die, I will not be giving an account to those of Hollywood, Washington, or even the United Nations, but only to God. As long as my life is honoring to Him in this life, I can be certain that my life matters and is making a difference, whether or not I can see it or feel it. This is actual reality!