Holding Every Thought Captive

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

“As a man thinks, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7

“And be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God—the good, and acceptable, and perfect.” Romans 12:2

During my senior year of college, I had to create a senior exhibition art piece. I cut strips of tracing paper and wove them together over a wire frame to create a gown made out of paper. My goal of the exhibit was to depict how we as humans are more than our thoughts, although we give our thoughts more power over us than they deserve to have. I used the material of strips of paper to depict thoughts, to show how fragile and temporary our thoughts are, but how when woven together, these same thoughts can become a whole powerful being. Our thoughts are just thoughts, but when we don’t regulate them or hold them to God’s truth, those same thoughts can affect our entire being. 

In the field of mental health, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence based practice that has been shown to help individuals with varying mental illnesses. Dr. Aaron Beck, the creator of CBT, taught that thoughts affect our feelings, which in turn affect how we behave. However, Scripture has taught, long before Dr. Beck, that we are to hold our thoughts captive to the truth of God’s Word and who He is. Despite the command to hold every thought captive, most of us rarely stop to examine our thought life, and are actually unaware as to how keenly if affects how we feel and how we act. 

One key to holding our thoughts captive is to simply stop and examine them, or in CBT lingo, “Catch the thought.” We are often too busy to do this. Here’s an example: You might be getting ready to go to a social outing but are feeling increasingly anxious. In your state of anxiety, you shout at your husband and raise your voice in frustration at the child who has mismatched socks on. If you were to stop in this situation, you could “catch” or identify some thoughts that contributed to feelings of anxiety. One thought might include, “People at this social function will judge me or dislike me,” or, “I’m going to see such-and-such a person and I really don’t like that person and how she talks to me.” In the moment of getting the family out the door, you might not even be aware of these thoughts but rather just caught up in feelings of anxiety. Catching our thoughts is a process that takes practice, and over time, we may find that there are certain thoughts that come up often in our lives. 

Another key to holding our thoughts captive is to “check the thought.” We want to ask ourselves if a specific thought is true, or ask if we have evidence that this thought is actually correct. And if it is in fact correct, is it also helpful to us? Does it bring us closer to God or farther from God and His character? If we find ourselves jumping to an untrue assumption, are there alternate explanations for this situation? In the situation above, if we examine the thought, “People at this function will judge me,” we would have to admit that we do not know this to be true. Even if there might be one person there who makes you feel small, is it helpful to generalize them into the entire group of people who you will encounter? This thought is simply not helpful. For the thought about the condescending person you’d rather avoid, are there other ways to think about this person? Identify any of their positive qualities, or consider if perhaps they might talk to you in a condescending tone in an attempt to feel better about themselves.

The third key to holding our thoughts captive is to “correct the thought.” Dr. Beck would argue that with time and therapy, we can correct our thoughts. However, we cannot truly do this without the help of the Holy Spirit working within us. Even so, it is definitely an act that we need to continually cultivate and practice! So how do we correct our thoughts? Well, Scripture tells us to “renew our minds” (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23) and “think on that which is true, noble, right and pure” (Philippians 4:8). We must continually bring our thoughts back to Christ and His work of redemption. We need to be in the Scripture daily and in prayer. The more we are immersed in God’s Word and in communication with Him through prayer, the more we will be able to identify lies from the devil in the form of untrue and unkind thoughts. We should also be part of a fellowship of believers, who encourage us in the faith, remind us of truths when we are weak, and point us back to Scripture when we embrace untrue thoughts. 

Our thoughts are just thoughts, but they can have so much power if left unchecked. We have so many thoughts in a given day but they do not have to define us. Our identity is found in Christ and we can keep going back to this truth, day after day after day.