By Hoyt Houchen
Question: 1 am making a study of 2 Corinthians 10:5, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. ” Can we control every thought that comes into our minds? If so, how is this accomplished?
Reply: There are different kinds of sin described in the Scriptures: (1) we can sin in thought (Matt. 5:27, 28), (2) we can sin in disposition (Matt. 5:22, 23), (3) we can sin in word (Matt. 12:34-37), and (4) we can sin in deed – by the overt act (2 Cor. 5:10). Although this classifies the different ways by which we can sin, all sin begins in the mind or heart (see Prov. 4:23; Mk. 7:21, 22; Jas. 1:13-15). All accountable individuals sin (1 Jn. 1:8) and since sin originates in the mind or heart, therefore, none of us prevent sin from entering our minds – even though it may be momentary and not habitual. If an evil thought never enters the mind, then obviously we would not be subject to temptation and would be sinless. We read in I John 3:9, “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.” Some mistakenly conclude from this passage that if one is truly converted then it is impossible for him to sin. But this is not what John is teaching. We observe that sin is not committed while the seed, the Word of God, is in us. This is not saying that one cannot depart from the Word. If one cannot, then the impossibility of apostasy is the inevitable conclusion; but we have both warnings and examples to the contrary (1 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 5:4; Acts 8:20-22; Heb. 3:12; etc.). We are certainly to make every effort to prevent evil thoughts from entering our minds, but in spite of all efforts, they will occasionally intrude. The one born of God does not make a practice of sin. Charles B. Williams translates 1 John 3:9: “No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning. . .” (Translation of the N. T., p. 533). R.L. Whiteside has well expressed this idea by his statement: “When sin enters into a Christian, it enters as an intruder and not as a dweller” (Commentary on Romans, p. 158). The idea that a Christian “cannot” sin does not mean that it is impossible for him to do so, but rather that he cannot afford to do so. For other examples where the word “cannot” does not mean “impossible,” see Genesis 19:19; 24:50; 44:22 and Exodus 19:23.
Every thought of the Christian must be subjected, whether it be our own understanding (human reasoning) or impure thoughts (see Isa. 55:8, 9; Jer. 10:23). Evil thoughts will come into our minds because of lust (Jas. 1:13-15), as discussed above, but they must be brought into subjection to the will of Christ. Charles Hodge has suggested an imagery in 2 Corinthians 10:5 which we believe is correct. “It is the indispensable condition of salvation that our understanding should be brought in captivity, led submissive as though bound, into the obedience of Christ …. Agreeably to the figure in the context, the obedience of Christ is conceived of as a place, or fortress, into which the captive is led” (Exposition of 2 Corinthians, p. 236). Thus, the human heart is suppressed. Lenski summarizes it well: “Every such hostile device Paul pictures as falling a helpless and a hopeless war captive to a victor who abolishes that device” (Interpretation of Second Corinthians, p. 1209).
Evil thoughts will enter our mind but they can be controlled and subdued by prayer, diligence, constant study and a persevering effort.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 8, p. 230
April 21, 1983