“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:3-6)
We’ve been sharing a series of studies taking a deeper look at these verses in II Corinthians (you can read Part 1 & Part 2 here). They provide important insight into how we should view our inner selves, and our responsibilities in actively guarding, defending, and tending to our hearts and minds.
In particular, these studies focus on interpreting Paul’s somewhat literary or metaphorical language into something that feels tangible and actionable to us today.
One of the ideas that was brought out in the earlier studies on pulling down strongholds was this:
“When we allow our beliefs and our expectations of God to become bigger than God Himself, we limit God. We have made our God smaller. And we create an idol out of our own beliefs or ways of thinking.”
That idea segues us nicely into this study, where we’ll dig into the second big element of that keystone verse—casting down arguments, and every “high thing” that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.
What does II Cor. 10:5 mean?
It’s kind of a weird phrase in our modern vernacular, so first let’s define more clearly what it really means. The translation of “casting down” in the NKJV might come across to us in a softer way than its true meaning—which is to demolish, destroy, or utterly obliterate (most other translations beyond the KJV and NKJV use these words instead).
What exactly are we supposed to be demolishing?? Those “arguments” (G3053, logismos…where we get the word ”logic”) encompass our self-directed human reasoning, opinions, convictions, conceit, philosophy, imagination, and thought.
Some translations of the verse also include “high” or “lofty” things (also translated “pretensions” or “opinions”), which indicate something proud, arrogant, human-centered, and self-confident or self-sufficient.
Basically, this verse tells us that (sometimes unintentionally) we elevate our own thoughts or convictions above what God says—which creates a competing and adversarial relationship that can destroy us if we don’t recognize it and work to defeat it instead.
We are in a war for our minds
Those different translations really give us a much better idea of what we’re dealing with here. We are commanded to be using the spiritual weapons and protection at our disposal (Eph. 6:10-18, armor of God) to recognize and root out human thinking that sets itself up contrary to God’s word.
Sound familiar in today’s world? I loved this quote so much I had to include it verbatim, as a jumping-off point:
“There is the fortress of human reasoning, reinforced with many subtle arguments and the pretense of logic. There is the castle of passion, with flaming battlements defended by lust, pleasure, and greed. And there is the pinnacle of pride, in which the human heart sits enthroned and revels in thoughts of its own excellence and sufficiency” (from this article).
Human reasoning is a mighty fortress (one of those strongholds we talked about). But the thing is, God CREATED US with the capacity for human reasoning, and He did that with a purpose. He wants us to have free will, to use our brains.
The key phrase in unlocking our hero passage is “raises itself up against the knowledge of God” (CJB). When our (or someone else’s) opinions, logic, convictions, beliefs, or political correctness sit in opposition to what God tells us, we are in deep trouble.
One of the subtleties with human reasoning that contradicts the bible is that it’s not always coming from a place of outright malice and rebellion—just as often, it’s fueled by theoretically good intentions, the appearance of logic, or our emotional reactions on a topic (we see an example of this in the conversation of Jesus and Peter in Matt. 16:23).
In the rest of this study we’ll break down and examine—through a few different angles or lenses—these “arguments” and “lofty things” that we are to demolish, and how they can manifest in our lives:
- In our hearts and minds…reasoning with ourselves (justification, self-righteousness, putting our logic onto God, etc.)
- In our dealings with our brethren…how we treat our brethren, biblical disputes and pet doctrines that divide and distract, etc.
- In our interaction with society around us…being swayed by or caught up in worldly human reason at the cost of the spiritual truths (news, social media, politics, etc.); letting the social and cultural thinking of our time shape our own views and how we interpret the bible
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Me, myself, and I
A popular rock song from when I was in high school tends to run through my head on a loop when it comes to this topic. “It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy,” the singer admitted. And that pretty much sums up what we’re talking about here—the internal struggles we face with our own thoughts, desires, and emotions.
As Andy Stanley is fond of saying, “The easiest person to deceive is the one in the mirror—YOU have talked yourself into, or sold yourself on, every bad decision YOU have ever made” (see podcast episode).
Proverbs tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is death” (Prov. 16:25). Paul explains that this is because our carnal (human) minds are hostile to God and unable submit to His laws…that we have the law of sin “warring” with God’s law in our minds (Rom. 8:7, 7:23).
In fact, Paul spends quite a bit of time on this general theme in the book of Romans. In one of the most relatable moments in the bible, he exclaims, “I don’t understand my own behavior—I don’t do what I want to do; instead, I do the very thing I hate!” (Rom. 7:15 CJB).
Boy, how many times have each of us had the same thought?!
I want to spend more time in prayer and bible study, do a better job of serving my brethren, speak less and listen more.
I DON’T want to spend as much time focused on my own needs, thinking snarky thoughts about people, getting caught up in juicy office gossip, or mindlessly scrolling my Instagram feed.
And yet here we are…
Paul is talking about knowing the will of God, but feeling like a failure because we’re not DOING it consistently. Sometimes we make excuses, sometimes we justify our thoughts or actions, and sometimes we simply ignore what’s not convenient or things that conflict with what we want to do. We make idols of our own reasoning and emotions, and sometimes follow those contrary to God’s word. Over time this thinking alters our minds, and eventually our behaviors.
Jeremiah cautions that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked [“without cure”]; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). We often don’t keep reading in that verse, but it’s critical to note that God then says “I, the Lord, search the heart. I test the mind.” But do we??
How can we tell whether we’re tuned in to our own minds and hearts? These are some questions we each should meditate on regularly and—most importantly—be truthful with our assessment.
- Do you pay attention to your own unguarded thoughts, and evaluate your emotions and reactions on an ongoing basis?
- Do you recognize when you’re justifying your actions or “selling yourself” on an idea because it’s what you desire…not what you know you *should* do?
- Are you able to be truly honest with yourself about why you’re making certain decisions or engaging in certain activities, and call yourself out when you know you’re in the wrong?
- Are there areas where you know you’re seeing how close you can get without “going over the line”? Andy Stanley used a phrase for this I loved—are you “snuggling up to the edge of disaster”?
- When you’re confronted (even just internally) with a clash between your values or beliefs and your actions, do you immediately compare yourself to someone else (“I’m not as bad as…”) or gloss over it (“This is a special circumstance”), rather than face it head-on?
- Have you ever (like David) asked God to show you your “secret faults” and “presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:12-13)?
This all highlights why the “just as I am” version of Christianity is so insidious. People will say “well, that’s just how I am” or “that’s just part of my personality, but God called me this way”. And then instead of working to overcome these failings—anger, resentment, jealousy, whatever—they use them as an excuse, a shield against God (and, often, their brethren and families).
You’d think we’d have trouble living with and reconciling all these contradictory feelings and actions…but humans are masters at compartmentalizing conflicting thoughts and beliefs.
We throw up partitions in our minds, or what Paul calls “lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God,” in order to separate what we know God says on one side from our human reasoning and desires on the other (II Cor. 10:5). Then when God’s word (or our conscience, or someone we love) tries to convict us of something, we bail out by using rationalizations or justifications.
We tell ourselves something like, “I know God says we’re supposed to keep the sabbath, but He wouldn’t want me to lose this job and I only go in when there’s an emergency.”
Or, “I know the Bible says we’re supposed to go away to the Feast of Tabernacles, but we don’t live in an agrarian culture anymore and no one goes to Jerusalem for the holy days…we don’t really know what that should look like in a modern context, so staying home totally makes sense.”
And so we go on and on, living with this constant cognitive dissonance—the tension in trying to hold two contrary beliefs or realities simultaneously. It is as frustrating as trying to focus the left eye on one object and the right eye on another.
This fragmented thinking causes us to develop what James describes as a “double mind,” which makes us “unstable in all our ways” (James 1:8). This instability is what prevents us from dealing satisfactorily with the things in our life that we know are contrary to God’s will, and it undermines our relationship with Him.
It also makes us continually more vulnerable to temptation and Satan’s attacks. Proverbs tells us that a person who “has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls”. In other words, defenseless and open to attack. But Paul reminds us that we’re not ignorant of Satan’s devices—rather, we should be on our guard (and defending our walls) so he can’t take advantage of us (II Cor. 2:11).
So what are we supposed to do if our hearts are so deceitful and our minds prone toward instability? Look to God: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Go back to the basics with prayer, bible study, talking to brethren you trust, and asking God to show you where you might be off-course. Is there a topic you’re afraid to bring up with a close friend in the faith, or in prayer with God…because you know you wouldn’t like the answer? That might be a good place to start.
Focus scripture: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know your own self?…Unless indeed you are disqualified” (II Cor. 13:5)
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Engaging with our brethren
Another way we can exalt our own thinking above God’s word can manifest in how we interact with our brethren. There are myriad ways this can show up, including allowing (ultimately trivial) biblical disputes to come between people, backbiting, seeking favor and position (or following those who do), gossip, and much more.
Paul frequently addressed this in his letters to various New Testament church groups. Individually we read these passages as us being on guard against other people, and that’s true. But sometimes we forget that WE are those people.
He cautions, “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Rom. 12:16). Earlier in this letter he says that those who claim to be wise actually are fools (Rom. 1:22).
Now let’s take a moment and make sure we’re understanding Paul here. Being of the “same mind” emphatically does NOT mean “group think”, that all brethren need to agree on everything all the time or follow the “party line” of a corporate church organization.
Instead, this is about sharing a common bond, being grounded in the same basic beliefs and faith in God, and showing love and respect as fellow members working toward the same ultimate purpose. It’s fighting against our human tendency toward conceit, pride, and division, thinking we’re better than someone else.
Satan always desires for us to exalt our own ideas over true knowledge and understanding, helping fuel disputes, offenses, deceit, disillusionment, factions, and even people turning their back on the faith.
Here are a few examples of what this can look like:
- “Do not bite and devour one another” (Gal 5:15)
- “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11)
- “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth” (I Tim. 6:3)
- “…Charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some have strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (I Tim. 1:3)
- “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God…rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like a cancer” (II Tim. 2:14-17)
- “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (II Tim. 2:23)
- “Note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ…by smooth words and flattering speech [they] deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:17-18)
- “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:6)
WOW. That is…a lot of ugly. Clearly with the number of times that Paul alone addressed this topic, this was not only a frequent issue in the early church, but also is a fundamental aspect of our human nature. Even with having God’s spirit, this is a sadly commonplace attitude if we don’t learn to recognize it and “cast it down”.
Behaviors such as focusing intently on pet doctrines, calendars, prophetic speculation, the exact translation of an ancient Greek word, or cleaving desperately to one specific corporate group are a reflection of a carnal mind. They destroy our relationships with our brethren, which means they destroy our ability to be in relationship with God.
The danger isn’t in having speculations or differing from “the church” on a calendar or translation matter—or being on the other side of that and thinking that the person with that belief is off-base. No, the danger is in allowing that to tear apart the fabric of the ekklesia and treat our brethren with distrust and contempt, putting us in direct opposition to God’s instructions.
There are certainly other ways you can see this exalting of our own thinking, such as people who are out for their own gain, such as Diotrophes, who John describes as “loving to have the preeminence among the brethren” (III John 7:9). Here are a few examples of this as well:
- “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels,…vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head…these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:18-23)
- “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11)
- “Now the spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:1)
- “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned to fables” (II Tim. 4:3-4)
- “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.” (II Peter 2:3)
Again, depending on what’s going on, you could be on either side of this…the deceiver or the deceived. Sometimes you’re being offended, and other times the one causing the offense.
It’s hard to know the right balance…God does want us to be using discernment, to be studying and trying to learn, to be proving what we believe, and to be discussing His word with our brethren.
And that will bring us into conflict at times with brethren, sometimes even with “church leadership”. That may be unavoidable, but how both sides of that coin react is the true test of the spirit.
So it’s worth asking yourself…where might you be letting your reasoning, feelings, or opinions about God’s way come between you and the rest of the body of Christ (the ekklesia)? And where might that be coming between you and your Creator?
Focus scripture: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others…[however] work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:3-4, 12)
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The persuasion of the world
The last few chapters of Judges tell us a story that is…bananas. I couldn’t possibly do all the details justice here, and strongly encourage you to go read it yourself (Judges 19-21). It’ll only take 5 minutes, but trust me, you need to read this story.
It begins with a wayward concubine, progresses to gang rape, murder, and dismemberment, adds in a sprinkling of civil war between tribes of Israel, then ends with the most convoluted twist of human logic and “get out of jail free” card I’ve seen…the kidnapping of women from a neighboring town in order to get wives for the defeated tribe as a loophole to an oath the victors had sworn.
Like I said, BANANAS.
The author of Judges wraps up the book just a few verses later by saying “And everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). And if that doesn’t describe the world we live in, I don’t know what does.
This world despises God, and society’s conventional wisdom and ways of thinking are completely opposed to God’s word. The world tells us that up is down, evil is good…that a man can be a woman, and killing babies is somehow a basic human freedom.
Paul explains why this is so:
“Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened…as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge [acknowledge Him], God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness…”
(It’s a VERY long list including maliciousness, envy, strife, deceit, pride, haters of God…you get the picture) (Rom. 1:21, 28-32)
The unbelieving mind clings to what it considers logic and rock-solid arguments to fend off any infringing of God’s truth into their lies. The idea of “absolute moral truth” is laughed at, “news” is simply pundits arguing opinions rather than objective facts, sin is roundly celebrated, and quoting God’s word on a particular topic is often decried as hate speech.
It is INCREDIBLY difficult to be surrounded by all of this 24 hours a day—swimming in it, marinating in it—and to not be tainted by it in some way. Even the most faithful of God’s people would struggle to remain impervious when constantly being bombarded by the perversity of society and pressures of conventional wisdom.
Possibly the quintessential example of this that comes to mind is Abraham’s nephew Lot, who was so warped by living in Sodom that he offered his virgin daughters to a rape-focused mob in order to save his guests, and then had to be basically dragged by the angels out of Sodom as it was being destroyed (Gen. 19). A tough look for my guy Lot.
Interestingly, though, Peter tells us that Lot (whom he calls righteous!) was “oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked…tormented by seeing their lawless deeds” (II Pet. 2:7-8). This gives us some interesting context and contrast.
For us, we look at Lot’s behavior back in Genesis and are rightly horrified. But Peter is telling us that God understood the magnitude of sin that Lot had to contend with and live in every day, and took a merciful view based on what He knew of Lot’s heart and mind. To me, this is a comforting thought, because I am certain that I can’t see all the ways the sin of this world has tainted ME.
When we are immersed in the world every day, over time we can stop seeing moral- and value-based questions as black and white, and start making compromises. We don’t realize we’re sliding because this typically happens bit by bit.
One of Satan’s greatest weapons is mixing in just a *little* lie at a time with the truth, over and over, making it MUCH harder to discern—and so over time the truth continues to get diluted and warped. It’s like adding a few drops of black paint to a gallon of white…once it’s stirred in, it’s extremely hard to tell. So you can add a little more, stir. A few more drops won’t hurt, stir. It still looks white to our fallible human eyes.
Are *we* the white paint…permeable, fluid, assimilating what’s being poured into us without realizing our shade is slowly evolving?
As I mentioned above, these lies often take the form of human reasoning masquerading as “good”, which can be difficult to recognize. For instance, many “social justice” movements, while often grounded in a good intent initially (i.e. slavery is evil, all people should be treated with equality), eventually masquerade as good when their actions and impact have veered wildly off-course.
This “good intention” human thinking insidiously wiggles its way into our minds where there’s a vulnerability and, like a virus, grows and replicates to alter our minds and behaviors. Over time this leads us to prioritize our own reasoning (which now mirrors society’s thinking) above the knowledge of God.
Again, the heart is deceitful above all else! We CANNOT unwittingly apply subjective worldly standards to issues when it conflicts with what God’s word says. Isaiah gives us a very stark warning against substituting our feelings and ideas for God’s truth:
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21)
We need to carefully examine ourselves to understand what desires and fears make us vulnerable to the world’s way of thinking? What could Satan tap into, where would he sense weakness to attack?
It could be something like our innate compassion (normally a good thing!), for instance, or not wanting to appear ignorant or “out of step” with society’s current stance on something. This is one of the most prevalent ways Satan uses society to manipulate us right now, by setting up incendiary false dichotomies like, “If you don’t believe or support X cause, you are obviously a terrible person who hates Y people”. We have to be using our discernment and grounding ourselves in God’s word, because it’s so simple to fall prey to that thinking.
We cannot allow our emotions to shape the truth…because at that point it is no longer the truth. We must allow the truth to shape our emotions.
It is so easy to be impacted and influenced by the world, that we must also take extra care with the people we surround ourselves with. Over and over, the bible tells us that the company we keep plays a major role in our character and behavior. Paul plainly warns us, “Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits” (I Cor. 15:33).
The book of Psalms reiterates this, as does Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers…but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night” (Ps. 1:1, NIV).
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:6-11)
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The phrases “walk in step with” and “be partakers with” in the verses above give us the context, indicating active participation, investment, and engagement with these people. This isn’t saying that we should refuse to associate with worldly co-workers, shun unbelieving family members, or avoid contact with anyone not of the faith—on the contrary, the New Testament is pretty clear on that point.
Rather, this is about who we spend the most time with, and allow ourselves to be emotionally close to and influenced by. As Andy Stanley is fond of saying, your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life—choose wisely.
And trust me, the point of all this isn’t to just make us feel depressed about what we’re facing, but instead to drive us to examine ourselves. Maybe to scare us a little.
Peter exhorted and pressed the ekklesia (and, by extension, us) to “save yourselves from this perverse [crooked] generation” (Acts 2:40). The Greek words here are active and urgent, meant to spur us to action…as though our “fight or flight” instinct were triggered.
Can you truthfully say you flee sin? Do you sidle up to it, peeking over the edge to see what you’re missing, close enough to get a contact high? (This Sabbath Thoughts study is an excellent deep dive here.)
Are you (and I) Lot and his wife, hemming and hawing and stalling until the angels literally have to grab our hands and drag us away from the brimstone raining down destruction on the sinful world around us? Despite trying to follow God’s way and being “tormented by” what he saw around him, Lot and his wife were deeply impacted by the culture they lived in and had trouble leaving it.
So we’ve talked about the unrelenting sin and deception that we face every day in the world, the human reasoning and desires that set themselves up against God. Regardless of how subtle it is, these are a bit more of a “frontal attack”.
But there’s a related type of persuasion that Satan is skilled at, which falls more under the category of “guerilla warfare”, using our own hearts and minds against us. And he’s been doing it since God breathed life into humans.
Satan took Eve, then Adam, down this path in Genesis 3, and they ultimately followed their human reasoning—the lust of the eyes, the lust of flesh, and the pride of life. And he did it by sowing seeds of doubt when it came to God’s intentions and commands, encouraging Eve to draw her own conclusions and causing her and Adam to reject God’s instructions—substituting instead their own desires.
I want to quote something from a great book I’ve been reading on Women of the Bible, about Eve:
“She came into the world perfectly at peace with her God and her husband…She never knew the meaning of embarrassment, misunderstanding, hurt, estrangement, envy, bitterness, grief, or guilt until she listened to her enemy and began to doubt God.”
When Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested, Satan kept saying “If you are the Son of God…”. Did Satan know that He was God’s son? Absolutely. That wasn’t the point. The point is, the weapon of doubt is the greatest in his arsenal, and he wields it with abandon.
How susceptible are you to persuasion, to a “well-reasoned argument” or seemingly fact-filled news article? At every turn, the world tells us to question God’s instructions, His intent, and ultimately His love for us. What are the “if God…” arguments and pseudo-truths you have allowed into your life as seeds of doubt?
Paul tells us to “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (I Cor. 16:13). I mean, easier said than done, right?! But Paul is telling us that we are to be vigilant, keeping our eyes on the world around us but even more importantly paying attention to our spiritual condition.
We must be on guard against persuasive words [CJB, “plausible but specious arguments”] (Col. 2:4). A few verses later Paul expounds, telling us to watch out “so that no one will take you captive by means of philosophy and empty deceit, following human tradition [NKJV “principles of the world”]—but not according to Christ” (Col. 2:7-8, combo CJB & NKJV).
The “antidotes” Paul gives us are to remain deeply rooted in God (verse 7) and to focus our minds on things above, versus on the world (Col. 3:2).
Focus scripture: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal [renovation] of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, ESV)
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“Casting down arguments & pretensions”: Are we guarding our hearts and minds enough in this area?
You may be familiar with the concept of a stress test, where bodily, mechanical, or other systems are rigorously and purposefully pushed to their limits in order to proactively reveal areas of weakness or problems before they become catastrophic or life-threatening.
God’s people are undergoing the ultimate spiritual “stress test” right now, to see if we hold or buckle (Matt. 25, the parable of the 10 virgins).
We live IN the world, but we should not be OF the world. I guarantee you, though, that every one of us (myself included) underestimates how much we’ve allowed “arguments” in our life that set themselves up against what God requires of us. It’s not a matter of “if” we have, only “where”.
The question is, what can we do about it?
The enemy invades our minds, our imaginations, and our hearts. Occasionally he’s successful with a direct frontal attack, out in the open. But he’s typically more subtle, sneaking in from the side, seeding tiny untruths, deceit, and doubt. He slithers into our reasoning, convictions, opinions, and feelings, maybe undermining them through a co-worker’s words or an emotional news article when we’re not on our guard.
We must DAILY practice using the all the “armor and weaponry that God provides us” so that we may be able to stand against the deceptive tactics of the Adversary (Eph. 6:11, CJB).
This includes a belt of truth (protecting the gut instinct), the breastplate of righteousness (protects the heart), a shield of faith (absorbs attacks), helmet of deliverance (protects the mind), and sword of the word of God (parries the enemy’s thrusts).
Almost everything mentioned is defensive and protective in nature. Only the sword is a tool for actively attacking, using the holy spirit and God’s word to both deflect attacks and go on the offensive when needed. We must be diligent in studying, meditating, and praying, to be successful in “rightly dividing [cutting straight] the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).
We must be staying close to God in prayer and study, asking Him to show us where we’re letting something cloud our judgment and set itself up against His way.
Examine yourself honestly and ask Him to show you where something deserves your attention. You likely already know the answer…it’s often those things that kind of flit around the edges of our mind, but we refuse to fully look at it or an engage with it (as if avoiding eye contact with it means it doesn’t exist…my cat does the same thing).
In particular, ask God to show you your “presumptuous sins”, considering that the first indictment of both Sodom and Satan was the sin of pride (Ezek. 16:49, Is. 14:13-14). From this follow attitudes of self-sufficiency, materialism, and entitlement (“I deserve, I’m owed”). These are the underpinning of today’s society, and some of the most difficult things to recognize in ourselves.
Seek out a close friend or family member who you trust to be honest with you and hold you accountable. Ask God for wisdom and discernment (James 1:4). One of the things I often pray is for God to put a “hedge” or shield around my mind to protect me from Satan’s whispers (Job 1:10).
There’s not a “quick fix” for any of this—it’s a battle we must engage in every day of our lives. What’s most critical is that we are actively thinking about this, working on it, and doing our best to develop a close relationship with God and His word (because we absolutely can’t do it without Him).
I’ll wrap with another Andy Stanley quote I particularly love: “There is no cramming for a test of character. It always comes as a pop quiz”.
You can read Part 1 of this series (Pulling Down Strongholds: the “Walled City” in Front of Us) and Part 2 as well (Spiritual Strongholds: Laying Siege to the “Walled City” Inside Us).
Recommended companion sermon: “Your Little Sins Aren’t That Little”
Recommended companion read: “Resisting to Bloodshed” from Sabbath Thoughts