Every Thought Captive
by Christen Nutter
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 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, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
The title of this article series is “Every Thought Captive.” Captive. That word and its variants have loaded connotations, do they not? Captive. Capture. Captivity. Captivating. All but “captivating” seem to have a negative vibe. Perhaps images come to mind of a jail cell or a kidnapping or those rural compounds you see on the news where victims have been held for decades. It’s this idea of putting impenetrable boundaries around something. If you are a captive, you are hostage to your captors. So what does it mean to, as Paul urges, “take every thought captive to obey Christ”?
In youth ministry, the topic of boundaries seems almost thematic in many of our conversations with students, typically in reference to physical boundaries. But recently, in a small group Bible Study of high school girls, my co-leader and I posed the question, “how do you know when you shouldn’t be watching or listening to something? When does it cross the line?” It was a question about thought boundaries. What struck me more than anything was—not their answers—but simply how novel the question was to them. To their knowledge, they’d never considered the existence of a proverbial line or the possibility of it being crossed. This led to discussion about all of the things they’d seen, heard, watched, or read without ever reflecting on its influence over their thoughts and behaviors. They voiced that it never occurred to them to put the book down, turn the music off, change the channel, or walk out of the movie.
And the truth is, that lifestyle sounds pretty lame. Why? Because the idea of setting up boundaries feels restrictive. We feel like WE are the ones in captivity, missing out on all of the fun things available to us. Boundaries are for losers, the sheltered kids, the goody-goodies. Does it sound like I’m writing for teenagers? And yet, we all know this is true for us grown-ups as well. I’m an adult now, it’s okay for me to watch this. I know what I believe, I’m too strong to be influenced. It would be socially awkward for me to remove myself from a conversation with my peers just because there is a little gossip. I’m well over the age of 17, this movie is appropriate for my age.
Let’s admit it. We grown-ups are just as apprehensive toward self-restriction as teenagers. We are humans. We don’t like limits–never have. Satan didn’t tempt Eve with the likes of a ripe, juicy, triple-washed, organic apple. He taunted Eve with the notion that God was placing boundaries on her, limiting her, restricting her from being all she could be. God was holding her back from being, as Satan so bluntly put it, “like God.” How dare he? How dare he hold us captive from reaching our full potential? How dare he withhold from us the opportunity to express ourselves fully? How dare he request that we turn our eyes from something interesting, alluring, inviting? It’s culture, after all.
Nope. It’s slavery. We forget that… We forget that those things are a trap. They are carrots luring us to a captor we cannot see. Paul hints at this hidden enemy in the same breath he uses to urge us to take every thought captive. He writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” According to Paul, we are in a war. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty serious. And in this war, Paul tells us that we actually have access to weapons not made of flesh that literally have the power to destroy strongholds. It is with these spiritual weapons that we fight to recapture our thoughts.
This is not to say that every secular book is wrong, every R-rated movie is evil, and every rap song has a bad message. The Bible also has a lot of things to say about the beauty and value of culture. This passage is not a plumbline against which to measure holiness. It’s not telling us what we should and shouldn’t watch on Netflix. It’s telling us to think before we ingest things into our minds. It is a call out of intellectual passivity and into action. We have to take our thoughts captive by taking them back from their current captors. In fact, this is the only way to freedom. Because that—contrary to first impressions—is precisely what our God is interested in: our freedom. Not our captivity. And we as Christians can only have true freedom by actively taking our thoughts captive rather than passively allowing our thoughts to be held hostage by the dominating messages of the day.
About the Author
Coordinator of Youth Volunteers
Park Cities Presbyterian Church