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It’s not possible for you to only think pure thoughts. If you make this your goal in life, you’ll end up burned out, beat down, and utterly discouraged. You can take that whole “take every thought captive to Christ” routine and chuck it in the wastebasket. Your thoughts are not soldiers who you can capture and confine. They’re more like ocean waves that keep rolling in no matter what you do.
God doesn’t expect you to keep your thought life pure because God is a reasonable and gracious Creator who doesn’t command His creatures to pull off feats which He knows He hasn’t equipped them for. To honor God with your thoughts, you would have to be able to control your thoughts, and that is something which is entirely out of your reach.
You have very limited control over what you think about. Ever sit down to pray only to end up having your brain spin off in a million useless directions? Ever find it impossible to focus on a project at work because you’re so upset about the fight you had with your spouse that morning? You don’t want to dwell on the fight—it’s a stressful, negative memory that upsets you. You’d much rather shove it aside and focus on some other neutral topic. Yet so often that option is just not available to you.
We need to shoot for attainable goals in life, not impossible ones. When it comes to the guilt loaded subject of your thought life, it is very possible and surprisingly easy to please God. We just have to understand what the mission is, and to do that, we need to understand how our thoughts are generated.
Your brain is the really amazing supercomputer that runs the highly complex physical machine which we call your earthsuit. You are not your earthsuit—you are the soul inside the suit. Imagine a man who is driving a super smart car. The man would be your soul, the car would be your earthsuit, and the computerized engine of the car would be your brain.
Now your earthsuit is a super high tech bit of machinery. It’s also a very smart machine—so smart that it has a will of its own. For the most part, your earthsuit operates itself—you have very limited control over what it does. Your earthsuit has its own set of desires and it can be very demanding about getting its own way.
Today we program machines to imitate human conversation. Your cell phone says “Hello” when you turn it on and “Goodbye” when you turn it off. When you dump the trash in your email, the screen says, “Thanks for recycling!” We humans are on a really weird trip with trying to turn our devices into friends that we can emotionally bond to. We give our machines human names that we then use to prompt them to do certain things. The more we personalize our machines, the more we ignore real people. It’s a perversity that we’re all getting caught up in and it’s taking a major toll on our emotional and psychological health. Go out to eat in a restaurant and you see family members sitting at the same table ignoring each other as everyone focuses on their devices. Today people use their devices to shield themselves from having to engage in focused, heart-to-heart conversations. When you interrupt your conversation with your friend every time your phone dings, it’s guaranteed that things won’t get very deep. Today we hide behind our technology while we languish inside. It’s a mess, but it’s where we’re at.
Now because your earthsuit acts so alive and cognizant, it’s hard to keep a grip on the fact that it’s just a machine with no eternal future. Most Christians do not realize that their earthsuits and their souls are two entirely separate things, and this leads to all sorts of discernment problems. We need to learn to think more like a pilot in a plane who knows the difference between flying the plane himself and turning on the autopilot program. When the autopilot program is on, the pilot can take his hands off of the controls. The controls will still move, but the pilot won’t be the one moving them. In the same way, your earthsuit is constantly doing things which your soul has no control over. Your earthsuit has a long list of autopilot programs which it is constantly running. It has one for breathing, one for digesting, one for circulation, one for your immune system–the list goes on and on. Suppose your earthsuit is sitting in a chair. Your soul is like the pilot inside the suit. Your soul decides it wants your earthsuit to get up and walk across the room. There is no panel of controls inside your suit that your soul can grab on to. The most your soul can do is send a command to your brain. Your brain runs your suit. Your soul tells your brain “Get up and walk across the room.” Your brain then sets a whole series of complex programs into motion. You see, walking is a very complex activity for an earthsuit. Taking a single step requires the precise coordination of many muscles and ligaments. The nerves on the soles of your feet report information to your brain which it uses to keep your body balanced in an upright position. Your eyes, ears, and nose keep on the lookout for obstacles in your path. Your soul doesn’t have the first clue about how your earthsuit actually functions—all of that wisdom is stored away in that miraculous supercomputer which we call your brain.
Most of what your earthsuit does in life, it does on its own without any input from your soul. When you sleep, your brain is running all kinds of maintenance programs which your soul has no say in. As far as your brain is concerned, your soul is pretty useless when it comes to managing your earthsuit. Your soul makes some really stupid choices, like steering your suit too close to a heat source or making unreasonable demands on the system. Your brain’s top priority is protecting and pleasing your earthsuit. It doesn’t care about what’s good for your soul and it doesn’t care about God. Your brain and your soul get in frequent conflicts with each other because they are working on conflicting agendas.
Now that we understand that your soul and your earthsuit are two very different things, let’s talk about thoughts. What you call your thoughts are verbal communications which appear in your brain. Thoughts are like those alerts that pop up on your laptop when your battery is running low or when you’ve just received another email. Most of what your laptop does never generates any visual alert. In the same way, the vast majority of your brain’s activity never results in those clear “alerts” that you call your thoughts.
Most people start off assuming that every thought that forms in their brains originates from their souls. They don’t think “My soul forms my thoughts,” because they don’t understand soul-brain mechanics enough to describe the process that clearly. But they do think, “I am responsible for my thoughts” and then they feel endless guilt when their minds are filled with perversity. Let’s now get deeper into the thought forming process to understand where thoughts really come from.
Your brain is a like a post office which receives letters from all over the country. The letters were sent to that post office by many different people. In the same way, your brain isn’t just receiving messages from your soul, it’s also receiving messages from your earthsuit, other people, God, and demons. As your brain is bombarded with all of this information, some of it gets translated into verbal alerts which you call thoughts. For example, your earthsuit starts feeling dehydrated. Your cells send an alert to your brain, and your brain assesses its available options. If there’s a cup of water nearby, your brain will order your arm to reach over to it without forming any thought. You’ll mindlessly pick up the water and take a drink while you’re totally engrossed in the article you’re reading online. Your brain does this sort of thing all the time—it solves problems without involving your soul. You feel something tickle your arm, and you brush it away instinctively. Your eyes feel dry and your eyelids blink down automatically. Most of what your brain does never involves the formation of a thought.
But now let’s suppose your earthsuit is sending your brain alerts that it needs hydration and there is no quick solution available. You’re sitting on the sofa in the living room and the closest source of water is in the fridge. This is when your focus will suddenly be interrupted by a sudden thought which you’ll probably then vocalize to anyone who’s in the room with you. “Wow, I’m thirsty. I need to get a drink.”
Your brain does not have total control over every earthsuit function. Your soul—the pilot of the machine—often gets in your brain’s way. Your soul’s control over your earthsuit is constantly fluctuating. Maybe you’re passing a bar and your earthsuit really wants to go in and get a fix. But your soul doesn’t like the idea of getting drunk so it orders your earthsuit to keep walking. In such a moment, your brain is not going to like what your soul is doing, but it might not be able to stop your soul from overriding its control of your earthsuit.
God is the One who decides how much control your soul has over your earthsuit at any given moment. He is constantly changing that level of control, like a man who keeps fiddling with the dimmer switch on a light. When God is giving your soul a lot of control over your earthsuit, we call that Divine empowerment. It is impossible to resist temptation without empowerment because resisting temptation is about your soul blocking your earthsuit from doing what it wants. For example, you’re in a bar trying to encourage a friend who’s down in the dumps. A sexy looking prostitute starts putting her hands on you. In such a situation, a Christian man’s earthsuit is going to say, “Bring it on! I’d love to make out with this babe!” But the man’s soul is going to say, “Yuck, no! This is totally inappropriate! I need to get out of here!” Who is going to win the conflict—soul or earthsuit? It depends on the level of empowerment. If God is giving the man’s soul the ability to override his earthsuit, then the man will remove himself from the situation and go home. If God is withholding all empowerment, the man’s going to end up in the sack. If the man is rebelling against God, then even if he has empowerment, he will choose not to use it. So when does Divine judgment come in to play? God judges the man by his soul choices. If God knows that He sabotaged the man by withholding all empowerment, God does not then blame the man for getting totally dragged down by his earthsuit. Your earthsuit is depraved and couldn’t care less about pleasing God. Your earthsuit thinks sinning is fantastic.
The way our man pleases God in this situation is by choosing on a soul level to want to please God. When the man’s soul says “I want nothing to do with this woman! God says this is wrong!”, then God is pleased because the man is choosing to honor Him. But when the man’s soul says, “I don’t care what God thinks—tonight I’m having fun!”, then he is guilty of rebellion. It doesn’t matter what his body ends up doing—it’s all about what his soul did. The man’s soul could choose to honor God yet not be able to override his body. Or the man’s soul could defy God and not use the empowerment he was given. God is the only One who can accurately assess what’s going on in temptation situations. We humans are terrible judges in these matters because we can’t see what’s going on in each other’s souls and we can’t see how much empowerment someone else has. Maybe your friend Marsha is a recovering heroin addict and you couldn’t care less about heroin. When both you and Marsha are offered a dose of the drug, you aren’t even tempted, but Marsha’s earthsuit starts screaming “Give me some of that!” When you walk away from the situation, you might act all smug and think you’ve got more self-control than Marsha. But really the two situations can’t even be compared because your earthsuit doesn’t care about heroin and hers does. She was the only one tempted, she was the only one tormented with difficult choices, while you just sailed through. Is God going to look at the two of you and judge you the same? Certainly not. God is going to convict you for having a rotten attitude while He’ll praise Marsha for wanting to do right in the face of a very difficult temptation.
What we’re learning from these examples is that many of the thoughts in your head are alerts that are generated by earthsuit cravings. When your earthsuit wants something and it needs your soul’s cooperation to get it, it will often create verbal alerts in your brain. Other times, it will use other methods to try and entice your soul to give in to it. A sexy woman walks by and the Christian man feels sexually aroused. This is his earthsuit encouraging him to keep staring and lusting. The man can’t control what turns him on, he can only control how his soul responds. When his brain thinks “Dang, she’s one hot momma,” his soul can either respond by saying, “She sure is!” or by saying, “That is an inappropriate thought. God says not to lust.”
Because your brain is part of your earthsuit, it’s going to generate many thoughts that are expressions of your earthsuit’s carnal lusts. Your soul can’t stop your brain from forming these kinds of thoughts, and this is why it is impossible to “only think on the things above.” Your brain is going to think about all kinds of things, and many of them will be inappropriate, perverse, and downright disgusting. Your soul can’t control what kinds of thoughts form in your brain, it can only control how it responds to those thoughts. Sometimes your soul will be able to have some control over what your brain focuses on, but not always. Often your brain’s perverse thoughts act like those annoying pop up advertisements on the internet that get in your face and block your access to the site you are trying to focus on. No matter how many times you close the advertisement window, it keeps reappearing. You don’t want to see the advertisement, but it’s being forced upon you and you can’t get rid of it. In the same way, there are times when your brain is going to get flooded with inappropriate thoughts and you just won’t be able to change channels. If you think that your soul is the source of these things, you’ll end up feeling beat down and discouraged. You’ll get all burdened with shame and assume that God is upset with you when He really isn’t. This is why it’s so important to understand that your soul and your brain are two separate entities, and that most of the thoughts you hear in your mind are not generated by your soul.
Your earthsuit is just one source of your thoughts. Demons are another. Demons love to dump garbage in your mind and then encourage you to take full responsibility for it. Demons play a clever game of double talk in which they first plant some disgusting thought in your head, then they turn around and condemn you for it. For example, when some very unattractive, obese person walks into your field of vision, demons say, “Wow, what an ugly cow.” Your earthsuit will find this a humorous statement, because your earthsuit is depraved and it thoroughly enjoys tearing others down. So first your soul will hear the perverse thought, then it will sense your earthsuit snickering at it. If your soul cares about pleasing God, it will find this sequence upsetting. But then demons will immediately flip tactics and say, “What kind of creep are you to make fun of that poor person? Wow! Way to be a judgmental jerk!” If your soul doesn’t know how to recognize false conviction, it will assume this is God talking, and immediately get depressed. Now your soul has nothing to be sad about, because it has actually been honoring God the whole time by wanting nothing to do with the original cow comment. The only way demons can drag you down in this scenario is by getting you to take responsibility for their nasty crack. This is why the whole “take every thought captive to Christ” strategy doesn’t work. You don’t need to take your thoughts anywhere, and Christ isn’t going to block sludge from dumping into your brain. You need to focus on your soul response and remember that your soul is what God judges you by. The Christian pedophile who is constantly plagued with fantasies of doing it with kids can be as pleasing to God as the pastor who is always contemplating Bible passages. It’s all about soul response, and the pedophile can choose on a soul level to say “These thoughts are disgusting. I’d much rather dwell on things that honor God.” Even though he doesn’t currently have the option of dwelling on better topics because God isn’t giving him the empowerment to make his brain change its focus, the pedophile is honoring God with his soul choices, and God is very pleased.
God is very easy to succeed with. Anytime you are listening to teaching about God that makes you feel like it is impossible to ever do it right, you are being deceived. Your brain is not your soul, and God does not judge you by the purity of your thoughts. Your thoughts come from many different sources: your earthsuit, other people, demons, your soul, and God. God only judges you by how your soul responds to His illumination in your life.
Now it is important to realize that God takes His time in educating us about His preferences. If you grew up in a family that was always using crude humor, at first you don’t realize that such jokes are offensive to God. If you’re taught as a child that it’s appropriate to make crude jokes about women, then that’s what you’re going to do until God teaches you better. God might not address this issue in your life until years into your relationship with Him. But once God does tell you that He finds your humor offensive, then you have the chance to honor Him by changing your soul’s response to crude jokes. Your soul used to laugh along with your earthsuit at bad jokes because your soul didn’t know any better and your soul wants to be at peace with your earthsuit as much as possible. But once God tells you that He doesn’t like the kinds of jokes you’re used to laughing at, then the next time one of your friends comes up with some crude story about women, your soul can choose to say, “This is the kind of humor God doesn’t like. I don’t want anything to do with this kind of humor because I care about honoring God.” Now your earthsuit is still going to find the joke funny, because your earthsuit doesn’t care about what God wants. But because your soul has changed its response out of love for God, God is very pleased with you. It’s probably going to take time for you to get up the guts to leave the scene when your crude friends start in with their gross stories, but God sees that you sincerely want to please Him and that is what puts a smile on His face.
Are you currently struggling with inappropriate thoughts? Instead of focusing on the subject matter of your thoughts, think about how your soul is responding. Are you upset by the garbage in your mind? Does part of you wish it could make these thoughts stop coming? Is part of you feeling repulsed and upset at the idea of displeasing God? That part of you is your soul, and the fact that you are experiencing this kind of conflict proves that your soul is making the right choices. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that part of you enjoys wallowing in perversity—that part is your earthsuit, and you don’t have control over what your earthsuit likes. God is the One who trapped your soul inside of your earthsuit, but happily He says this situation is only temporary. When you die, God will pull your soul out of your earthsuit and only your soul will go on to be with Him in eternity. This struggle is not fun, but it’s only temporary. The way we keep a grip on hope is by realizing that the presence of a struggle does not mean we can’t succeed at pleasing God. No matter what kind of garbage you have in your head, you can be very pleasing in God’s sight by the way your soul is responding. God totally understands the battle, and He is for you in life. He is an encouraging, empathetic Father who always puts victory well within your grasp. The more you learn about soul-earthsuit mechanics, the less vulnerable you’ll become to the guilt trips that demons try to dump on you. Education is the key to freedom, and you can count on the Holy Spirit to teach you everything you need to know.
Voices in Your Mind: Discerning Between God & Demons
Pleasing God When You Can’t Control Your Flesh
Brain-Soul Mechanics: Sorting Out the Voices
Understanding Your Perverse Fantasies: A Sign of Stress, Not Defectiveness