How do you deal with bad thoughts in the Christian life?
First, we should distinguish between between different kinds of bad or sinful thoughts. Some thoughts just come into our minds, and we say, “Oh man, why did I have that thought?” At other times, though, we dwell on things that we shouldn’t be dwelling on. We’re consciously deciding to think about certain things and maybe enjoying those thoughts. That’s different than when a thought just flashes through your mind out of nowhere.
The Bible tells us to think about good and pure things: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Psalm 1 tells us that a blessed person meditates upon the law of the Lord all the time (Ps. 1:2). So that’s what we’re called to think about.
If we’re focusing on other things, if we’re entertaining other thoughts, then there’s a problem. So we should confess that to the Lord and say, “God, help me. Give me strength and wisdom.”
But if we’re struggling with ungodly thoughts, we should also ask ourselves, “What am I filling my mind with every day?” In the age of social media, we’re taking in so much information and so many images, and that may be part of the problem. So ask yourself, “What am I focusing on? What am I meditating on and thinking about throughout the day? Is it the Lord, his word, and whatever is good and true and beautiful? Or is it all of these other things?” And if it’s all of these other things, we’re going to have a hard time with our thought life.
The apostle Paul says:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Brothers and sisters, you have the Spirit of almighty God living in you through the grace of the gospel. And so, as those who are filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re called to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, to meditate upon God through his word.
That’s what’s at stake here. When you have a bad thought that just flashes into your mind, don’t entertain it. Don’t dwell on it. Just confess it to the Lord, and move on, and pray that God would give you a mind set on the Spirit.