Darkened Understanding

“…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Ephesians 4:17-19

In the passage above, Paul reveals the connection between insightful thinking, a tender heart, and actions that line up with God’s way of living. He starts by exhorting the Christians in Ephesus to no longer live as the Gentiles do, and he specifically identifies the problem: “the futility of their thinking.” He rewords this same problem a couple more times saying the Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding.” He exposes their “ignorance.”

All of this is a problem in the mind. Their thinking was skewed. They lacked insight and wisdom in the way they thought about things. Their minds were cut off from God’s revelation and truth. What is most interesting is Paul’s diagnosis. How did their minds and their thinking get so warped? How could they become so blind to the truth? Paul says that this happened because of the “hardening of their hearts.”

I find this fascinating!

The reason their thinking was so warped and their ability to embrace truth so damaged was because of a condition in their heart. They had “lost all sensitivity.” What does that mean? It means that, over time, if we don’t actively try to keep a tender heart, our heart will become hardened. If we aren’t actively forgiving those who hurt us, if we aren’t actively being sensitive to the contamination of sin and impurity, we will eventually become desensitized. Bitterness will become normal. We will stop feeling the pangs of conviction when we sin. Instead of feeling the natural guilt that comes from lust and perversion, we’ll feel nothing at all but justification for our actions.

When hearts become hardened to sin, our actions become unrestrained. Selfishness, indulgence, pleasure, and ego become king. Greed becomes normal, along with lust and jealousy, fear and hatred. And it’s not difficult to see how this works its way backward toward darkened understanding and futility in thinking.

When sin abounds in our life, our heart loses its sensitivity to conviction, its sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And when our heart loses sensitivity over time, it becomes hardened, calloused, desensitized. Inevitably, the hardness of our heart prevents our mind from receiving truth, illumination, and revelation. We are cut off from the profound insights that the Lord wants to plant in our minds, and our thinking becomes darkened and futile.

So often we compartmentalize the wholeness of our being and we miss the deep connections between our actions, our heart, and our mind. Paul makes these connections clear to the Ephesians and to us. We all want to have profound, insightful thoughts, but most people don’t see the connection between how they’re living and how they’re thinking. We want to have illuminating thoughts without obedience. We want insight without self-discipline. But they are connected.

The more willing we are to surrender our actions to the Lord, the more willing we are to be obedient in our self-denial, then the more tender our heart remains. We want a heart that is sensitive to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit. We want a heart that is quick to embrace conviction of sin and quick to repent. This then keeps the door open and receptive for when God wants to download His thoughts into ours. This then keeps us ready to receive profound, illuminating thoughts that are thick with wisdom and insight.

Our actions change the condition of our hearts. Our hearts then change the receptivity of our minds.

Cut It Out

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:7-9

If something in your life causes you to sin, cut it out of your life. Even if something doesn’t cause you to officially “sin” but just causes a sense of being slimed by the uncleanness of the world, remove that from your life as well. Jesus wanted all of His disciples, including us, to be serious about removing contaminations from our life.

When priests would enter the outer court of the Temple, they would sacrifice animals on the altar. The blood of the animals would temporarily cleanse them from sin. But then they went over to the bronze wash basin where they would wash with water. This action wasn’t about cleansing intentional sin but about removing “uncleanness.” This was about removing the unintentional contamination that inevitably gets on us just by living in a fallen world.

What we hear will become what we speak. What are you listening to? If what you hear from music, podcasts, talk radio, or gossipy co-workers negatively impacts your heart, stop listening to it! Cut it out of your life.

What we see will become what we think about. What are you looking at? If what you are watching on Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, YouTube, your computer screen, or your phone negatively impacts your spiritual health, stop watching it! Cut it out of your life. It doesn’t have to officially be labeled “sin” to fill your heart and mind with things that are not good for you. If it is junk food for your soul, then it will still have a negative impact on your life with Christ.

Jesus used severe language to tell us to remove the contamination from our life as a way to let us know how important this is. Jesus intentionally used violent and graphic imagery as a way to get our attention. Stop messing around with sin. Sin is not something to be toyed with. Treat sin as the radioactive element that it really is.

In the Kingdom of God, strength and weakness are defined differently. It’s not a sign of strength to watch something we shouldn’t be watching and then claim that it won’t affect us. That’s weakness. Real strength is when we admit that watching that or listening to that will cause our mind to go places it shouldn’t go. Watching that will cause my mind to be saturated in lust (over-sexualized shows), or fear (horror movies), or anger (news programs), or despair (sad movies), so I’d rather cut it out of my life than have to battle against those things later in my thoughts. That is real strength in the Kingdom.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

What is God telling you that you need to cut out of your life?

Think about these things

8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

Philippians 4:8

Things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy…this is what your mind is supposed to be focused on as a follower of Jesus. That means we need to filter what is allowed to enter our mind.

We know that if we eat healthy foods, our body will be healthier. The same is true of our mind. What we allow to enter our eyes and our ears matters. The definition of immaturity is consuming everything the world offers and thinking it won’t affect the way we think and what we think about. We are trying to teach our kids to be mindful of what they hear and what they watch. And we never grow out of this truth. When Paul was writing this to the Philippians he was writing to adults.

What you watch on Netflix, Prime, HBO or Hulu matters. It matters what you see on screens, whether they are TV, computer, or phones. It matters what conversations you choose to participate in and what conversations you walk away from. What you allow in your eyes and ears will be what your mind tends to think about. So are those things true? Are they noble? Are they pure? How about lovely or admirable? Are they excellent or praiseworthy?

Just as our computers have filters on them to block inappropriate content (or they should if they don’t already) our minds need filters. Those filters are positioned on our eyes and ears. What will we allow in? If we notice that watching or listening to something causes seeds of sin to enter our heart and mind (like lust, anger, despair, racism, gossip, envy, self-righteousness, etc) then we need to cut it out of our lives.

This is what Jesus was getting at when He said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away…”(Matthew 5:29). Jesus wasn’t speaking literally as if He was promoting self-mutilation. His hyperbolic language was supposed to help us understand the severity of leaving open gateways of sin in our lives.

Practically speaking, this looks like you stop watching that show. You stop watching or listening to the news (at least in that format). You don’t read that person’s post or article on Facebook. You don’t open your computer that late at night. You put your phone down and stop scrolling through images of “picture perfect families” or undressed women. You stop joining conversations where people are talking negatively about others at work…or church.

Your mind will produce the fruit of whatever you feed it. Feed it healthy things!

Public Thought Life

Some of your thoughts are not your own. Some of them did not originate with you. The enemy tries to plant thoughts in our minds that are lies, deception, and/or condemnation. These demonic thoughts projected into our minds are the “flaming arrows of the evil one” mentioned in Ephesians 6:16.  

So, we know the kingdom of darkness can whisper lies to us, but can demons read our thoughts?

I had an encounter once where I was praying for a woman in my church who was physically sick, and I was just praying for healing. As I prayed for healing she had no outward, physical signs of the demonic. Yet, as I prayed, I sensed the Lord highlight the possibility that she had demons in her causing some of the problems. So without saying a word, I shifted in my thoughts from “healing prayer” to “deliverance prayer.”

As soon as I shifted my thoughts and directed them against the demons, even thought I never prayed out loud, she started to have physical manifestations of the demonic. She started to dry-heave and gag (common signs of demons trying to leave the body) just as I turned my thoughts from healing prayer to deliverance mode.  Obviously the demons somehow picked up on the change in my thoughts.

Did they read my thoughts? I’m not sure. I believe that as soon as my thoughts changed from healing prayer to “commanding demons to leave,” something was released out of me in the spirit realm…maybe light or power or something to which the demons reacted. It’s possible that demons can pick up when our thoughts agree with God and when they agree with a lie from the enemy. Maybe there is something released in the spirit realm that they can pick up on from our thoughts and emotions.

This could explain why Jesus was very concerned with our thought life and the condition of our hearts. What if every thought you have and every emotion either repels the kingdom of darkness or invites it. What if every thought you have and every emotion either strengthens the angels around you and the Kingdom of God or diminishes it. This is why we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and stop thinking that our thought life is in any way “private.”