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Putting Your Past Behind You

The Battle For Your Mind

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 5, 1989

Selected highlights from this sermon

Your mind is a fortress, and it’s under siege by two enemies. The enemy without: Satan; the enemy within: your sinful nature. Both enemies use the same tactics: bitterness, addiction, guilt, shame, depression, pride.

But we have weapons far superior to those of the enemies. We have the death and resurrection of Christ, His Spirit, His Word, and His peace. We also have the people of God for those times when we can’t, on our own, rid ourselves of the problems we’re facing.

Once we’ve been cleansed by God, we must consciously take every thought and examine it—is it pure, is it right, is it noble—to keep us from becoming ensnared by the enemies again.

Our Father, we know that there is a mighty battle going on for our minds, and therefore, we pray that in these moments You might close our minds off from all interference, that we might listen to Your Word with clarity and power and focus. And because we deliver this message in the name of Jesus, we pray that lives will be changed forever. Set Your people free. Help all of us to put our pasts, whatever they may be, behind us for the glory of Christ, Amen.

Many years ago my wife and I had the privilege of being in East Germany to see the sites of the Reformation. We saw that great big huge castle called the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther stayed for ten months translating the Bible into German. He was hiding there. But as I thought of that castle it represented a tremendous fortress. Just visualize acres of different kinds of buildings, all surrounded by a huge stone wall with various places for soldiers, for sentries as lookouts. And then around the castle there was a moat so it was not possible for the enemies to come in, though there were some drawbridges to allow the people in the castle to go out.

What I’d like to do in the next few moments is to ask you to visualize your mind as a castle, as a fortress, if you please. Now the Bible would teach that there is an enemy without, and that enemy is Satan. He is an evil being who wants to inject thoughts into our minds. That is the enemy without. But there is also an enemy within that is called in the New Testament the flesh. Jesus said that it is from within the heart of man that comes adulteries, fornication, thefts, covetousness. “All these things,” said Jesus, “come from within and defile the man.” Those are the enemies that are already within the walls of the castle.

One of the questions that is often asked is, “How can you tell the difference—whether the enemy you are fighting is one who is without or an enemy within?” The answer is sometimes you don’t know, because the intention of both sets of enemies are always the same. They converge and their tactics are so much the same that sometimes you can’t tell the difference. In extreme cases you can, but often you can’t.

I want you to take your Bibles and turn today to 2 Corinthians 10, and we’re going to read verses 3 to 5 where the Apostle Paul is talking about a battle, a warfare. It is the battle for your mind. Second Corinthians 10:3:
“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.”

Now, if we are going to be successful in this strategy in the battle and the war for our minds, what we must understand is our own strategy. How do we go about fighting the battle for purity, the victory of the mind?

First of all, we must identify the enemy. We’ve got to identify the enemy. Paul says, “We are destroying speculations.” The King James, I think, says “imaginations.” You know, God gave us an imagination because the imagination is part of our creativity, our ability to visualize things that are not yet. And yet we read in the Bible repeatedly that the imaginations of men’s hearts were evil continuously.

And the imaginations, those enemies within, become our problem in our battle for the mind. I’d like to list some of them for you. First of all, perhaps bitterness—thoughts of bitterness! Someone has done you a bad turn and they have ruined you and they have used you, and they haven’t even had the good sense to say, “I’m sorry.” And so in your mind you replay those incidents over and over again, and it doesn’t alleviate your bitterness or your hatred, but generally replaying them in your mind only intensifies the hatred, the bitterness, the resentment, and there it is in your mind and heart.

What about sexual lust? I suppose that there are no imaginations that are so easily justified to the human mind, particularly among those of us who are men, struggling with purity in a world that seems to have simply gone mad in terms of purity.

The hotel room I stayed in on Friday evening in Washington… For a few extra dollars I could have watched a pornographic movie there on the television set. You know, when I think of the availability of this kind of pornography, I just think, “What kind of a world are our children and our grandchildren going to live in?” And that’s why you ought to pray for me and for members of the pastoral staff, and for all of our elders, and all the church leadership that God might keep us pure, and that we might never, never touch the dial of that kind of thing that is available in motel rooms today.

And some of you who are business people, who do a lot of flying, and you do a lot of traveling, you ought to have people to whom you are accountable, praying for you that the satanic snare that is available virtually everywhere will not get you. And so we have sexual lust. We have addictions. I’m not going to say too much about that. The entire message next week is devoted to addictions.

What about guilt and shame? Last week I mentioned to you that guilt does not need to be added to the work of Jesus Christ, and that’s very important. What I neglected to say is that guilt does have a very special and important function, namely to drive us to Christ, that we might recognize our helplessness, that we might be aware of our sinfulness and that we might be driven to Him to be cleansed and to be forgiven. What about depression? What about pride? God says He hates a proud look.

Now, let me tell you that when the imaginations within are in cahoots with the enemy without (and remember the enemies of the soul always are in cahoots with the enemy that is outside of us), when those two converge and work together you have what is known as a stronghold. You have a part of yourself which is at war with the other part of yourself. And we can call it by a different name. It becomes an obsession. Some people become obsessed with the things that we have listed, or perhaps something else that we neglected to list. And these thoughts and these desires simply overrun them, and the people are no longer in control because now they are subject to feelings and desires and thoughts over which they have no control whatever. They are being overrun by impurity. So what you have to do is to identify the enemy. Do you recognize the enemy?

A second point in this strategy is that you must understand the enemy. Paul says that we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing, raised up against the knowledge of God. What is it that raises itself up against the knowledge of God? It is, of course, those thoughts, those aspirations, those imaginations. But now, what are the tactics of the enemy? The bottom line is lies, of course. Lies, lies, lies, lies! Always lies! But what kind of lies?

First of all, our enemies pose as our friends. They pose as our friends. In fact, in the very list I gave you I can imagine someone here saying, “Now, wait a minute! Why should I be willing to get rid of my bitterness because, after all (you may say to yourself), I am the one who has been wronged, and you’re asking me to give up bitterness.” So you think that bitterness is your friend. You don’t recognize it as your personal enemy.

Perhaps there is someone here who says, “Yes, I struggle with lust, but after all of the rejection and all of the hurt that I have received in life, I should at least be allowed to have this small pleasure, and now you want to take this pleasure from me?” And you don’t even recognize it as your enemy.

The addictions! What can we say about those? Somebody says, “They are the crutch upon which I build my life. There is no way that I want to give these addictions up,” and so you hug your enemies to your bosom and call them your friends. That’s a satanic strategy.

I want to tell you that the reason that these enemies exist, and their purpose, is first of all, to totally control you. And secondly, to destroy you! That’s why they exist. The Scripture says in 1 Peter 2:11: “Dearly beloved, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” And the only purpose of a war is that you might eventually control and then destroy the person against whom you are warring. And that’s what these enemies are up to. They want our destruction. Your flesh and Satan together want to neutralize your witness for Jesus Christ. They want to fill your mind and your heart with so much defeat and so much impurity, they want that neutralized so that you will live a life that does not please God, and a life that will not count for eternity. That’s what they are after. They are not your friends. They are your mortal, death-to-death enemies, but they pose as friends.

There’s a second lie, and that is they want us to overrate their strength. They love that. Do you know what Satan and the flesh would like? They’d like nothing better than if you as a Christian said, “Well, you know, I’ve tried to overcome these things but I’ve given up. There’s no way that I can do it. I might just as well go with the flow. Ah! The enemy loves it because that’s what it wants. It wants to appear formidable. It wants you and me to think that there is no way that we can overcome their strength.

There’s a third lie. Listen carefully. Satan and the flesh want us to rationalize so that we will actually think that it is possible to be one kind of person on the inside, and be a different kind of a person on the outside. So people say to themselves, “It doesn’t matter whether I watch those soap operas because I’m not involved in adultery, though I’m always watching other people who are.” Do you see the rationalization? Or the person who is into pornography or whatever else!

You see, the rationale is, “I can be impure on the inside. I can be rotting on the inside, just as long as all of my actions are okay on the outside.” It’s a lie of Satan. It’s the strategy of the devil to subdue, to control, and to destroy.

Now, let me ask you something. What if all of our thoughts were taken out of our minds and hung on a clothesline to dry? You know, incidentally, we have about 10,000 thoughts a day, I am told. How would you like to have all of your thoughts last week all strung out for public investigation? One by one people could walk by and see what you are thinking about. Oh, we would all be so ashamed, so ashamed, wouldn’t we?

If you saw my list you’d be so disappointed in me. You’d say, “Pastor Lutzer, I’m not even going to listen to you anymore.” Now, before you go for the exits, if I saw your list, you wouldn’t have to worry about listening to me because I wouldn’t even talk to you anymore. (laughter)

Let me ask you something. Do you really think it would be possible for us to love one another if all of our thoughts about different people and different situations were exposed? I don’t think that we could love one another anymore. I really don’t think so. I was thinking about this and it increased in my mind the incredible love of God, because the Bible says as a man thinks in his heart so he is. God doesn’t even take note of your actions. They are secondary, because man looks on the outward appearance. God sees the heart, and He sees all of the corruption and all of the jealousies and the hatred and the envy and the lust, and He goes on loving us anyway.

It says in Psalm 90:8 an amazing statement: “that our sins are in thy presence,” it says, and have been exposed—“our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” And God knows the whole thing and goes on loving us. Now if that isn’t love, what is?

The first thing that you have to know is to identify the enemy. Secondly you have to understand the enemy. Thirdly, you need the right strategy, the right weapons. Notice what Paul says in verse 3: “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.” I think that if there is any definition of secular psychology it is using the wrong kind of weapons to fight the wrong kind of war.

What are the weapons of the flesh? It is self-help programs. You hate your mother-in-law and so you are given a pillow and the psychologist says, “Now, what you ought to do is to pretend that this pillow is your mother-in-law, and take it and kill it and get all of the anger out of your system.” So you take the pillow and you try to kill it and you find out that you hate your mother-in-law worse than you’ve ever hated her. It only intensifies the anger.

Somebody else says, “Well, you know what you have to do is to promise that you are going to reform, and we’re going to take you through certain programs where there can be reformation.” And sometimes there is successful reformation, but the heart remains unchanged. Why? It’s because there is no such thing as using a physical weapon for a spiritual problem. You can’t fight the devil with a sword, not a literal sword, because the devil is spirit. Your mind is spirit. It would be incorrect for you to say, “I had a thought that weighed nearly a half gram and it was a half centimeter long,” because your thoughts are not matter. Your mind is a spiritual substance and that’s why God’s weapons are spiritual weapons. It’s because we have spiritual problems.

As a matter of fact, your mind is not only a spiritual substance but it can operate independently of the brain. You know, there’s a rumor I’ve been trying to stamp out for years. The rumor is that you need brains in order to think. Have you ever heard that? Some of you haven’t. Nonsense! Where in the world did you pick that idea up, that you need brains in order to think? My dear friend, when you die, your brain is going to rot in the heart of the earth. It’s going to disintegrate, and you’re going to be thinking and feeling more clearly than you’ve ever thought or felt in your life before, because it is your mind that goes to heaven when you die. And that’s the time when you can think with incredible clarity.

D. L. Moody said, “Soon you shall read in the newspapers that D. L. Moody is dead. Do not believe it for in that moment I shall be more alive than I have ever been.” You don’t need brains to think. That’s comforting, isn’t it?
Some of you teenagers tell that to your teacher tomorrow.

Now, I might say that as long as you are in this life I suggest that brain and mind stay together. But there is a time when they are going to separate and your mind is going to do perfectly okay without your brain.

What are our weapons so that we can win this war? First of all, the death of Christ! Why do I say that? You see, the Bible says that when Jesus Christ died, He won a victory over Satan, but He also purchased our forgiveness so that God can say to you today, “You are cleansed and you are forgiven.” That’s where you must be. You must begin taking the blood of Jesus Christ and receiving its cleansing for your conscience and for your mind. I’ll tell you, if your mind has never been cleansed by Christ, what an awful place it is, and that’s where you begin. Actually the death of Jesus Christ represents the bottom line. It is the cornerstone. It is the most important thing that we can depend upon to be cleansed.

Secondly, you have the ascension of Christ. That is a very important weapon, because it says that when Jesus ascended far above all principalities and powers and every name that is named, it is then that He took authority over the enemy, and His enemies are His footstool and we are there with Him, the Bible says. So you can take authority over the enemies. You have that authority.

So here’s the deal. When Jesus came to this earth, He came into Satan’s territory. The Bible says that the whole world lies in the lap of the wicked one. Satan is the prince of the power of the air. Jesus Christ came behind enemy lines, and He captured some of us for Himself. And now the text says that we can take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We can do the same thing that He did because of the victory that He wrought for us. And on the basis of His strength we can be victorious. You have authority over the thoughts, the enemies of the mind and the soul.

Then I think also not only of the death of Christ and the ascension of Christ, but the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. You see, when Jesus went to heaven the Bible says that He poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the church, and the Holy Spirit indwells every single believer, and we receive the Spirit in His fullness by faith. “As you have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk you in Him.” God has made provision that we need not succumb to the enemies of the mind and to the heart.

There is the Spirit of Christ. There is the Word of Christ. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and this, I suppose, is one of the most important weapons that I’ve got to stress. You see, you say to yourself, “Oh, I have so many battles in my mind. There is no way that I can win them.” One of the first questions I have to ask you is, “Are you spending ten minutes at least alone with God before nine o’clock every morning, or are you not?”

Jesus told a parable. He said that at one time there was a man who had a demon, and then the demon left the man and went through watery places, seeking rest and finding none. And suddenly the demon came back to the man from whom he had been cast out, and he discovered that the man’s life was swept, garnished and empty. It was available, and the Scripture says that that demon took seven other demons more wicked than himself, and all eight of them inhabited the man, and Christ said that the latter end of the man was worse than his beginning. The curse of an empty life!

Let me speak plainly. Suppose in a miracle God actually took away all of the negative thoughts that we’ve been speaking about this morning, all the anxiety, all the lust, all the bitterness, all the addictions. Let us suppose that God suddenly wiped your mind clean. What would you have to think about? Would you have any thoughts to sustain you during the 14 or 16 hours that we all think during the day? You see, here’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to so fill our minds with Himself that those thoughts of God squeeze the others out of existence and that we might be filled with the Word of God, which will take the place of all of those other enemies of the soul.

There is the peace of Christ. That’s another weapon. This is what it says in Philippians: “Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” Now verse 7: “And the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, shall guard your heart and mind.” There you have the fortress idea. It shall guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ so that you might be protected. The peace of Christ! Those become the soldiers that make sure that there is no enemy coming over the moat into the mind.

And do you know what the peace of Christ enables us to do? To pull up all of those drawbridges so that there will be no access! You see, what you must do is to make sure that there are no ways in which the enemy is gaining an advantage, coming in through different parts of the wall. Peace of Christ keeps us. It seals us off. It encapsulates us so that we are protected. Incidentally, the very next verse says, “And whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, or there be any praise, think on these things.” He’s talking about the mind.

You know, here in Chicago I read in the newspapers that they are thinking of having metal detectors for high school students going into class. It says something about our educational system perhaps. But do you know what I’m suggesting for you today? Once you have established the cleansing and the peace and the authority of Christ, what you and I must learn to do—and we’ve got to learn it over and over again—is to learn to frisk every single thought that comes to the mind. And so we run it through the test. Is it true, is it pure, is it wholesome, is it honest, is it of good report? If not, be gone in the name of Jesus. I will not have anything to do with that thought because that thought then becomes my enemy and not my friend.

And then we have the people of God. Paul says in Colossians, “Your hearts are being knit together in love,” he says, “in such a way that you might experience all of the fullness that there is in Jesus Christ.” Why does Paul say that? It’s because there are times when we cannot get rid of our problems alone, and that’s the way God ordained it, because, you see, one of the things that makes the enemy of the soul run is humility. Wherever there is pride Satan always says, “I have a right to be there.” Pride is the curse of the soul, and when we admit our need to someone else and we solicit prayer, that is the kind of humility that breaks the power of the enemy who seeks to destroy us.

A number of years ago I was at a conference where a man gave a testimony to just a few of us. He said that he had a habit of looking at pornography. He’d swear it off and promise that he’d never do it again, but he always did. Finally, he said he admitted it to four or five different men in a prayer group, and they all covenanted together that they would pray for him, and he said that in four years’ time he had not touched any of those magazines. God had delivered him. You see, the humility with which he was willing to display his need, and having others pray for him, became the strength by which God intervened and squashed the enemy.

What does the text say? “We are taking every thought captive,” it says, “to the obedience of Christ.”

My friend, today, God wants us to be pure within. Oh, I know we’ll never be as pure as we want to be. But God does not want us to be overrun by enemies. It says in the book of Proverbs that there are some people who are like cities without walls. What does it mean? People who have no defenses whatever! Whatever the enemy wants to do they do. They are propelled. They are driven. They are fueled by the enemies of the soul. Overrun! Jesus is the deliverer. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

Paul says we have weapons of warfare that work. Do you know why they work? It is because the weapons that I have listed enlist the help of God. They bring God to the situation. They bring God to the very point of our need.

How are you doing? Are you putting your past behind you, [or are you being] controlled by thoughts that long ago should have been put away? Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we thank You today that there is no question but that Jesus has left us the weapons, the tools to win the battle. We pray today that there may be many victories won for Christ’s sake. We pray that people who have long since caved in to the enemy may realize that there is hope as we track down thoughts that are our enemies and bring them to subjection to our Lord. Do that for us, Father, today, we pray, and set Your people free. Hear our prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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