. . . You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . (Eph. 2:2-3 NASV).
We often think of habits as the things that we do. Yet, few things become habits so quickly as the thoughts that we think. You probably do a number of “mindless” tasks to prepare to go to work or school in the morning. Yet, are they really “mindless?” Or are they mental habits? Things like: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, pouring the cereal, and making the coffee. Our hurried culture even captures this truth. We say: “I never gave it a second thought.” Are we not inferring that we gave it a first thought?
This truth brings both good news and bad. The good news is that our thoughts are only habits, not involuntary actions. So, by the power of the Spirit, we can choose what we think about. There is hope for the destruction of old thought patterns and the development of new ones. The bad news is that because these thoughts come so quickly and frequently they are challenging to break.
The passage in Ephesians is an excellent reminder of the location of our battlefield. When we formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh we were indulging our desires and our minds. Walking in the Spirit means we develop a new set of thought patterns that help us control those sinful desires. There are different Greek words that the translators of Scripture captured with the word “mind.” The one used here (Eph. 2:3) could also be translated as “understanding or imagination.”
What are you imagining right now? What are you thinking? Are your imaginative fantasies developed from the “course of this world” or from the “mind of your Master?”Are you bending your mind around a sexual fantasy? Are you dreaming about how you might spend a million dollars? Are you imagining the pleasure of the upcoming weekend or retirement? Such imaginations are thinking like the world. They are making your thoughts all about you. There is nothing of the sweet service of Jesus in them (Mark 10:44-45). This is why Paul challenged us to control our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8). He also gave this strict warning “. . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing my grandfather say grace at the table. I confess it wasn’t my favorite memory at the time, because his prayers were long, and grandma’s cooking was good! But you always knew when Grandpa’s prayer was coming to an end, because he would say, “Lord, forgive us where we have sinned against you in word, deed, or thought.” In his simple way he grasped the importance of your thinking if you were to be victorious over sin.
My Grandpa understood that if you were headed into battle you better know the location of the battlefield.