“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” – Colossians 3:2
It’s hard to believe that every Christian can feel as Paul the Apostle did when he said that he was the chief of sinners. He was responsible for the death of many genuine and godly believers in Jesus, and had made it his mission to quash Christianity completely. Yet I can tell you that it is not only our actions but our thoughts which condemn us, and this raises each of us to the level of the worst sinner ever.
Jesus was clear on this in the Sermon on the Mount when he raised lust and anger to the level of adultery and murder. The thoughts of your mind are exceedingly sinful when they are set on the wrong things.
I think we all know enough to be able to tell when something is bad in our mind, but often these things occur to us without any conscious ability to control them popping into our awareness. The first appearance of wicked thoughts is not sin, but it is a sign of our sinful nature. It is sin when you set your mind on them, that is, when you think them again because you are dwelling on them, when you linger a little longer on these hellish thoughts than you should.
As fast as you can you need to set your mind on things that are above – godly things – and not hide these sinful ideas inside yourself and nourish them and grow their power over you.
I’m not going to mention specific thoughts and ideas of evil, for a number of reasons which I won’t go into here, but the general terms for these things are commonly mentioned in the Bible:
“sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” – Galatians 5:19-21
I’ve been a Christian for 15 years, since I was 18 years old. During this time I have been fighting sin in my life in thought, word, and deed. I’m far from perfect, but by the grace of God I have continued to grow in holiness and purity of mind. However, just a few years of setting my mind on things that are on earth – doing all that I wanted to fulfil my earthly desires without restraint (except for the restraining notion of the shame of being found out as a terribly wicked person); these few years of practising evil and thinking about evil things have continued to be a burden as I’ve tried to practise holiness.
15 years in the pursuit of holiness and I am still worn down by the wickedness of my mind to suggest evil things. Just a few years of unrestrained evil during my teenage years has set a pattern of thinking which, while thankfully reducing every year, will be with me until I die or until Jesus returns.
It is so vital that we encourage young boys and girls to set their mind on things that are above from an early age so that they are not worn down by the battle against themselves when they are adults. This is in part so that they can spend more of their energy building the Kingdom externally amongst God’s people rather than internally inside themselves.
Now, some might object that these thoughts are not really that bad, that they are definitely not as bad as carrying out the acts for real. That may be true because you are not involving anyone else in your sin, causing them to participate in the actions which you think about. However, we have seen from Jesus that a thought is as good as a deed at condemning you to hell, so there must be a little more to it.
I think that this is because the gravity of a crime is determined by who that crime is committed against. And all sin is against God, who created us for a holy purpose which we deny and corrupt by our evil thoughts and actions. As far as God is concerned, since he sees the thoughts and intentions of our hearts as clearly as he sees our actions, there is no difference.
Others might object that such thoughts are more than humans are capable of thinking for themselves and that it must be devils putting them into their mind. Again, there is an element of truth to this objection, that Satan can have enormous power over people to suggest such things, but you must not underestimate the creative imaginations of humans to come up with wildly wicked ideas.
God has intended our intelligence and our creativity for good, but we continually use them for bad. And that is why we must set our mind on the things that are above, because in doing so we train our conscious and our subconscious to dwell on holy things. This way, we will find that less evil thoughts from the back of our mind, which we are less aware of, will be sent forward to full awareness in the front. This then leads to less sinful and distracting thoughts for us to deal with.
An important note to remember, for Christians and non-Christians, is that Jesus has died to take the punishment for sin. If we put our trust in him to do this for us, we can then put our failures of mind and body behind us and set ourselves on doing what we know is right. Every day is a battle for holiness, but our failures do not need to weigh us down. We must continually thank Jesus for the forgiveness that we have for our daily errors, and then set our minds on things that are above so that it becomes more natural for us to think right and to do right.
And we can also look forward to the return off Jesus, when every evil notion and urge will be completely removed from all of creation, and we will finally have the rest in our minds which Christians should crave daily. What a wonderful relief that will be!
Some practical ideas for setting your mind on things that are above:
Read your Bible – how much closer to things that are above can you get than filling your mind with the Word of God? And every day, multiple times a day, you should fill your mind with Scripture rather than filling it with the latest TV series about worldly fancies.
Memorise Bible verses – perhaps pick Colossians 3:2 to start so that in those moments where evil thoughts pop into your mind you can immediately quote to yourself “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”.
Make a practice of wondering about people’s faith backgrounds and where they will spend eternity – many of our unholy thoughts are about other people, so when you talk with people or walk past them in the street you should look them in the eyes and try to consider their eternal fate or detect clues about their faith so that you can ask about these things.
Keep yourself busy enough mentally and physically so that you do not have an idle mind which is waiting for something to occur to it – hard work is not bad, games are not bad (sudoku, cryptic crosswords if you can), reading is not bad, so fill your mind and life with activity which will grow your potential to be holy and to think holy things.
What other practical ideas do you have for setting your mind on things that are above? Add them in the comments below.