There is also a difference between being tempted (i.e. a thought entering into the mind) and sinning (dwelling upon an evil thought and wallowing in it). It is important to understand that when a thought enters our mind, we examine it based upon God's Word and determine if we should continue down that path or reject the thought and replace it with another thought. If we have already allowed a habit to form in our thought lives, it becomes more difficult to change the path of our thoughts, even as it is hard to get a car out of a deep rut and onto a new track.
The biggest question for Christians today is, “How do we take control of our thoughts and get rid of wrong thoughts”: Let me share some Biblical suggestions.
I. Stay In God’s Word
Be in God's Word so that when a sinful thought enters our mind (a temptation), we will be able to recognize it for what it is and know what course to take. Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4) responded to each of Satan's temptations with Scripture that applied to the direction He knew His mind should take instead of beginning down the path of the sinful thought. When tempted to meet His physical need (turning stone into bread), He recited the passage about the importance of relying upon God. When tempted to serve Satan in order to obtain the glory of the world, He brought up the passage that says we are to serve and worship God alone and speak of the glory that belongs to Him and those who are His.
When tempted to test God (i.e. to see if God was really there and would keep His promises), Jesus responded with passages that stress the importance of believing God without having to see Him demonstrate His presence. Quoting Scripture in a time of temptation is not just some kind of “good luck charm”, but rather serves the purpose of getting our minds onto a biblical track, but we need to know the Word of God AHEAD of time in order to accomplish this. Thus, a daily habit of being in the Word in a meaningful way is essential. If we are aware of a certain area of constant temptation (worry, lust, anger, etc.), we need to study and memorize key passages that deal with those issues. Looking for both what we are to avoid (negative) and how we are to properly respond (positive) to tempting thoughts and situations—before they are upon us—will go a long way to giving us victory over them.
II. Live In Dependance Of Holy Spirit
For many in today’s society, living in dependence upon the Holy Spirit is a foreign idea. So another question may arise, “How do we do that?”
The only way is seeking His strength through prayer. Matthew 26:41 (KJV) speaks to this idea: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
If we try and rely upon our own strength, we will fail every time. Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)
Often, I here or read where people will say, “it’s what’s in the heart that counts.” Oh, how wrong they are to trust their heart without any guidelines, because Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
III. Guarding Our Hearts and Minds
We are to be careful how and what we feed our hearts and minds with that which will promote sinful thoughts. This is the idea of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” We are to guard our hearts—what we allow into them and what we allow them to dwell on. These are called “intrusive” thoughts.
Job 31:1 states, "I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman" (NKJV).
Romans 13:14 states, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." Thus, we are to avoid periodicals, videos, websites, conversations and situations that will set us up for a fall. We should also avoid spending time with those who would encourage us down these wrong paths.
Most everyone has intrusive thoughts at some point. They're the little nasty ideas that pop up out of nowhere. They may be about sex or blasphemous thoughts about God. They could be about hurting someone or even hurting yourself. As disturbing as they can feel, they're very common and don't necessarily mean anything serious. And they're not sin. It's not a sin to have a random thought. Although it may be sin to choose to keep thinking about it or to act on it.
The simplest way to deal with intrusive thoughts is to reject them and think about something else. Philippians 4:8 is a key verse: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." As simple as it sounds, it isn't always easy. You have to be consistent and do it every time such a thought appears in your mind. Over and over, a thousand times if necessary. Before too long, it should be second nature.
Another option, if you're more curious about the thought than disturbed, is to quiet down and contemplate why that particular thought came about. You may find that you're anxious about something or saw images that triggered it. If the problem is a life event or a strained relationship, you now know what you should be praying for.
It's entirely possible that the intrusive thoughts are feeding off of something you've voluntarily exposed yourself to. It could be a TV show, a movie, a video game, or a book. If you have sexual intrusive thoughts and you watch sexually-questionable shows, stop watching. If you have spiritual-based intrusive thoughts and you watch reality shows about ghosts, stop watching. It's harder to notice when you're younger and constantly deluged with input from different sources, but what we put into our minds really does matter. You may not immediately feel the effects of that horror movie because you think you like being scared. But everything we watch changes our brains just a little bit, making us more sensitive the next time.
Some intrusive thoughts come from stimuli around us, but some may very well be a form of spiritual warfare. To those who are grounded in Christ and the truth of the Bible, these thoughts are obviously ridiculous. If you think the enemy is whispering in your ear, "God is dead," remember that without God, there is no enemy to whisper that God is dead. Any claim that God is less than all-powerful is just a silly attempt to instill fear.
But it is also possible to open ourselves up for spiritual attack. Whenever we take a drug that affects our minds or how we perceive reality, we're just asking for demonic influence. Involvement in the occult is another obvious danger, but it doesn't just mean animal sacrifices and graveyards. Playing with Ouija boards or tarot cards, watching paranormal movies or reality shows, listening to music with blasphemous lyrics, or any of the other little games we sometimes play as kids, opens a door that allows harmful spiritual influence inside. It's foolish to go looking for demons and then be surprised when they show up.
To fight intrusive thoughts, we have to control what goes into our heads. Know the Bible. Know God and Who He is. It's one thing to dismiss the thought, but we have to fill our minds with something else to take its place. Here is what Luke 11:24-26 says concerning the void that is left when we remove God from our hearts, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
Memorize some applicable verses and have them at the ready.
IV. Seek After God
We are to pursue hard after God, substituting godly pursuits and mindsets for sinful thoughts. This is the principle of replacement. When tempted to hate someone, we replace those hateful thoughts with godly actions: we do good to them, speak well of them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
Instead of stealing, we should work hard to earn money so we can look for opportunities to give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28).
When tempted to lust after a woman, we turn our gaze, praise God for the way He has made us—male and female—and pray for the woman (for example: "Lord, help this young woman to come to know you if she does not, and to know the joy of walking with you"), then think of her as a sister (1 Timothy 5:2).
The Bible often speaks of "putting off" wrong actions and thoughts but then "putting on” godly actions and thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-32).
Merely seeking to put off sinful thoughts without replacing those thoughts with godly ones leaves an empty field for Satan to come along and sow his weeds (Matthew 12:43-45).
V. Choose Your Friends By Scripture
We can use fellowship with other Christians the way God intended. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Fellow Christians who will encourage us in the changes we desire (best if of the same gender), who will pray for and with us, who will ask us in love how we are doing, and who will hold us accountable in avoiding the old ways, are valuable friends indeed.
Last and most important, these methods will be of no value unless we have placed our faith in Christ as Savior from our sin. This is where we absolutely must start! Without this, there can be no victory over sinful thoughts and temptations, and God’s promises for His children are not for us, nor is the Holy Spirit’s power available to us!
God will bless those who seek to honor Him with what matters most to Him: who we are inside and not just what we appear to be to others. May God make Jesus’ description of Nathanael true also of us—a man [or woman] in whom there is no guile: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)
VI. Does Satan Have To Get God's Permission To Attack Us?
There is no particular verse of Scripture where you could say is evidence that suggests Satan needs God's specific permission in order to act against Christians.
Many people believe that Job 1 supports the idea of Satan not being able to afflict Job until he asked God.
However, consider Satan's argument before God, "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land" (Job 1:10). Satan is obviously familiar with who Job is and is aware of Job's special protection and blessing by God. How could Satan have known of Job's protection, unless he and/or his demonic minions had not already tried to work their will against Job? What Satan is really asking is for God to remove Job's protection.
A similar passage is Luke 22:31-32: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
Clearly, we can see in this case, that Satan had to ask permission to tempt Peter. Jesus tells Peter that He has prayed specifically for him so that Peter can strengthen the other disciples, the implication being that the others WILL be sifted in whatever way Satan intends. The Bible does not specifically state that the disciples had special protection from God, but there is no doubt that God had a higher purpose in mind—the strengthening of the other disciples—in allowing Satan to harass Peter.
Whereas these passages imply that there are boundaries and rules Satan must abide by, there is no real biblical proof that he needs God's permission. The very character of Satan proves that he disdains authority and is not one who would truly seek permission.
Job was hedged about by the Lord—Satan couldn’t get to him without the Lord first removing that protection. The ultimate reality is that God controls everything in the universe, including Satan, and that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As stated earlier, memorizing Scripture is a key point to remember when you are in a battle with satan. Having the Scripture in your mind, can be very important in getting victory, quickly, when in a struggle. It takes time to find a passage to throw at satan when you are not sure where it is.
Here is some scriptures you can memorize to help in three major battle areas we face each day.
Verses for anxious intrusive thoughts
Psalm 94:19: "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul."
Psalm 40:1-2: "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm."
Psalm 139:23: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way."
2 Corinthians 12:9: "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
Verses for blasphemous intrusive thoughts
Job 42:2: "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."
2 Kings 19:15: "O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth."
Psalm 62:1: "My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation."
Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
Verses for sexual intrusive thoughts
Psalm 73:25-26: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Psalm 119:59: "I considered my ways and turned my feet to Your testimonies."
1 Timothy 5:1-2: "Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity."
When an intrusive thought pops up, find an appropriate verse and quote it to yourself.
Be tenacious; sometimes these things take time.
Don't be discouraged if the thoughts escalate—just keep relying on the power of God's Word.
Remember, satan considers that his job is to defeat you. learn to defeat him through God’s Word; Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)