I once heard the head of a Christian counseling center share this anecdote: He was driving his car one day and suddenly the thought came to his mind that it will be good when his parents die and he can have his inheritance. He shuddered at the thought.
How do you call this one? A proof that we are hopeless sinners and our thoughts are only evil continually? Or, a temptation of the devil that can and must be rebuked for a victory in Christ? Our belief regarding that single question will affect everything we do today as we take our hat and coat and walk out the door.
The answer must be found in Scripture, of course. We find there that we “once were alienated and hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21). (That sounds to me like this is no longer the case.) We find that we are given the doable command to “love the Lord … with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). We find that we are exhorted to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
So if we have a new nature, what do we make of a sudden thought like the counselor’s one about his parents’ death and his financial gain? Based on Scripture, I see it as a demonic notion put into the man’s head. And what do we do with a demonic notion put into the head? We rebuke it on the spot:
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
How do we rebuke the devil, so as to make him flee? We refuse to entertain for a moment longer the evil idea he put in our heads, and we say, audibly if necessary: “I rebuke you, Satan! That’s not me thinking! I’m a new creation!” And we commence to pray and to thank God for this ability to send the devil fleeing—that accuser of the brethren who was “disarmed” and made a public spectacle of and “triumphed over” by the cross (Colossians 2:15), so that his only remaining power toward a Christian is the power of the bluff.
A thought becomes a sin only where the line is crossed and the thought is entertained rather than instantly rebuked. This fact makes all the difference in the Christian’s attitude and experience of hope. If we venture out with this biblical understanding, and realize that not every bad thought that presents itself is a sin but is a temptation meant to be triumphed over, that our faith may come through as gold (1 Peter 1:6-7), our Christian lives are transformed from lives hamstrung by a sense of chronic defeat to lives of godly optimism and triumph:
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son …” (Colossians 1:13).