The passage from Romans 1:21-32 vividly reveals how our thoughts, beliefs, and desires can guide our actions. The sins listed in that passage are results of sinful thoughts, beliefs, and desires. Every action began as a thought; the thought was fueled by a desire or belief; the desire or belief originated in the heart.
Jesus took the opportunity to speak to the attitudes of the heart when He was questioned by the Pharisees and his disciples about pure foods and ceremonial hand washing.
He gave this wise reply:
Can’t you see that what you eat won’t defile you? Food doesn’t come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again.” (By saying this, he showed that every kind of food is acceptable.) And then he added, “It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God. Mark 7:18-23 (NLT)
The vile things that come out from us originated in the heart. Before engaging in sexual immorality, there was a desire for illicit pleasure. Before stealing something, there was a belief that we were entitled to what we wanted and a belief that we would not get caught. Before the adulterous affair, there was the desire to “be happy,” to have our needs met, to feel desired by our cohort. Before there was deceit, there was a fear of being caught or exposed. Before we gossiped, we believed we had a right to share that information with someone; we wanted someone else to know.
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7 (NLT)
There is no doubt that our thoughts direct the course of our lives. We base our actions on what we are thinking at the moment and over longer periods of time.
Our thought life is a critical aspect to change in life because what we think or believe about various things will determine how we respond to them.
Our thoughts form our opinions, create our belief system, and fan the flame of our desires. What we think determines our emotional mood and causes us to have various feelings. Our thoughts precede our emotions; our emotions and desires are a result of our thought life.
For example, a person who struggles with anxiety may think open-ended thoughts that might begin with a phrase such as, “what if.” Most often the “what if” has some root in an aspect of reality. The person’s thoughts continue to run along the lines of creating scenarios that are imaginary or merely probable. These thoughts stimulate the body to produce adrenaline, and the person then experiences anxiety.
Just as Eve did in the Garden of Eden when she saw that the fruit was pleasing to the eye, we see something that piques interest in us; we begin the thought process of wondering what it would taste like, how it would feel, and what it would be like to have it. We experience sudden desire, and that desire smolders over time and grows stronger the more we think about the object we want to possess. We then act on our desires, or we set them aside permanently or temporarily.
We take in millions of bits of information and weigh it through the thought process and moral code we have adopted. We conclude that something is true or false, and it then becomes a part of our belief system. Our beliefs stay in place until new information comes along to challenge them.
You see, all of our actions begin as a thought, belief, or desire in our heart.
Before we can change what we habitually do, we must change how we habitually think. Our thoughts and beliefs make up how we “see” sin. If we believe a sin habit is biological or genetic, the most we can do is get long term therapy or take a pill to feel better. We “see” our behavior as not being our fault, and we believe that we are helpless before impulses, thoughts, and drives.
Mind renewal is the critical piece of lasting change
The apostle Paul penned these words:
Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Before we can change what we do, we have to come to believe or think differently, and that requires a renewing of the mind; in essence, a change of heart.