What do you think about frequently?1 What does your mind run back to, consciously or not? How do these thoughts affect your lived life, desires, emotions? We
often don’t realize it, but our thoughts shape our lives. Let me illustrate. A man meets a new co-worker. He soon discovers she is witty and intelligent (beside attractive). He finds himself daydreaming about her frequently, even when he is on a date with his wife. The more he thinks about her, the more he wants to see her and talk with her. He finds excuses to visit her cubicle, share lunch, walk her to her car. Without realizing it, he soon cultivates a deep desire for her. It is not long before his wife is calling her pastor in tears over her husband’s unfaithfulness.
Where our minds go, our eyes, heart, and feet follow. Likewise, our minds follow our eyes, heart, and feet; even as our hearts follow our minds and eyes. No one element of us is separated or unaffected from the other.2 Little wonder that God calls us to set our minds on things above, to renew our minds, and to guard our hearts and minds and eyes—to conform every aspect of ourselves to Jesus’ image (Col. 3:2; Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:13; Prov. 4:23; Luke 11:33–36). However, with such an interconnected web of thoughts, actions, and emotions, God’s call to total transformation seems impossible. Yet, God has already begun to transform us and will continue his work through the power of the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus applied to us, and the ordinary means of grace accessible to every believer (Col. 3:10; Rom. 6:16; Titus 3:5).
Even so, the calling is high. To look like Jesus, we must conform our whole self to his Word. We cannot think biblically but act sinfully. Nor can we desire to follow God but spend our time in places of sin. God designed us as interconnected beings. We cannot honor God with our lips with hearts far from him. That is no honor, but hypocrisy (Matt. 15:8–9). Conversely, if one aspect of our being is being conformed to God’s Word, the rest will follow. If we diligently pray and contemplate God’s character, though we may not feel like doing, the feelings will follow. That said, I want to consider one aspect of our being: our eyes and ears. If we fill our eyes and ears with that which conforms to his Word, it will start a chain reaction.
My son is almost one, and at the age of imitation. What I say, he tries to repeat. When his sister laughs, he laughs; when she cries, he becomes distressed. When his dad is home, his eyes are fixed on him. Unable to trick or fake, the effect of what he sees and hears on his emotions and actions is obvious. Though we may not be so easy to read, what we spend time looking at and listening to has an equal effect on us. Esther Engelsma painted a sobering picture.
Everything that we consume by looking with our eyes or listening with our ears—shows, movies, videos, social media, news, books, magazines, and music—is digested with our minds. Whether we realize it or not, and whether we want it to or not, every image, word, phrase, conversation, post, and article has an impact on how we think.3
This may seem like an extreme statement. However, some examples will show its veracity. One of my clients was watching television and saw an advertisement for a new sort of mop. She bought it, despite having almost the same one, still new. A woman’s husband sinned against her. She talks to her friends about it, and they all berate and belittle the woman’s husband. Unsurprisingly, when he comes home, she snaps at him. More positively: I decided to memorize Scripture while walking with my kids. I would recite (or sometimes, sing) it aloud, repeating it over and over. Soon my mind would start reciting what I’d memorized even as I took the buggy out of the garage and sporadically throughout the day.
These examples may seem trivial, but they show that something as insignificant as a television ad affects our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. God’s Word acknowledges this reality. We see the first, most poignant illustration in the book of Genesis. God told Adam and Eve what they were and weren’t to do. They listened and obeyed, enjoying pure fellowship with God and one another, until they listened to someone else. Eve listened to Satan’s lying words and looked lustfully at the forbidden tree. What she heard and saw gave her a desire to eat. She ate. The human race fell. Her actions testify to the truth of Jesus’ words: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22–23, English Standard Version). Or again: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). God knows full well the ripple effect of every sight and word.
What are we to do with this information? It is evident that, if we want to be transformed, we must consider carefully what we look at and listen to. The Puritans were right when they “warned that if ever we would resist the devil’s attacks, we must guard what we let into our souls by our ears and eyes.”4 How can we do this? How can we keep out the bad while letting in the good? Before answering that question, we need to establish a vital truth.
The Spirit of God dwells in us, transforming us. Christ’s obedient life and death on the cross set us free from sin and gave us the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:6–11; Acts 2:38). As Spirit-filled people, we walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. The fruit is manifold: a mind set on the Spirit (rather than death), a desire for the things of God, grateful service (Ps. 73:25; 1 John 5:2; and esp. Rom. 8:1–8). We may not always feel this desire to read the Bible or serve others; nonetheless, God’s Spirit is at work in us. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit (Helper) would guide, convict, and sanctify (i.e., transform) us (John 15:26–28; 16:13; 1 Pet. 1:2; Gal. 5:22–23). We can rest in this knowledge, despite sometimes feeling otherwise. We are not who we were before Christ.5 This knowledge gives us encouragement and humility as we consider conforming our input to God’s Word. It is encouraging because we can be certain that God will work in us to give us the desire and ability to fill our eyes and ears with life-giving input. Such knowledge is humbling as we realize that without God’s work for and in us, we would continue chasing death. But with the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we are able, as Engeslma suggests, to put away questionable input, consider it, and replace it with life-giving.
The psalmist declares, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Ps. 101:3a). Such ought to be our attitude. We must refuse to let our eyes linger on the vile, useless, valueless. The difficulty for us is determining what that is. Engelsma writes, “If you think a specific media (for example, a TV show, a genre of books, or a type of social media account) might be tying you to the world or making you more self-absorbed or setting your mind on things of this earth, try fasting from it for a period (for example, two weeks or a month).”6 It is not necessary to know for sure whether a particular input is detrimental to your spiritual health. It is enough to know that it encourages sin. “Consider what ways, what kinds of company, what opportunities, what studies, what occupations, what conditions have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your sins, and set yourself against them.”7 Once you have put away these possible negative inputs, consider.
Consider the effect the absence of these things has had on your spiritual health. Are you less prone to temptation without it? Did you find you craved it and had to fight strenuously against it?8 Did eliminating it free up more time for prayer or Bible study? Consider soberly. God calls us to kill everything that is earthly in us (Col. 3:5). We must not merely close our eyes to sin for a few seconds; we must kill it. For example, if we want to kill an addiction to pornography, we must eliminate (as far as we are able) every sight of it. Or if we want to kill a propensity to worry, we must avoid listening to messages that give us more cause to worry. We must consider carefully: do our media consumption, television shows, books feed sin?9 Cut it out. Cut it out so you can replace it with life-giving input.
Once we have—through the Spirit’s power working in us—set aside deathly input, we can fill our mind with that which is life-giving. We can replace web surfing with Bible study, binge watching with edifying fellowship, obsessive news reading with prayer. In short, we are free to fill our mind with that which is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent (Phil. 4:8). When we fill our mind with what’s good, God will continue to transform our thoughts, actions, and desires. Two authors described the process as follows: “Reading your Bible regularly over the years will make you a different person. Choosing to let Scripture’s songs, sermons, and stories enter your mind is like choosing to eat a balanced, healthy diet: every cell of your body will be affected by access to good nutrients, mostly in ways you’re never aware of.”10 This should offer us great comfort.
Often when we cut out things that our flesh naturally desires, it is painful and sometimes feels pointless. On the flip side, the work of filling our minds with the things of God can sometimes feel arduous and fruitless. However, God’s promises give us hope. He has promised to transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit who applies Christ’s death and resurrection to us and by filling us up with his graces such that we increasingly die to sin and rise to newness of life (Westminster Longer Catechism A75). The graces with which he fills us are as ordinary as prayer, the Word, and the sacraments (Westminster Longer Catechism A154). So as we pursue a transformed life, let us do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting in the work of Christ and feasting on his ordinary means of grace.
Mrs. Elisabeth Bloechl a member of Orthodox Presbyterian Church Hammond, is a house cleaner and aspiring writer in Griffith, IN.
1 I owe credit to Esther Engelsma’s Transformed for much of the thinking behind this article.
2 Esther Engelsma, Transformed: How God Renews Your Mind to Make You More Like Jesus (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021), 12–14.
3 Ibid., 18.
4 Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 863.
5 Bruce Hollister, “Life in the Spirit” (sermon, New Covenant Community Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Joliet, IL, April 23, 2020).
6 Engelsma, Transformed, 31.
7 John Owen, The Mortification of Sin: Abridged and Made Easy to Read, ed. Richard Rushing (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 85.
8 Engelsma, Transformed, 31–32.
9 Realize that some sources of input are not inherently sinful. So, what some people need to eliminate, others do not. For example, watching cooking shows may help one person think of yummy dinners for their family while another person finds it leads to overeating.
10 J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, Untangling Emotions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 126.