In the Bible in the book of 2 Corinthians, we are told to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What does it mean to take every thought captive and as people who follow Jesus, how do we go about actually doing it?

What does it mean when it says take every thought captive?
What does the Bible mean when it says take every thought captive?

What Does the Bible Say About Taking Every Thought Captive?

God’s word says this,

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul is giving instruction to the church in the city of Corinth. Both 1 and 2 Corinthians are full of guidelines for how a Christian person is to act and how we should act together as the Christian church.

In verse 4 of this chapter Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”

Every day that you live on earth, you are engaged in a spiritual battle. Satan, the enemy of God, does all in his power to lead you away from God. One way the enemy attacks is through attempting to lead your thoughts away from God’s truth.

When Paul admonishes the people in the church of Corinth (and you and me) to take every thought captive, it means that you and I are to control the the thoughts that go on in our mind.

Because Jesus lives in you, you have the power to have dominion over your thought life. This comes not from your own doing but by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you.

Romans says it this way,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

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How to Take Every Thought Captive

Knowing (or wanting) to take every thought captive and actually doing it are two totally different things.

Maybe you want to take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, but how do you actually accomplish this difficult thing?

First, recognize that this is a life-long challenge.

You will never control your thoughts perfectly. But just like anything else, you will become better with practice and as you grow in maturity as a believer in Jesus.

Here are the steps to control your thought life, in other words, “take every thought captive to obey Christ“.

  1. Recognize your thought life. This gets a little bit tricky because you have to use your thoughts to pay attention to your thoughts. (Does that blow your mind just a bit? It does mine.) But this doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply start paying attention to the things you think and say to yourself every day. In my Christian weight loss program, Faithful Finish Lines, many of the women tell themselves things like, “I am a failure at losing weight,” or “I’m just doomed to be fat,” or “I can’t control my weight.” 
  2. Question the truth of your thoughts. This is the step where it’s time to get curious. As you notice different thoughts come up, ask yourself, “Is that really true?” Often you will have thoughts that go through your head because of old hurts, past relationships, opinions of others (such as your parents).
  3. Use Scripture to guide you to the truth. As Christian people, the Bible is our ultimate source of truth. The Bible does not just contain God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word. Every word of the Bible is true and valuable for your life as a Christian. As you begin to discover thoughts that need to be taken captive, continually come back Scripture as your point of reference. Reading the Bible often and memorizing important Bible verses helps greatly with this. (See below for additional helpful resources.)

Why Taking Every Thought Captive Will Completely Change Your Life

Taking every thought captive will completely change your life because you will live each day with thoughts that are continually more in line with living a life obedient to Christ.

When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings, which in turn changes you behavior.

If you’ve ever experienced therapy, especially Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), you might be familiar with the Thoughts-Feelings-Action Triangle (or the Cognitive Behavior Triangle.)

Cognitive Behavior Triangle
When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings, which changes your behavior.

While this is a secular concept, God is the one who designed the complexity of our mind and it makes perfect sense that this concept aligns beautifully with this scripture passage.

The Cognitive Behavior Triangle might sound relatively simple, but the way this plays out is amazing. Understanding this concept is life-changing for many people.

Most of us live our lives with the assumption that outside circumstances create the way we feel, but this is false.

The thoughts you think create the way you feel.No one can make you feel anything. Did you catch that? This is so important.

  • Your husband cannot make you angry.
  • Your kids cannot make you frustrated.
  • Winning one million dollars cannot make you ecstatic.

You decide how you are going to feel about these situations and all others in your life.

If you feel angry, sad, overwhelmed, excited, or any other emotion, it is because you made the decision to have thoughts that create those feelings.

Understanding this, you can then recognize that when you change the way you think, you will change the way you feel. Changing the way you feel will naturally change your behavior.

Think of It Like This

I think of my uncaptured thought life as like a room full of toddlers left unattended. Things are chaotic, harried, and bordering on outright dangerous. Sure, it’s a little bit fun to run around crazy, but in a minute someone is going to get seriously hurt.

If you have never paid much attention to your thoughts before, when you start trying to take your thoughts captive you might find yourself mentally exhausted. This is normal. It’s a lot to think about!

The more your thoughts become aligned with the truth of God’s Word, you will see a change in your thoughts, then your feelings and then a change in your behavior.

These changes can be nothing short of what seems miraculous, because it is a miracle. The miracle is not because you have done some marvelous work, but the miracle is the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you.

Examples of How to Take Every Thought Captive

Let me give you a couple examples from my own life of how I’ve learned to take every thought captive.

One of the biggest areas where my life has changed when I took every thought captive is during my 100 pound weight loss journey.

Before I lost weight, I had lots of negative, hurtful things I said to myself on a regular basis. I also had some distorted thoughts about what life would be like at my goal weight, such as that life would somehow be nirvana and that I would have to be a cheerful, outgoing person all the time.

It wasn’t until I recognized these thoughts with the help of therapy that I was able to change them.

Replacing these lies with the truth of scripture allowed me to change how I felt about myself, my body, and food, which then changed my eating behavior so I was able to lose the weight and keep it off.

A second area where I’ve made a conscious decision to take every thought captive is parenting my son with behavior issues.

Our son, who we adopted from foster care, experienced trauma before he came to live with us. You can read more about our son’s story here, but to summarize quickly, our son’s serious behaviors have taken us to the place of calling the police many times, his many inpatient hospital stays, and finally a placement outside of our home in residential treatment.

Let’s be honest here. There are parents in similar situations to ours who are so exhausted, beaten down, and themselves abused (child-on-parent violence is a real thing, friends) that they distance themselves from their child emotionally.

Some parents even make the difficult decision to terminate parental rights or rescind the adoption. As easy as it might be for us to judge these parents, I implore you not to do so. Until you’ve lived it, you don’t know what this kind of life is like.

While I’ve never had to desire to terminate our relationship with our son, I have struggled with depression, incredible anger, and resentment towards a system that not just fails to help us but regularly blames us for our son’s issues.

A couple years ago, I happened upon a small research study that explored the reasons why kids with special needs succeed. The results of the study changed my life.

Do you know what is the most significant factor in the future success of kids with special needs?

The one factor most likely to improve a child’s chances of building a successful life is the belief of the primary caregiver (typically mom) that the child has what it takes to succeed.

After reading that study, I made the clear, conscious decision that from that day forward, I would believe with all my heart that my son is going to succeed in life. I know my son will grow into a productive member of society who does good in this world. I believe he will fulfills the plans God has ordained for him.

Since I have taken my thoughts captive in this way, it’s amazing the shift in my attitude and that has spilled over into my son’s behavior, too. Mistakes are seen as bumps in the road, not catastrophes. Successes (no matter how small) are a reason to celebrate big because they are one step closer to where he is going.

When I look at my son, I see him with the vision in front of me of who he will become.

In what areas of your life do you need to take your thoughts captive?

By replacing your uncaptive thoughts (those unattended toddler-like ways of thinking) and replacing lies with God’s truth, you will take every thought captive to obey Christ. Your life will improve your life in incredible ways.

In the book Fear Less, day 23 shows you how to take your thoughts captive to obey Christ. Check out Fear Less: 30 Devotions for Courageous Faith on Amazon.

Fear Less book on shelf with coffee

More Helpful Bible Verse Resources

How to Have All the Time You Need

7 Christian Weight Loss Affirmations

30 Days of Hope During Pain Bible Reading Plan

30 Days of Praising God in the Storms of Life

How Do I Pray? – Learn to Pray for Beginners

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