The Hebrew word translated “imagination” means to frame, form, or shape a purpose or desire. Forming an image in the mind drives the heart toward to it. Every thought in its most basic sense has an image as its foundation. This image could be a person, object, idea, or desire. The image is the fuel of each thought.
When certain thoughts begin to dominate our minds, they carry their images into our hearts. The heart begins to take the form of these images. The image formed in the heart can be amazingly purifying or incredibly destructive.
The heart is like a mirror, reflecting the image of its thoughts. God should be the only image that dominates our thinking. He is the pole star, the rock, and the focus of our thoughts. Our thinking provides a framework for our entire life, as it continually molds and shapes our hearts.
Our transformation into the image of Christ, and our spiritual growth into a mature Christian, always passes through our thought life. Our hearts become complete and perfect in Him when God is the center of our thoughts. We must become keenly aware of what images our thoughts are bringing into our hearts. Ask yourself what image is directing my thoughts? How easy it is for this image of our thoughts to become skewed in its focus and a breeding ground for evil.
The first use of this word “thoughts” in the Bible sets the pattern throughout all of Scripture, It illustrates what happens when we do not control our thinking and our thoughts are fashioned according to the wrong image.
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. (Genesis 6:5–6, NLT)
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination and intention of all human thinking was only evil continually. (Verse 5, AMP)
It is sobering to see what happened to the human heart because of a reckless thought life.
It did not take long after sin had poured into the human race in the Garden of Eden for men’s and women’s thinking to go down the tubes. Almost immediately Adam and Eve let fear dominate their thinking when they hid from the presence of God. God was no longer the focal image of their thoughts.
Corrupt thinking only worsened, as Cain murdered Abel when thoughts of jealousy and anger shaped his heart into a murderer. Sin was crouching at the door of Cain’s thought life, and he failed to master it. Each succeeding generation continued to allow sin to crowd God out of their thinking.
The Days of Noah: The Point of No Return
In Genesis 6, people’s thought life had so corrupted their hearts that it reached a point of no return. Every thought, imagination, and intention of their human thinking was consistently and totally evil from morning to night. The Bible does not say some of the imaginations and thoughts of the human race were continually evil, but all of their images, desires, intentions, and inclinations, in every single thought, were evil.
The Hebrew word translated “continually” means daily or at all times, which emphasizes that this was not just some weekend fling. It was their thinking from the time they got up in the morning until the time they went to bed at night. There was not a moment in the day when this evil thought process was not actively controlling their minds and shaping their hearts. Their hearts were ready to do evil at all times because they refused to think rightly according to God’s holy standard. The image that they fashioned in their thoughts was pure evil. It poisoned their hearts so that they would never repent, turn to God, and forsake their evil ways. Evil had completely consumed their hearts, and they wanted absolutely nothing to do with God in their thinking, actions, and ultimately in their hearts.
The psalmist affirms this destructive habit of wrong thinking to the human heart:
The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts. (Psalm 10:4, NKJV)
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. (NIV)
This wicked and rebellious people in the time of Noah did not seek God in their thinking. God was not in one single thought. God is the most awesome, majestic, and honorable thing we can ever think about, but these people were so deceived that they did not believe they needed God. They simply had no room for God in their thinking, and this opened the door for every kind of destructive thought that eventually shaped their hearts into a monument of evil.
This is the tragic height of selfishness. This is the ultimate ego trip. This is the most dangerous thinking pattern on the planet. Without God in our thoughts, we have written the death sentence to the magnificent purpose God has prepared for our lives. To never know Him is the greatest catastrophe of the ages. He deserves the honor to be first in our thinking.
God cried out day after day to this generation’s rebellious hearts to forsake their unrighteous thoughts and turn their thinking to the Lord. If they had done so, He would have had mercy and abundantly pardoned. But they turned a deaf ear and cleaved unto their evil thoughts which led to their destruction.
In Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clark, he describes this destructive condition of thought:
All the imaginations of their thoughts were evil—the very first embryo of every idea, the figment of every thought, the very materialsout of which perception, conception, and ideas were formed were all evil; the fountain which produced them, with every thought, purpose, wish, desire, and motive, was incurably poisoned.[i]
The catastrophe of the flood in the days of Noah was caused by wrong thinking. The seed and root of every single thought was evil, and it produced desires, motives, and deeds that were only evil. The fountain of their thought life became corrupt, and as its waters flowed into the heart, it poisoned every purpose, desire, and action.
James Allen, in As a Man Thinketh, says:
A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts. As the plant springs from and could not be without the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them … Cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible and material things. A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of chance, but is the result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harboring of groveling thoughts … In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself.[ii]
Our Thought Life: A Weapon for Good or Evil
Our thoughts are a mighty weapon that can forge our hearts into a steel fortress for our God, or they can be a stealth bomber that penetrates our inner life and destroys our hearts. Thoughts are a much more powerful weapon than any nuclear bomb. They are the critical component to our spiritual growth. We must have a disciplined thought life that is focused like a laser on God and His Word, or our hearts will become a mush of spiritual apathy and worldly lusts.
The Devil is a master general at attacking the thought life of a Christian. His war strategy involves tactics of deception, pressure, and enticement to turn our thinking away from God and toward his kingdom. The Devil knows that every action that flows out of the human heart originates from our thoughts. He knows that our moral character is an exact image of our thinking. Our thoughts determine whether our character drifts toward good or evil.
The Devil knows that in order for a person to do evil, he must first think evil. He attacked Eve’s thought life in the Garden of Eden with subtle suggestions that caused her to entertain thoughts of doubt about God’s Word. When Eve followed the Devil’s way of thinking, sin poured into her nature and separated her from God. Eve’s careless thought life caused devastating consequences to the human race.
The Devil continued his relentless attack on the thought life of human beings. Within ten generations he was so successful that only one person on the entire earth had godly thoughts. The population of the earth at the time of the flood was between 235 million and 7 billion people. In approximately 1,656 years after the fall in the garden, sin had spread like wildfire and contaminated every single thought of what was probably billions of people. To imagine that only one person out of this massive population had his thought life together is mind-boggling.
The thoughts of every human being other than Noah had become worthless to God because they were always evil. Nothing in their thoughts reflected the image of God and not one thought brought glory to God. They were wise, rich, sophisticated, and cultured for their time, but the defining characteristic of their age was wickedness because of their thinking.
A civilization that is centered on an ungodly thought life is built on sinking sand. This civilization in the days of Noah received the fruit of their thoughts, which was wickedness and corruption that multiplied on the face of the earth. This rotten thinking caused the heart to become so saturated with evil and so hardened with unbelief that nothing could alter it.
Only Noah was thinking rightly and found favor with God. No one else held the image of God and His words as the standard for their thoughts. No one else was guarding their thoughts. No one else cared that their thought life had nothing good in it, but was a breeding ground for evil. Only Noah had righteous thoughts that built his faith and fueled his obedience to God. Noah’s thought life was pure and free from evil because he walked with God.
Is Your Thinking Breaking God’s Heart?
Genesis 6:6 reveals how the toxic thinking of the human race affected God’s heart. These verses contain the first usage of the word heart in the Bible, and they describe a heart that is in deep sorrow.
And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Genesis 6:6, NKJV)
The toxic thought life of His precious creation, men and women, broke God’s heart.
Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible in Genesis 6:6 says, “It grieved Yahweh that he had made man in the earth and he took sorrow unto his heart.” The Hebrew word translated “grieved” means to draw the breath forcibly, to groan, to sigh, and to lament. It is a heart in agony, a heart that is full of terrible pain.
The Hebrew word for “sorrow” means to hurt, to be in pain, to be vexed, to be distressed and to be tortured. Words fail to describe just how hurt Almighty God was over the evil that penetrated every thought of His children whom He had lovingly created for Him. God’s heart was in horrible agony and pain as He groaned in sorrow over the condition of the heart of every member of the human race. God’s heart was crushed in pain as He cried in agony that His people refused to honor Him with even one thought.
Is our thought life any better? Does our thinking bring great agony to the heart of God? How God must grieve today over the thought life of so many Christians. How it must hurt God’s heart when He sees the way we think.
In this first usage of the word heart in the Bible, God is sounding out a clarion call to all who would listen that what we think is critically important to the heart of God. He knows He cannot have your heart if He does not first have your thoughts.
I don’t want to break the heart of God because of my toxic thinking. I want to bring glory to God with my thinking. I want to honor Him with every thought. I do not want any virus to infect my thinking and take out the operating system of my heart.
Could God have made it any clearer how concerned He is with the content and images that dominate our thoughts? A reckless thought life led to the annihilation of an entire civilization. Do you see how significant your thinking is to God?
Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon “Thoughts and Their Fruit,” expounds on this truth:
The Lord is constantly watching our thoughts. He knows them before they are known to us. “Thou understandeth my thought afar off.” … Do not, therefore, make light of evil thoughts … A steeled and seared conscience may look upon them with indifference; those whose hearts are not right towards God may sneer at the idea of any evil consequence coming from what they simply turn over in their minds; but if you have a tender heart … you will say at once, “O save my soul from base and wicked thoughts!” That thoughts are of the utmost importance may likewise be inferred that God makes them here the grounds for punishing his people. He speaks of the fruit of their thoughts … The thought in itself may not be a very great thing, but what will it come to? It may even be a very little thing, but what will be the end thereof? … The thought of evil paralyzes the finer faculties of the soul … I do not believe that a man becomes a villain all at once. He puts his soul to school, his thoughts are his teachers, or rather they are the school-books in which his soul reads; and at last he becomes capable of transacting the deeds of a scoundrel. If you think long upon any sin, the chances are that, as soon as the temptation to that sin comes, you will commit it … If you introduce these evil thoughts into your habitation, you cannot wonder at the consequence … It is certain that thoughts are the eggs of sin. These are the embryos out of which sins spring—the spawn in which every form of iniquity is developed … Therefore as God takes cognizance of our thoughts, let us be mindful of the responsibility they entail upon us.[iii]
All of us are responsible before God for our thought life, but reasoning based upon thought cannot save us. The wisdom of this world proclaims that it can reason away evil and come up with a solution outside of God. Ecclesiastes 7:29 declares that men have “engaged in too much reasoning,” and 1 Corinthians 1:20-21 declares that the world in its own wisdom cannot know God for He has made foolish the wisdom of this world. Reason alone cannot get us out of our dilemma. Our thought life must be based on the revelation of God to deliver us from evil and to keep our hearts pure.
Reason without the boundaries of God’s revelation leads us over a cliff just like Noah’s generation. No matter how enlightened and how intelligent we think we are, without God’s revelation we still end up in the grave right next to the fool.
Scripture declares in 1 Corinthians 3:20, “The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the humanly wise and recognizes how futile they are.” God knows that thoughts of human reasoning and wisdom that ignore His instruction are worthless in directing the heart in truth and righteousness.
Skip Moen, in Spiritual Restoration: Volume 1, declares:
One of the fundamental differences between the Greek worldview and the Hebrew worldview is the place of reason and the place of conduct. For the Greeks, reason was the supreme path to salvation. “As I think I am” would be a very Greek motto. The Greeks believed that correct thinking was the solution to life’s problems. Therefore, the truth was found in correct thought … The Hebrew worldview takes a completely different approach … From the Hebrew perspective, dependence on thinking alone is dangerous. The Bible cautions us to not lean on our own understanding … From a Hebrew perspective, men are riddled with sin and so is their thinking. The truth is not discovered by thought. It is appropriated by action—and that action must be in accordance with what God says is true. From the Hebrew perspective, I do not have to think my way out of the box. I have to obey God, who has already told me the right actions to get out of the box … I cannot think my way into correct action because all my thought is tainted by sin … I must depend on God’s revelation of true and faithful behavior … No man sees the big picture well enough to know how to solve the problems of life. What man can do is to listen to God and obey Him. Rather than rely on my mind, I must rely on God’s Word, even if I don’t always understand what God is doing. … For me to rely on any other source for decisions that affect life or death is not only utter stupidity but outrageous arrogance … Left to my own reasoning and human wisdom, I can’t find my way to the personal God. His holiness is completely beyond me. I don’t have the spark of the divine within. What I have within is the result of thousands of years of distilled disobedience. I was born in a swamp of human arrogance and I have been drinking and breathing that environment since conception. Unless God reveals the wisdom I need from above, I am lost even if I win one Nobel Prize after another … The only real wisdom comes from God.[iv]
Exaltation of Human Reasoning Above God
The book of Romans describes what happens to the thinking of a person and their heart when human reasoning is exalted above God.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21–23, ESV)
The human race has no excuse for a thought life that excludes God and exalts human reasoning. The human race has no legal defense before the throne of God.
The entire creation bears witness to the awesome nature of our God and He should be occupying our thoughts. The revelation of God in His creation and revealed Word should be the food that our thoughts are feeding upon. Yet their foolish thoughts were I don’t need God! I can do this on my own. By their thinking they rejected a relationship with God as their thought life robbed them of intimacy with their loving Creator. Their thinking enslaved them to a life of hopelessness with a gnawing emptiness that clung to their souls.
God says in Romans 1:21 their thinking became futile and it caused their foolish hearts to be full of darkness. The Greek word translated “futile’ means to be worthless, empty, devoid of truth, and to have no intrinsic value. They thought they were wise; they thought they had the world by its horns; they thought they were successful and had everything they needed. But they played the fool. The great exchange had taken place in their thought life. They exchanged the glory of God for an image representing the glory of mortal man and other earthly things. This was a raw deal for the human race. This futile thinking had a profound and lasting impact on the heart, causing it to be darkened and lifeless toward God. Their hearts did not reflect the image of God or His glory, not even in once crevice.
The word translated “darkened” in the Greek means without insight or understanding, unintelligent and to be covered in darkness. The word was used of a heavenly body that was deprived of light. Their foolish thought life caused their hearts to be covered in darkness, with no spiritual understanding. The heart was deprived of the light of God that it needed so desperately to grow and be spiritual healthy.
The thought life of the world has caused the hearts of people in every community, city, and nation to be covered in darkness. When the heart is covered in darkness, it is blind to the direction it is going. It gropes around helplessly in its search for truth. It cannot see the beauty and wonders of God all around it. It cannot live, function, and grow in the way God intended.
Evil thrives in a heart covered with darkness, and many people become so used to this condition that they run from the light, refuse deliverance, cringe at truth and mock salvation. This sad state all begins with futile, worthless thinking that refuses to give honor and thanksgiving to God.
Honoring God with our Thought Life
As Christians our thought life should honor God first and foremost. The Greek word translated “honor” in Romans 1:21 means to make glorious, to adorn with splendor, to make excellent, and to cause the worth of something to be made known. Our thinking should glorify God and adorn Him with splendor. Our thoughts should magnify God daily and give Him the dignity He deserves. Our thoughts should be flooded with thanksgiving to God for His blessings, love, mercy, and grace.
Do your thoughts glorify God daily? Is your thought life a model of honor and thanksgiving to your God? We must never give the glory of our thoughts to another. We can never glorify God with our lives if we are not glorifying Him with our thoughts.
Noah’s thought life was different because he chose to walk with God. It must have been possible for all of those millions of people on the face of the earth to do the same. But in their thinking and ultimately in their hearts, they refused.
Before Noah, Enoch also walked with God for hundreds of years. So all these people had a choice to follow God and let Him govern their thought life, or to reject God and walk in alignment with their own sin nature. In the Hebrew, “to walk” is to form habit patterns that determine your way of life. It is the way we live our lives daily. To walk with God is to form a habit pattern of thought and action that conforms our way to God’s revealed truth.
It is impossible for any human being without God to make life work and keep himself from evil. We must walk with God for life to have true meaning. Walking with God on its most basic level is walking with God in our thought life. Our thoughts should be filled with God’s presence, truth, and nature. A thought life without God is ultimately an exercise in foolishness, and it always leads to dangerous consequences for the heart.
If we do not control our thought life, it has a tendency to run toward evil faster than a speeding train. Without God’s revelation to guide our thought life, it wanders aimlessly in darkness and stumbles into every trap of the enemy. A thought life not centered upon God always leads to rebellion against the way of God.
God cries out to His people to get their thought life in line with His revealed Word.
I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts. (Isaiah 65:2, NKJV)
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7, ESV)
Every day we should check our thought life and bring it to the feet of our Lord. Our thoughts should be preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts. Each day we should be doing a spiritual check-up of our thought life by asking God to examine our thoughts and reveal to us any trace of rebellion, selfishness, and sin that is dominating our thinking. We should forsake these thought patterns, ask God for forgiveness, and ask Him to cleanse our thinking with the blood of Jesus Christ and return our thoughts to the Lord. Read and study the Bible daily, meditate upon it, ponder it, memorize it and keep it before your eyes. Spend time alone with God every day (one hour minimum) in prayer and praise. Practice the presence of God. Sing daily songs in your heart to the Lord. These daily habits will help you to develop a disciplined godly thought life.
The Devil is always trying to turn our thoughts away from the Lord, and he has a whole arsenal of weapons that barrage our minds with distractions, lusts, images, and temptations to accomplish this spiritual strategy. Thinking is the last filter that any image, word, or idea goes through before it enters the heart. We may be bombarded by images, words, or ideas, but we process them and ultimately accept or reject them by thought. We determine by our thinking what will enter into our hearts.
This is why our thought life is always on the front lines of spiritual warfare as we engage in a thought-by-thought combat for our hearts. We cannot stand for God against the powers of darkness without a vigilant and constant effort of renewing our thoughts and bringing them in line with Scripture. Allowing thought patterns of unbelief, fear, anxiety, anger, lust, and bitterness to govern our thinking is playing right into the enemy’s camp.
God is so concerned with our thought life that He stretches out His arms in love each day with the encouragement to think in a way that glorifies Him. Our thoughts should be holy, for He is holy. Our thoughts should be righteous, for He is righteous. Our thoughts should be just, for He is just. Our thoughts should be love, for He is love. Our thoughts should be peace, for He is our peace. Our thoughts should be joy, for He is our joy. Our thoughts should be compassion, for the Compassionate One lives inside us. Our thoughts should be kindness, for He is kind. Our thoughts should be built upon our great reverence for God. Our thoughts should rest on the mighty splendor and majesty of our God.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8, NLT)
This verse summarizes what should be the makeup of the thoughts that occupy a Christian’s mind. We can use this as a checklist to determine whether our predominant thinking is glorifying God.
What would the ingredients label look like on the thoughts that entertain your mind? Is truth an ingredient? Honor? Purity? Are the contents of your thoughts things that God would consider excellent and worthy of praise? Or does your thought life look like a fast-food restaurant full of spiritual junk food?
In our partnership with God, we need to become spiritual repairmen and begin to fix our thought life. We need to become spiritual health specialists and begin to detox our thought life.
Do you want to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? This love for God begins with your thought life. Do you want to have great faith that will move mountains? This mountain-moving faith begins with your thought life. Do you want to manifest the character and life of Jesus Christ in everything you say or do? Do you want to live with a passion for God and fulfill His purpose for your life? It all starts one thought at a time.
[i] Adam Clark, Commentary on the Bible, Volume 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1810).
[ii] James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (New York: Tribeca Books, 1910), 10.
[iii] Charles Spurgeon, Thoughts and their Fruits, Sermon 3257, published on July 6, 1911, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
[iv] Skip Moen, Spiritual Restoration: Reclaiming the Foundations of God’s Word (Maitland: Xulon Press, 2008), 44.
Excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life