Conquering Unclean Thoughts

12 January 2009

Conquering Unclean Thoughts

Little foxes spoil the vines (Song 2:15).  Some have observed that little foxes that cannot reach the grapes hanging near the top of the vine, nibble the bark at the base of the vine stem every day, bit by bit.  Because the bites are so tiny, they remain unnoticed by the farmer until one day the little fox succeeded in biting the branch through, and the tender grapes pulled to the ground were gobbled up by the little ravening foxes.   Little fox bites are like our little sins that we condone.  They frustrate our spiritual life every day. If we are not vigilant to eradicate them, they can harm and ultimately destroy our lives.  One of the “little sins” many of us condone are “little” unclean thoughts.

For most Christians, the daily struggle is probably not with gross sins such as murder, robbery, idol-worship, premarital sex or homosexuality, but little unclean thoughts (ideas in the mind/heart that are morally or spiritually impure).  Lest you minimise it, our Lord Jesus specifically addressed this prevalent sin in his sermon on the mount (Mt 5:27-28).  Jesus said if we had lusted after a woman in our hearts (or minds), we have committed adultery. Are we living a double-life like the Pharisees- more concerned about man’s opinions than God’s view of us?  Are we putting undue emphasis on our external appearance (how we look, the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the size of our house) than our inner thoughts?

Our thoughts are especially hard to control, partly because nobody knows except ourselves and our invisible God.  Hence, we sometimes excuse (and deceive) ourselves that our unclean thoughts are not serious because there is no immediate accountability.    But God knows and judges our thoughts, and will hold us accountable.  “Son of man, hast thou not seen what the ancients of Israel do in the dark, every man in his chamber of his imagery (mind)?  For they say, the Lord seeth us not..” Ezek 8:12.  God knows our thoughts afar off; He sees all our secret sins.  ”O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me…. thou understandest my thought afar off.” Ps 139:1,2. “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Eph 5:12. “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord…” Prov 15:26.  We may be on our best behaviour when we are in Church or in the presence of others.  Ultimately, the real test of holiness is what we do or think when we are alone in the privacy of our room or a hotel room far away from home.

Control over thought Life is a first step towards Holiness. Discipline over thought life is a basic building block for your spiritual house.  If you have not learnt your ABCs, you cannot progress to read and write English.  Exercising self-control over your thoughts will grant you victory and self-control over other aspects of your life. The mind is the battleground for holiness. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” Prov 23:7.  If you are constantly plagued by unclean thoughts, you cannot grow in holiness.  And without holiness, no man can see the Lord (Heb 2:14).

Harbouring unclean thoughts is sin. Little sins are real sins that nailed our Saviour to that cruel Cross.  Unclean thoughts may not be the greatest sin, but once admitted, they are difficult to erase from our minds and memories.  Harbouring an unclean thought breaches our first line of defense.  Satan knows the power of the mind to build or destroy and will constantly remind us of unclean images that we have seen.  They hinder not only our fellowship with God, but also our relationship with members of the opposite sex in courtship and marriage.  Whether they are fantasies fueled by romance novels, TV series, or virtual interactive online dating games, or sexual fantasies fed by exposure to pornographic media, God calls all these uncleanness, immorality and sin (Eph 5:3).   Unclean images through internet pornography have invaded our society and homes.  According to a study of American men, 70% of young men from 18 to 24 visit a pornographic website in a typical month.  Surveys among American Christians paint a similar sad picture.  Unclean thoughts, if dwelt upon long enough, take root in our hearts, and eventually bear deadly fruit – the “works of the flesh”- uncleanness, adultery, fornication, lasciviousness (Gal 5:19-21).  Fornication is a general term for sexual immorality which includes unclean sexual thoughts and acts.

Today, we are surrounded by impure images through various media.  My Yahoo inbox is spammed daily with emails touting pornography and viagra.  While surfing the net for research, I am ambushed by pop-up dialogue boxes with immoral temptations.  Add to that racy images on advertisement billboards, magazines, television, etc, we are being “carpet-bombed” every moment in our waking hours.  Even in the worship of God in the sanctuary, I confess that occasional unwelcome thoughts do invade my mind.  We are called to be holy and yet we struggle with unclean thoughts.  If we are to live a life pleasing to God, we need effective tools to reject these temptations on a daily basis.

How can we Conquer Unclean Thoughts?

We cannot overcome sin by our human will. But we thank God that His grace is always sufficient to conquer all our sins.  We need Christ’s cleansing blood and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us wage this spiritual battle:

1.            Recognize it is Sin, Confess & Repent. Lustful fantasies and harbouring unclean thoughts is sin.  But if we confess this sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

2.            Meditate on God’s Word. How can a young man cleanse his thoughts? By knowing God’s Word, thinking of them, and obeying them by avoiding sin (Ps 119:9-11).  Free yourself from bondage to sin as you meditate on God’s Word and begin thinking like God thinks.

3.            Ask the Holy Spirit to Sanctify & Renew our Minds.  In your quiet time with the Lord, ask the help and power of the Holy Spirit to renew your minds and avoid unholy thoughts.  We are sanctified (made holy) when our thinking and living are conformed to the image of God (Col 3:9,10).

4.            Put off old habits, Put on new godly habits:  We need to think right before we can live right.  “Put off” your old sinful ways of thinking, and “put on” biblical thinking (Eph 4:22-24).  This is achieved through the ministry of the Word and the Holy Spirit, through reading God’s Word, prayer, worship, and proper use of sacraments.  As the new man, what are we to think about? Phil 4:8 provides a good thinking list: things which are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; “if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.”

5.            Cultivate a holy fear of the Lord. Reverential fear of our Holy God helps us avoid Satan’s traps and sin (Prov 14:27, 16:6).   Live coram deo (before the face of God), knowing that our Holy God sees every aspect of our life and we will need to account to God for every word we say or think.

6.            Guard your eyes, mind and heart vigilantly. Like a soldier standing guard is alert to enemy attacks, likewise we are to be alert to every lurking hidden danger from without (eyes & ears) and within(mind & heart). Do not let your guard down, not one second, nor one minute.  Even David the godly man after God’s own heart could fall, in a moment of carelessness and complacency, what about us?  Establish 3 guards:

a.            Guard your Eyes.  Each time your eyes stray towards a sexy image, immediately turn your eyes away. Don’t go there. You know it is dangerous.  Stay away from sensual materials. Install a good internet filter on your computer. If you are addicted to internet, place the computer in the living room open to family view.  Be accountable to someone you trust (parent, pastor, elder, fellowship advisor) to check on the internet websites you have visited. You may need to terminate the internet or cable TV subscriptions. Devise plans to avoid specific temptation triggers. Jesus teaches that if your hand or foot leads you to stray and sin, cut it off, though not physically (Mt 5:27-30). Radical amputation or spiritual surgery is needed. For example, if you are used to taking a certain route to the MRT station with a particular advertisement billboard, you must deliberately look away when you approach that location.   Look away from female joggers, avoid looking at sexy commercials and ladies who dress immodestly.  One of the reasons Job was commended by God as being blameless and upright was because he made a covenant with his eyes that he will not look at a woman lustily (Job 31:1). In clearing your daily emails, use the DELETE button immediately for all those unwanted spammed mails that rightfully belong to the trash bin.  Don’t linger for a second look.

b.            Guard your Mind. Your mind needs to be starved of impure images.  Set up a mental customs station where you will only admit clean thoughts in your mind. Impure thoughts are like dangerous suicide-bombing terrorists that need to be kept out. Bring every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5).  Ask: does this thought or mental image glorify God? Will it grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30)? If not, reject and abandon it immediately.  Then feed your minds with pure lovely thoughts, and the word of God (Phil 4:8).   Stop masturbation as it encourages fantasies and perverts God’s design of sex meant only within marriage and hinders the development of a godly thought life.  God has provided one’s sexuality for the benefit of one’s lawful partner only in marriage.  Solo sex constitutes an unlawful use of sexuality. The rights over one’s body belong to one’s spouse. Flee from lusts (2 Tim 2:22), like Joseph who fled (Gen 39:12) from temptation.

c.            Guard your Heart. (Prov 4:23).  Women are most vulnerable to fantasies due to greater need for emotional attachment and affection.  There was once a popular TV comedy series, Ally McBeal, that glorifies and makes humour out of the romantic fantasies of a professional woman.  It justifies fantasies as normal and helpful escapism.  The Bible says immoral fantasies are sinful. Christian women must guard themselves from fantasies that harm their spiritual life.  Whether it is romance novels, TV soap, or online dating games, stay away from fantasies that corrupt your thoughts.  Girls who are seeking emotional attention are especially vulnerable to predators on internet chatlines.  Avoid virtual dating games.  Ask yourself: are they helpful for your spiritual life?  If you want to play with fire, you will get burned.  Cut off bad company (1 Cor 15:33) eg. classmates who indulge in idle chat and sms:“which boy is cool, and which star is uncool”.   Blogging per se is not wrong.  But it grieves me to see Christians fritter away precious time and energy posting gossip blogs that are unprofitable and stumble other Christians. Jesus warns “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36).   Instead, channel your talents and gifts for the glory of God in the fellowship groups, and use your blogs to share the gospel and draw sinners to Christ.


Conquering unclean thoughts is not easy.  But God has given us a solution that works.  We can have victory by daily rejecting unclean thoughts, removing old ways of sinful thinking. Try the above concrete steps, together with bible reading and specific prayer asking God for victory over unclean thoughts by the power of the Holy Spirit.   Resolve, this new year, to have daily victory over sin, and enjoy freedom to live a holy fruitful abundant life that glorifies our Lord and Saviour.



1.     Adams, Jay E. The Christian Counselor’s Manual. Michigan: Zondervan, 1973.

2.    Adams, Jay E.  A Theology of Christian Counseling. Michigan: Zondervan, 1979.

3.     Hummel, Rand. Lest You Fall, Meditations to Fight Impurity. Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2005.

4.     Hummel, Rand. The Dark Side of the Internet. Greenville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 2004.

5.     Welch, Edward T.  Addictions- A Banquet in the Grave. New Jersey:P&R, 2001.

6.     Wilson, Gerald B.  Teenage Sexuality – God’s Design for Youth. Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing, 1982.

7.     Ghent, Rick and Jim Childerston, Purity & Passion. Chicago:Moody Press, 1994.


9.   P.Cameron et al., “Cognitive Functionings of College Students in a General Psychology Class” a paper presented at the American Psychological Association Convention. San Francisco, 1968.

10.   Arterburn, Stephen and Fred Stoeker.  Every Young Woman’s Battle -Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. Colorado: Waterbrook Press, 2005.

11.  Hall, Laurie.  An Affair of the Mind: One Woman’s Courageous Battle to Salvage Her Family from the Devastation of Pornography. Colorado Springs, Colo: Focus on the Family Publishing, 1993.

12.   Melton, J.Gordom, The Churches Speak on Pornography, Reformed Church in America’s stand on “Human Sexuality: Sexism and Pornography”. Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1978.

13.   Luther, Martin, Confessions, Book 8.

14.   Binney, Jim. Living Purely in an Impure World. Ohio: The Counselor’s Pen Publications, 2003.

15.   Anderson, Neil T.  A Way of Escape. Oregon:Harvest House Publishers, 1994.

16.   Kruis, John G. Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling. Michigan:Baker Books, 2000.

17.  Scholar, Victor G. Living Free From the Slavery of Sexual Sin, chapter 5, Ed. Robert S. Scott, Sr, Secret Sex Wars, A Battle Cry for Purity. Chicago:Moody Press, 2008.

18. H.B. Charles, Putting Sin to Death, A Battle Plan to Win War Unto Death, chapter 6, Ed. Robert S. Scott, Sr, Secret Sex Wars, A Battle Cry for Purity (Chicago, USA, Moody Press, 2008), 133-134 “He was only twenty one years old. This brave young man was in the midst of enjoying a spectacular career as one of Spain’s most brilliant and celebrated matadors.  He was handily winning the bullfight that fateful day in 1985.  But Jose Cubero made a tragic mistake that proved to be fatal.  After the initial takedown, Jose firmly thrust his sword a final time into a bleeding, delirious bull.  To the crowd’s delight, the wounded bull collapsed into the dirt.  Considering the struggle finished, Jose turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause.  The bull, however, was not dead; neither was it about to give up the fight.  Without Cubero noticing, the dying bull rose to its feet and lunged at the unsuspecting matador one last time.  Its horns pierced the young man’s back and punctured his heart. Sadly, this premature celebration led to a permanent casualty.  Let this  be a warning, brothers.  It can happen to you! You- your family, your witness, and your ministry – can become a spiritual casualty if you do not fight sin to the death.  Please do not fool yourself. None of us have reached perfection yet.  You are not immune to temptation. Given the right opportunity, any of us could fall into gross sin that betrays the ones we love, costs us our spiritual influence, and dishonors the name of the Lord. So I challenge you to take heed of the message of Colossians 3:5-7..”



  1. this is really helpful…thank you

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