This foreword to Freedom from Sinful Thoughts written by J. Heinrich Arnold, is by John Michael Talbot, a well-known Christian author, composer, and speaker.
We are what we think. This is why we should never underestimate what we allow to enter our minds. It is by means of thoughts that the spirits of evil wage a secret war on the soul. Thus the fifth-century bishop Maximus warns us, “Just as it is easier to sin in the mind than in action, so warfare through our impassioned conceptual images of things is harder than warfare through things themselves.”
Jesus says, “From the thoughts of the heart stem evil designs.” He also says, “Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be.” For too many of us, including those of us who call ourselves Christians, our private thoughts or fantasies are our treasure. We do not want to sin, but we do not want to give up our private fantasies either. Yet it is precisely in our thought-life where the struggle for good and evil is won or lost. The Apostle Paul understood this and so wrote: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind; then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1–2). For Paul, the transformation of our actions begins with the transformation of our thoughts – that is, freedom from sinful thoughts is paramount to freedom in Christ.
Arnold’s attention to sinful thoughts must be seen in this greater context of transformation. His is not a morbid preoccupation with perfection. All of us struggle with unwanted images and thoughts. But as Arnold assures us, tempting thoughts are not in and of themselves sinful. It is what we do with them that matters. James says, “Once passion has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” Therefore the question is, Do we nurture the evil thoughts that come to us, linger on them, and so feed them; or do we take them up as in a battle and strive to overcome them in Christ?
It is Christ who alone breaks the curse of sin. It is he who gives the struggle meaning – for he is the purpose and goal of all our striving. Therefore Augustine writes, “Let us sing alleluias here on earth…even here amidst trials and temptations and anxiety…not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors.” It is by praising God in the midst of temptation that we will be freed of heaviness within our souls.
In the end, our struggle is a joyful one. Even when we fail – and we will – we have the assurance that God’s rule of love is greater than our hearts and minds. And further, we can have, as Arnold urges us, “absolute trust in Jesus, so that even if we feel nothing yet, we will give ourselves absolutely and without reserve to him with all we are and have…Then he will give us forgiveness, cleansing, and peace of heart; and these lead to a love that cannot be described.”
To be freed from sinful thoughts is a great gift, a gift of God’s love that every reader may experience in pondering the wisdom of this book. Without it, we are left floundering in frustration. With it, we are more than conquerors.