We live at a time of great public immorality, a time in which the only thing that is shameful is shame itself. Immorality is synonymous with entertainment and the basest sexual perversions are flaunted on-screen for all to see. Television shows compete among themselves to explore and transgress any boundary. The very things that marked a respectable man a few years ago mark a bigoted or repressed one today. Society is so saturated with immorality it is impossible to prevent ourselves from being inundated with it.
In the midst of this morass, Christians are given a command that may seem impossible. We are told to have pure minds, holy minds, minds that have been supernaturally renewed by the Spirit of God so they now treasure what God treasures and abhor what God abhors. It is not enough that we refuse to practice evil, but we must not fixate on it or even think about it. Some things are so shameful, so opposed to God’s purpose and plan for humanity, that we should not even ponder them, not even speak of them, certainly not laugh about them. The deeds of darkness are to be left for those with hearts of darkness.
In such a difficult context, it is crucial that we avoid what is vile and pursue what is lovely. We must be disciplined in guarding our hearts from what is odious to God and, therefore, ought to be odious to us. We guard our hearts by guarding our minds, and we guard our minds by guarding our ears and eyes. Our hearts tend not to desire what our minds do not consider, and our minds tend not to consider what our ears do not hear and our eyes do not see. This is why the Bible specifically warns us to steer our minds toward those things that are pleasing to God. The Apostle Paul says it like this: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Divine peace flows to those whose minds are untouched and unsullied by the depravity around us. It flows to those who discipline their minds to meditate on all that is lovely and pleasing to God.
It is sometimes wise for us to look at the Bible’s promises, to examine the conditions that lead to them, and then to reverse those conditions to see what will happen if we take the opposite approach. If the great promise at the end of this little passage is the peaceful presence of God, the tacit warning is the lack of that peaceful presence. Those who obey these words will find God near, but those who disobey them will find him far.
What does it look like to disobey him in this? We can turn the passage around to find out. “Finally, brothers, whatever is false, whatever is immoral, whatever is prejudiced, whatever is filthy, whatever is base, whatever is reprehensible, if there is any inferiority, if there is anything worthy of censure, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen on television—practice these things, and the God of peace will be distant from you.” If divine peace flows toward those who discipline their minds to fixate on all that is lovely and pleasing to God, divine peace flows away from those who allow their minds to fixate on all that is unlovely and on all that is displeasing to God.
And in this way we see the challenge before us. There may have been times in the past when it took concerted effort to see and experience immorality; today it takes concerted effort to avoid seeing it. And so we must put great effort into steering our minds away from what is displeasing to God and into steering them toward what he loves. We must deliberately discipline ourselves to consider only what honors God, only what is pleasing to him, only what results in his sweet peace.