"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Every thought that one receives, owns, relies on, defends and acts upon is a stronghold. The Greek word that we translate as stronghold (ochuroma) describes a castle, fortress, fastness; anything which one relies on; arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.
Negative and positive strongholds
A stronghold is either negative or positive, a lie or truth. Whatever thought a person chooses to accept or receive, own or possess, rely or depend on, protect or defend and act upon is a stronghold in that person's life whether it is a lie or the truth.
Source of strongholds
Our thinking is formed by various sources of information. These include,
- Information from others (parents, friends, colleagues, media, literature, teachers, psychologists, etc.)
- Information derived from experience.
- Information derived from circumstances.
- Information from God.
- Information from Satan.
Whatever information we trust as the truth, we will accept, receive, own, rely on, defend and act on.
For example if a friend walks in the room and is unresponsive to you, you begin to think all sorts of things and have to choose what you think is true. If you choose to believe that the friend is upset with you, you accept that as the truth, you receive it, own it, depend on it and eventually defend it. Consequently this belief or assumption is the truth for you until disproved. However, every subsequent information or observed behaviour will be used to justify the belief and thus strengthen the stronghold. If the stronghold is further strengthened by faulty assumptions, you can become so convinced that you are right that even when the friend genuinely tries to convince you that he is not upset with you but had a headache, you still won't believe him. You have built a stronghold that you are now even defending! The initial information you received has been turned into a negative stronghold that is based on a lie - a false perception and subsequent false assumption strengthened to become a stronghold.
A battle of the mind
A battle is going on for our minds. Satan wants us to build ungodly strongholds whereas God wants us to build godly strongholds. Much of our thinking needs to be changed so that we live godly lives. That is why the apostle Paul urges believers to have their minds renewed in order to be Christ-like (Rom. 12:2).
Strongholds that are built on lies are ungodly fortresses that need to be torn down and replaced with the truth of God. Ungodly strongholds are exposed when we accept and receive the word of God as the truth. The writer to the Hebrews describes the word of God as "living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Heb. 4:12,13). In other words, the word of God exposes whether our thinking is in accordance with the truth or not.
Ungodly thinking must be replaced by godly thinking before it becomes a stronghold that governs one's life. Paul says we must "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ." The believer must keep his thinking in check and always identify negative thinking in the light of God's word. Failure to do so allows ungodly thinking to poison one's mind and establish itself as a fortress is one's life! That is why Peter says, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8,9). The lies of the enemy are presented to us as truth. Words that have been said to us by our parents, teachers, psychologists and the like are not always the truth! We must recognise that not all information presented to us is the truth! If we accept every bit of information offered to us, we are certain to build strongholds based on lies as well as on the truth. The only way to identify what is true and false is to trust the word of God as absolute truth, accept it, receive it, own it, depend on it and defend it. Only then can one expose ungodly information that is contrary to God's word.
Truth or counterfeit?
A friend of mine works for a bank and has the job of identifiying counterfeit money and training people to differentiate between true and false bank notes. He explained that in order to identify the counterfeit notes, one must study the authentic notes and know everything possible about them. Only then can one expose the counterfeit notes. Similarly the believer can only expose the lies of the enemy that are presented as truth by knowing the real truth - the word of God.
Building godly strongholds
In order to build godly strongholds so as to be Christ-like, I believe the following principles are necessary for every believer:
A desire to be Christ-like.
Unless you believe that God's will for your life is to be like Jesus, you won't work on changing the way you think. The word of God is clear that it is indeed God's will for every believer to live as Jesus did on earth and that every believer has been joined to Christ to be like Him and to do the work He did whilst on earth (see Rom. 8:29; John 14:9-12; 1 John 2:6; 1 Cor. 11:1). Christ-likeness is commanded for "it is written: 'be holy, because I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:16).
A recognition that there is the possibility of having ungodly strongholds in one's life!
It is a humbling thing to admit that not everything one has built one's life on is necessarily the truth! Opening oneself to God's correction is choosing to submit to Him and His word. God's thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8) and so God doesn't seek to improve the way we think but replace our thinking with His thoughts. We are transformed by the renewing of our thinking and not the improvement of our thinking!
A trust in God's word as absolute truth.
Unless you trust God's word as absolute truth you will struggle to submit to it and allow it to renew your thinking. God's word is not one among equals. It is absolute truth. It is an offense to the post-modern worldview that accepts everything as truth. You will be labelled as narrow-minded and as a fundamentalist. Belief in, and submission to God's word sets you apart from the world as you become the revelation of truth in the flesh (see John 17:17,18). The believer can only be holy as he or she lives God's Holy Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A renewing of the mind
A renewing of the mind will only come about as the believer accepts God's word as the truth, receives it, owns it, depends on it and defends it. The believer that truly allows God to renew his mind and build godly strongholds in his life will act accordingly. Living according to the truth is what sets us free from ungodly thinking and behaviour. Just hearing God's word will not renew our thinking. The believer must accept it, receive it, own it, rely on it, defend it and act on it before it becomes a transforming belief. Jesus says, "If you hold to my teaching...you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31,32). Belief without action is simply opinion or as James puts it, "Faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26).
How to build godly strongholds
Once the believer accepts the above principles s/he will be ready to receive the truth in order to break down ungodly strongholds and replace them with godly strongholds. I believe every disciple of Christ should be a student of the Word of God on a daily basis - not just to aquire knowledge about the Bible but to encounter God's transforming presence and power as s/he allows God to renew his/her thinking. God desires to reveal Himself to His children to renew them from glory to glory (see 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16)! Christ is formed in us as we build godly strongholds. Here are some steps that have helped me live in Christ-likeness:
- Ask God to give you spiritual revelation, understanding, knowledge and wisdom before reading His word. The Holy Spirit reveals the deep things of God and will use God's word to expose and demolish ungodly strongholds (See 1 Cor. 2; John 16:14).
- Honour the word of God as absolute truth and read it with humility, allowing God to correct your thinking and build godly thinking (See 1 Thess. 2:13). Your attitude toward the word of God will determine how you receive it (see Matthew 13:1-23)!
- Read the word of God slowly and with understanding. The word of God is "living and active" and works in those who believe (Heb. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:13). Read to gain understanding but also to receive revelation of God. Expect God to speak to you through His word.
- Pay attention to anything the Holy Spirit highlights as you read. As you read the Bible the Holy Spirit may show you something new or exciting or simply profound. When you notice something in particluar, write it down and meditate on it. God wants to impress His word on you. Let it dwell in you as you think about it, pray it and keep it in your heart.
- Take thoughts captive. When you read God's word and you realise that you think differently about God or yourself etc, confess the ungodly thought and replace it with God's truth. Reject the lie and receive the truth! For example, you may think that God doesn't love you because you believe the information your negative circumstances are shouting at you. When you read Romans 8:35-39 that tells you that "nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" you must choose to replace the ungodly thoughts with the truth. Having received the truth and replaced the lie, you must own the truth and make it yours. Then you can rely on that truth and defend it whenever the enemy tries to convince you otherwise!
- Meditate on and memorise the word of God! Reflecting on God's word is important for it to become part of you. Memorising scripture is helpful if you have spiritual understanding of the verse or verses. Simply having the scripture in your brain without understanding it is not much use. The word must move from your thinking to your heart, from your soul into your spirit.
- Act on the Truth! If you really trust God's word to be the truth you will be convinced that it is the truth. Consequently you will act on what you believe and are convinced about.When we don't act on God's word we don't really believe it is the truth. Obedience and submission to God's word are the evidence of genuine faith.
I encourage you to saturate yourself with the truth and to build godly strongholds as you accept, receive, own, rely on, defend and act on God's word. Then you will be a living epistle, set apart by the truth and living in Christ-likeness and freedom.