There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
One aspect of life that often trips up Christians is properly responding to feelings and emotions. In the Sunday sermon, Pastor Babij mentioned that feelings and emotions (I’m going to use those terms interchangeably) are one way that people move away from the hope of the gospel. That’s a dire outcome! Yet our feelings can be very strong. Therefore, how can we protect ourselves from letting our emotions take us away from God?
The Origin of Emotions
We might think that the answer is to just shut down our emotions and become logic-driven stoics, but such misunderstands the origin and originally intended role of emotions. Emotions are a gift from God and are part of our being made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). God has emotions (e.g. Isa 62:5; Eph 4:30; Ex 32:10), and he made us to experience emotions such as joy, anger, fear, sorrow, and satisfaction for a good purpose.
Emotions help us appreciate the significance of God and various aspects of his universe. Without the feeling of happiness, how could we ever truly know the goodness of God or of his creation? Without the feeling of sorrow, how could we comprehend the terribleness of that which is broken and without God?
Practically speaking, emotions were designed to help us in making life decisions. Anger (the righteous kind) was meant for us to pursue justice on behalf of God and the oppressed (Pro 31:8-9; cf. Mark 3:1-6; John 2:13-22), while fear motivates us not to rebel against God or engage in any other activity which is dangerously foolish (Pro 9:10; Eccl 8:12-13). Thus, emotions were originally given to us for good.
The Corruption of Emotions
The problem with emotions, though, is that they have become impacted by sin and the corruption of our world. Now, we sometimes experience feelings that are inappropriate. For example, instead of sin inspiring in us revulsion or zeal, we feel delight. We also sometimes experience emotions that go beyond their proper bounds. For example, a good concern for one’s health becomes an enslaving fear of getting sick. Thus, emotions can encourage people to make choices that are sinful and self-destructive in their lives, which is the opposite of emotion’s original design.
Why have our emotions gotten so out of order? It is because our emotions are so frequently disconnected from reality. The reason we feel the way that we do is because of what we think and believe in our hearts (there is also sometimes a physical influence from our bodies but the primary driver is the inner man). This is why one person stuck in traffic can feel rage while another person in the same traffic feels content; though the circumstances are the same, what a person believes he needs or deserves informs his emotions one way or the other.
Thus, when we believe what is false about God, ourselves, and the world, our misinformed emotions lead us astray. And, unfortunately, due to our inheritance of sinful corruption from Adam, we are naturally inclined to believe what is false, preferring a warped and self-centered view to the reality revealed in God’s Bible.
The Redemption of Emotions
But there is hope for recalibrating our emotions and rediscovering their originally beneficial purpose for our lives: that hope is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. When we humble ourselves before the Lord, confess that we have thought and believed wrongly, and commit to trusting and following him according to his word, then our emotions can start to be informed by the truth. Instead of rejoicing in sin, we sorrow over sin, as we ought, and feel zeal to change (2 Cor 7:8-11). Instead of worrying inordinately about the future, we bring our concern back into its proper bounds because we know that we can trust God (Mt 6:31-34).
In fundamental repentance and faith, some of our emotional changes are immediate. However, others take more time, since whole habits of thinking and believing that were false have to be reshaped and retrained to what is true. This is why we need those disciplines of grace; by continually seeking the Lord through his word, through prayer, and through the fellowship and ministry of the saints, our minds are more fully formed into the mind of Christ himself (1 Cor 2:16; 2 Cor 3:18). And as we are renewed in the inner man, so will our emotions also be renewed.
Along the way, though, there will be times when we feel an emotion that goes against the Bible. We might feel afraid to preach the gospel, feel like a certain sin will provide necessary satisfaction, or feel the desire to isolate from others when experiencing trouble. We may even arrive at moments when we feel conflicting emotions at the same time: a desire to please Christ and do what’s right and a desire to please the sinful flesh that’s still part of us (cf. Gal 5:17). So what should we do?
In our moments of testing, we must by faith push past our fleshly, misinformed feelings to follow Jesus (Gal 5:16-24). Fundamental to faith is the belief that God is a rewarder to those who seek him (Heb 11:6). If you will choose to seek Christ over your own feelings, then not only will you find his reward, but you will also find that your misguided feelings soon change. As many Bible teachers have counseled: we should not wait around for our feelings to change before we obey God, rather by faith we obey and trust God to change our feelings as we keep seeking him.
Questions to Consider:
1. Sin often encourages emotions that themselves encourage further sin. Therefore, what is needed to break out of the downward spiral of sin?
2. Would God be pleased with people who fulfill his commands but do not feel joy or affection for him? Why or why not? Consider Deuteronomy 6:5 and Nehemiah 8:10.
3. What are you doing in your life to cultivate proper emotions for and before God?