CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Faith Versus Feelings

Apr 27, 2017

The Christian life is meant to be based on faith, not on feelings. Followers of Jesus are to seek to know and understand God and what he desires of us and then act upon that. Thus we are to use our minds to read and study God’s Word and use our wills to obey it.

How we feel about all this is of little consequence. Or should be of little consequence. Feelings come and go and are unreliable guides to truth and what is right. Sure, God created us with emotions and there is a place for them. But they should follow, and not lead.

Yet sadly there are millions of Christians who seem to base their entire Christian life on how they happen to feel at any given moment. The idea of living their lives in alignment with the Word of God and engaging in daily disciplines to become more Christlike seems to elude them.

emotion 5They just glide through life running on emotion. If they feel like praying, they might. If they feel like reading the Word, they might. If they feel like obeying, they might. If they feel like fellowshipping, they might. But their feelings basically determine how they go through life.

We all have seen blatant examples of this. We all have heard of so-called believers defending even clearly defined sinful activities because it “felt right” to them. How many nominal Christians for example engage in things like fornication because it ‘feels so good’ and ‘seems so right’?

I encountered another example of this the other day on the social media. One popular Christian writer whose books are becoming more and more heretical by the day had a film made of one of his earlier books. Christians are flocking to see the movie just as they did his book.

I saw one group of Christian women absolutely gushing over the film. There was zero rational and intellectual assessment or discussion of the film. Everything said about it was entirely on an emotional level: ‘It touched my heart.’ ‘It really moved me.’ ‘It made me feel so good.’

On and on they went like this, simply reporting on their emotional reaction to the film. There was not an ounce of theological or biblical interaction with the film. It was as if their brains turned to mush while watching the film. Or perhaps they simply checked their brains at the door before going in to the theatre.

Their biblical discernment seemed to be nonexistent. Their ability to think critically and offer a rational and biblical evaluation of the film (and book) seemed to be quite beyond them. Their only frame of assessment was how they reacted emotionally.

And because they emoted positively about the film, it was a real winner in their eyes. Why do I suspect that they might view everything else through the clouded lens of emotions? Why do I suspect that they would evaluate everything in terms of how they feel about it?

If a homosexual came along and offered a sob story about how he really wants to marry but he can’t because of our “discriminatory” and “unloving” laws, why do I suspect that these sorts of Christians would fully side with him, no questions asked?

Why do I suspect that if a threesome said they had a really neat, loving relationship and they too should be given full marital rights, these believers would support their cause and demand we change our laws to be more “compassionate” and “inclusive”?

Why do I suspect that if a Muslim came to their church and said he worships the same God and he would like to read the Koran and pray in Arabic in their congregation’s worship service, these Christians would find it a pretty cool idea and think it was “Christlike”?

My friends, the Christian life was never meant to be run on mere feelings. Knowing about God and his will and obediently following him are the basics of Christian discipleship. Knowing what is right and choosing that which is right is the heart of the Christian life.

It certainly is not mushy emotionalism and sappy sentimentalism. Christians should know better than to depend on their feelings. Yet we have plenty who are doing this very thing. And that is why so much of the church today is in such a wretched condition.

A Christian mind and biblical discernment have been replaced with emotion. Such believers emote their way through life, and if something feels good they will run with it, and if it feels bad they will reject it. That is simply a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully God’s choice servants throughout church history have known the dangers of all this, and have warned against it. Let me finish by simply offering a few of their wise words here on these matters:

“It is Christ who is to be exalted, not our feelings. We will know Him by obedience, not by emotions. Our love will be shown by obedience, not by how good we feel about God at a given moment. And love means following the commands of God. ‘Do you love Me?’ Jesus asked Peter. ‘Feed My lambs.’ He was not asking, ‘How do you feel about Me?’ for love is not a feeling. He was asking for action.” Elisabeth Elliot

“There is nothing so deluding as feelings. Christians cannot live by feelings. Let me further tell you that these feelings are the work of Satan, for they are not right feelings. What right have you to set up your feelings against the Word of Christ.” Charles Spurgeon

“Obedience means marching right on whether we feel like it or not. Many times we go against our feelings. Faith is one thing, feeling is another.” D.L. Moody

“Faith has nothing to do with feelings or with impressions, with improbabilities or with outward experiences. If we desire to couple such things with faith, then we are no longer resting on the Word of God, because faith needs nothing of the kind. Faith rests on the naked Word of God. When we take Him at His Word, the heart is at peace.” George Mueller

“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honour God by our faith.” Hannah Whitall Smith

“Consecration is not the act of our feelings but of our will.” F.B. Meyer

And a final, longer quote from R. C. Sproul who calls these emotional believers “sensual Christians”:

Many of us have become sensuous Christians, living by our feelings rather than through our understanding of the Word of God. Sensuous Christians cannot be moved to service, prayer or study unless they “feel like it.” Their Christian life is only as effective as the intensity of present feelings. When they experience spiritual euphoria, they are a whirlwind of godly activity; when they are depressed, they are a spiritual incompetent. They constantly seek new and fresh spiritual experiences, and use them to determine the Word of God. Their “inner feelings” become the ultimate test of truth.
Sensuous Christians don’t need to study the Word of God because they already know the will of God by their feelings. They don’t want to know God; they want to experience him. Sensuous Christians equate “childlike faith” with ignorance. They think that when the Bible calls us to childlike faith, it means a faith without content, a faith without understanding. They don’t know the Bible says, “In evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20). They don’t realize that Paul tells us again and again, “My beloved brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (see, for example, Rom 11:25)
Sensuous Christians go their merry way until they encounter the pain of life that is not so merry – and they fold. They usually end up embracing a kind of “relational theology” (a curse on modern Christianity) where personal relationships and experience take precedence over the Word of God. If the Scripture calls us to action that may jeopardize a personal relationship, then the Scripture must be compromised. The highest law of sensuous Christians is that bad feelings must be avoided at all cost.

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9 Responses to Faith Versus Feelings

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you for this thought provoking article and I am grateful for the quote from Corinthians and Romans.

    By coincidence I was having a discussion the other day with someone on a subject which relates to this topic. It was about whether telling a person close to you something you are convinced is the Truth, which you know might hurt their feelings but which you think should be told for their own spiritual good, or whether their feelings should be spared because sometimes the Truth is too hurtful. The person I was speaking to was adamant that if what you were telling them was too hurtful then it should be withheld. I think this was a case of feelings were paramount in that persons’s life rather than the truth don’t you?

  • Yes, this is bad news. In 2 Cor. 5:13 the apostle says (AV & NASB) “If we are beside ourselves it is for God…” suggesting the feelings that may arise from expressing the truth of the Cross where Jesus totally identified with Man in his total, just abandonment by his holy Creator and the untellable wonder of that redeeming love. I believe Jonathon Edwards wrote “The Religious Affections” to fill the need for a right understanding in the times when Davenport and others played on their hearers’ feelings. Why are people being lead astray in this feeling façade – except that generally preaching is not what it was in Pauls’ mind and total being? Not enough genuine anointing that only deep prayer fellowship with the One proclaimed, before preaching will avail – as in Spurgeon I think. May the Lord give us more of His mercy today.

  • Hi Bill, this is really good theology being put to work. Reflecting on your article, could it be said that our feelings can become “the devil’s playground” if we fail to exercise Biblical discipline in our thought processes? Your quoting of R.C. Sproul and the Scriptural support that he uses was absolutely brilliant. Regards, Kel.

  • The fallacy of an appeal to emotion is one of the most commonly employed strategies in cinema and television today and has been so for a long time – the strategy whereby a stand on a moral issue of some kind needs to be made, but rather than expose the issue through a clear lens of truth, it is couched instead in some circumstantial background story deliberately designed to ‘tug on the audience heart strings’. It is a clever way of making us ask ourselves, ‘What about this situation? Surely things can’t be as black and white as that. This must be a valid exception to the rule of truth.’
    This has the effect of making us walk away from a film/movie etc with a strong empathy for the character in his/her dilemma. While feeling empathy for a character isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this tactic of appealing to emotions makes us think that certain moral dilemmas have ‘shades of grey’ that we weren’t aware of before, and thus begins the gradual shift away from the belief that anything can be so cut and dried as to be called ‘true’, and the idea that those who hold to truth are unloving.

  • Thank Bill. Amen to that. As Elizabeth Elliot used to say, “irrespective of how you feel, do the right thing.

  • Great article Bill. This can’t be stated enough. One of the biggest lies of the world that Western believers have bought into is “Follow Your Heart”, that if it feels right in your heart then to do it. This is propagated in no-fault divorce and acceptance of homosexuality.

    The Desiring God website (John Piper) also has an excellent article about how this lie permeates modern “Christian” thinking.

    Obedience and holiness – these are what God rates, and are the hallmarks of a genuine Christian life. Feelings don’t come into it.

  • Thank you Bill for writing this piece on emotions and feeling. It really speaks to me personally and reminds me of the truth as to why people talk themselves into feeling good about bacically sinful lifestyles.
    As you point out repeatedly, we must focus on biblical truth and study the word more and more. I would like to say I am doing just that, but it’s not so. I am also often in the league of the feeling mob. It’s easier and takes less effort. I must strive to shake this bad habit, based on feelings of not having enough time to read God’s Word.
    Wilhelmus Heggers

  • Hi Bill, what movie were you talking about?

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