How do we understand the role of emotion in the Christian life?
We are emotional beings who have very real feelings. But that is not all that we are. We are also intellectual beings who can think, and volitional beings who can make choices. Yet so often so many people simply run on emotions as if that is all there is. Their lives are mainly based on how they feel.
The Christian does not deny the role of emotions, but he knows that they are not to be our master, but our servant. We are easily led astray if we over rely on our fleeting feelings and emotions. Yet there is a place for them, even in Christian worship. We can even get a bit noisy and excited as we praise God.
Just yesterday I shared an A. W. Tozer quote on this: “I would warn those who are cultured, quiet, self-possessed, poised and sophisticated that if they are embarrassed in church when some happy Christian says ‘Amen!’ they may actually be in need of some spiritual enlightenment. The worshipping saints of God in the body of Christ have often been a little bit noisy.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/01/24/tozer-on-worship-part-one/
And a few months ago I wrote an entire piece about how Martyn Lloyd-Jones defended the place of feelings (rightly understood) and the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/10/11/emotion-the-spirit-and-the-christian-life/
So I am certainly not interested in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There IS a real place for emotion. But as always, we must guard against extremes, and it seems clear that far too many believers do tend to put feelings first. And that can get us into all sorts of trouble.
Many Christians have written on this topic over the centuries. Just recently I penned a piece looking at the many wise things C. S. Lewis had said about this matter: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/01/03/c-s-lewis-on-feelings-vs-faith/
So here I will only offer one of his quotes. All up in this article I have 20 authors presenting us with 25 useful quotations on this issue. Enjoy.
“Many falsely suppose that the feelings, which God has implanted in us as natural, proceed only from a defect. Accordingly the perfecting of believers does not depend on their casting off all feelings, but on their yielding to them and controlling them, only for proper reason.” John Calvin
“All the great temptations appear first in the region of the mind and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small and by reliance upon the word of the Spirit of truth. It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is as though He said, ‘Learn to live in your will, not in your feelings’.” Amy Carmichael
“Faith is not an instinct. It certainly is not a feeling – feelings don’t help much when you’re in the lions’ den or hanging on a wooden Cross. Faith is not inferred from the happy way things work. It is an act of will, a choice, based on the unbreakable Word of a God who cannot lie, and who showed us what love and obedience and sacrifice mean, in the person of Jesus Christ.” Elisabeth Elliot
“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
“Mastering our emotions has nothing to do with asceticism or repression, for the purpose is not to break the emotions or deny them but to ‘break in’ the emotions, making them teachable because they are tamed.” Os Guinness
“The promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.” C. S. Lewis
“We must not concentrate overmuch upon our feelings. Do not spend too much time feeling your own pulse taking your own spiritual temperature, do not spend too much time analyzing your feelings. That is the high road to morbidity.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Faith, obviously, is not a mere matter of feeling. It cannot be, because one’s feelings in this kind of condition can be very changeable. A Christian is not meant to be dejected when everything goes wrong. He is told to ‘rejoice’. Feelings belong to happiness alone, rejoicing takes in something much bigger than feelings; and if faith were a matter of feelings only, then when things go wrong and feelings change, faith will go. But faith is not a matter of feelings only, faith takes up the whole man including his mind, his intellect and his understanding. It is response to truth.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.” Martin Luther
“That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, ‘Thou art my refuge’.” George MacDonald
“Consecration is not the act of our feelings but of our will.” F. B. Meyer
“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
“But when the cross is working deeply a believer comes to know himself. He realizes how undependable are his ideas, feelings and desires.” Watchman Nee
“None but He who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel. If a young man has capacity, culture and application, it may make him a scholar, a philosopher, or an orator; but a true Minister must have certain principles, motives, feelings, and aims, which no industry or endeavors of men can either acquire or communicate. They must be given from above, or they cannot be received.” John Newton
“God often takes a course for accomplishing His purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects when He is about to give us the desire of our hearts.” John Newton
“Joy is a condition that is experienced, but it is more than a feeling; it is, primarily, a state of mind.” J. I. Packer
“Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart.” John Piper
“Believe God’s love and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your rock is Christ, and it is not the rock that ebbs and flows but the sea.” Samuel Rutherford
“When you cannot rejoice in feelings, circumstances or conditions, rejoice in the Lord.” A. B. Simpson
“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.” R. C. Sproul
“In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than with feeling. The call to love is not so much a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a quality of action.” R. C. Sproul
“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
“Live by the day – aye, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help.” Charles Spurgeon
“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