Facts, faith, feelings. As a young man studying for ministry, I was taught that was the proper sequence to follow in our walk with God. There are facts to be believed. There are commands to be obeyed by faith. Then there are feelings to be experienced as a result.
But today in most of our culture, feelings trump facts. “This movie will terrorize you!” “The beat of this song will energize you!” “How do you feel when you look at this painting?” “I voted for that candidate because he’s got so much charisma he makes you feel confident in his leadership.” “Take this drug and you’ll feel peaceful.” “Follow your heart.” “It can’t be wrong because it feels right.” Justin Timberlake sings, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” which includes lyrics about not needing reason or control.
Emotions Are God-Given
Not surprisingly many churches, attempting to relate to culture, emphasize emotions more than facts. Some teachers speak more about God’s “inner guidance” than they do about the absolutes of his Word. I hear more praise songs about “Hold Me Close” than “We Believe.” A great deal of attention is given to lighting, staging, and effects to create a spiritual mood in the auditorium. Leaders evaluate services more by what is felt than what is taught.
Please don’t misunderstand; emotions are God-given and healthy. Excitement, fear, laughter, joy, sadness, grief, anger, romance are all biblical and proper emotions. We’re commanded in Scripture to love God with all our hearts. Solomon said there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. God was pleased when King David was so excited about the ark of the covenant returning to Jerusalem that David danced for joy in front of the parade.
God has also given us the capacity to think. “‘Come now and let us reason together,’ saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18, King James Version). We’re commanded to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), to “have the same mindset as Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5) and “to prepare our minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13, New American Standard Bible).
Feelings fluctuate. What elicits strong emotion today can leave you unmoved next week. Facts remain a solid foundation of faith and obedience.
Become Scripturally Driven
As we mature in the Christian life, we should move from being emotionally driven to Scripturally driven. You might expect me to say rationally driven, but reason is not a sufficient foundation either. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Mature followers of Christ saturate their minds with God’s Word until it comes out their pores. They develop a submissive spirit toward God’s directives, regardless of how they feel about his imperatives at the moment, much like a private is conditioned to instantly respond to the commands of a general even if the instruction seems unreasonable.
When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, that was the exact opposite of what Abraham felt like doing. God’s command certainly didn’t seem reasonable. But by faith Abraham obeyed because he believed God’s promise that Isaac would be the father of a great nation. He believed God would somehow bring Isaac back from the dead. After God provided a substitute sacrifice, Abraham descended the mountain with his beloved Isaac by his side. At that moment Abraham was exuberant with joy. Facts, faith, feelings.
Choose the Wise Progression
Usually when Christians fall to temptation it’s because they yield to temporary emotions and ignore the facts of Scripture. Why would a man have an affair with a woman at work when he has a beautiful wife and two kids at home? “Well, the electricity flowed between us and we couldn’t stop the feelings so we just followed our hearts.”
Why would a woman who grew up in the church get sucked into a cult? “The teacher had such charisma. It was really exciting to hear him speak. It was mesmerizing. You could just sense that he had a special walk with the Lord.”
Why would a middle-aged couple on the verge of bankruptcy buy a new motorcycle? They later shake their heads in disbelief, “We got so excited about it. The test ride made us feel so young and free we just had to have it.”
Facts, faith, feelings—that’s still the wise progression to follow for those walking in obedience to Christ. I like the way The Message paraphrases 1 Peter 1:14: “Don’t lazily slip back into the old grooves of evil—just doing what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now.”
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Copyright 2015 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Debbie Carper, Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenbaker Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243. Find Bob’s books and sermons online (www.livingword.org).