Facts, faith, feelings. As a young man studying for ministry I was taught that this 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. And then there are feelings to be experienced as a result. That was the three-step progression of following Christ. And it was understood to be the natural order.
But today most of our culture values emotion more than thinking. And feelings often trump facts. For example, a Facebook post that’s hilarious or touching will get many times more hits than an article that stimulates thought. The arts, politics, and entertainment are largely about feelings. “This movie will terrorize you!” “The beat of this song will energize you!” “This painting is not meant to depict anything in particular; the question is how do you feel when you look at it?” “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 so peaceful.”
You’ve heard the popular slogans: “If it feels good do it.” “Follow your heart.” “You’ve got to be true to yourself.” “If the chemistry’s right, go for it.” And, “It can’t be wrong because it feels so right.” Justin Timberlake sings, Can’t Stop the Feeling, which includes the lyrics, “Don’t need no reason, don’t need control. I fly so high, no ceiling, when I’m in my zone.”
Not surprisingly, many churches, attempting to relate to modern culture, emphasize emotions more than facts. Some Christian teachers speak more often about God’s “inner guidance” than they do about the absolutes of God’s Word. It seems to me there are more praise songs like, Hold Me Close than We Believe songs.
A great deal of attention is given to lighting, staging, and fog machines to create a spiritual mood in the auditorium. Preachers and worship leaders evaluate services more by what is felt than what is taught. My brother John retired from a 40-year ministry about seven years ago. After mentoring a group of young ministers, he quipped, “If I hear one more young preacher say, ‘That service lacked energy,’ I’m going to throw up.” Please don’t misunderstand; emotions are God-given and healthy. Excitement, fear, laughter, joy, sadness, grief, and anger 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 he danced for joy in front of the parade.
But God has also given us the capacity to think. “‘Come now and let us reason together,’ saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18 KJV). We’re commanded to love God with all our minds, 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).
Feelings are important, but reason is more important. And reason should be given priority. Feelings fluctuate. Feelings aren’t dependable. What elicits strong emotion in your heart today can leave you unmoved next week. But facts remain as a solid foundation of faith and obedience.
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. The Bible says, “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 condition their minds to respond according to God’s commands regardless of how they feel about his imperatives at the moment. They develop a submissive spirit toward God’s directives much like a private is conditioned to instantly respond to the commands of a general even if the instruction seems unreasonable.
Most of the time when Christians fall to temptation it’s because they yield to temporary emotions and ignore the facts of Scripture. Satan’s most lethal temptations are emotional appeals rather than intellectual doubts. Facts, faith, and feelings. That’s still the wise progression to follow for those who would walk in obedience to Christ. You may be accused of being hard-hearted and insensitive at times, but Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I like the way The Message paraphrases 1 Peter 1:14. “Don’t lazily slip back into the old grooves of evil, doing just 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 2018 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Emily Engelhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenship Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243. Find Bob’s books and writings online (www.livingWord.org).