22/8/2021 [Thematic Message 131]                                                                                                                                                                    www.lifechurchmissions.com  

Faith and Feelings <Col 2:6-8; Jer 17:9>

Prelude: We humans are emotional creatures. We will love and also hate; we will feel joy, and also feel sad or angry. These are the temperaments that humans have. Therefore, a struggle we often face in our faith is that we easily allow our feelings to be integrated into our entire faith living, such that we fall into a Christian faith that is very superficial, and we are even blinded by spiritual lies. This not only happens in the individual's faith, but it can also happen in the church community. The most dangerous thing is when we fall into emotionalism, we then explain our environment and understand the Bible using our feelings, such that it also shapes our concept of God. Some people, because they continue to be in very depressing situations, slowly feel that God does not love them anymore. Or some people often use a positive emotion in their heart to ascertain that God is with them, or they simply rely on positive feelings to affirm that all the convictions they have come from God. In fact, they may have misunderstood God. But the other extreme is asceticism, focused mainly on forbidding desires, to the extent of asking people to base their faith completely on theological knowledge without accepting any elements of feelings. That completely removes feelings from faith. Of course, we cannot allow our emotional experiences to form our theological concepts, but our theological knowledge must allow us to experience deeper communications with God. For example, if we talk about repentance, we cannot only remain at how we define repentance. True repentance is to develop a hatred for sin and a love for righteousness. Correct theological teaching must be reflected in our love for God, our humility and worship. The psalmist shows us that blessed people long for the salvation of the Lord and love the law of God <Ps 119:174>. They do not merely know the law of God. Similarly, true believers do not only know the existence of the Lord, they love the presence of God even more. Some believers are very knowledgeable in apologetics, and enjoy getting into debates with others on various theological theories but there is little joy and passion in their hearts that come from believing the word of God. Indeed, zeal without knowledge is dead, but knowledge without feelings is lifeless. Therefore, when we face the inherent feelings of human nature, we have two lessons to learn. First, we must be careful not to allow our feelings to influence our thoughts. Even though we sometimes go through the darkest valley, feel extremely disappointed, from the Lord’s words, we should remember that the Lord is still with us, and His rod and staff will comfort us <Ps 23:4>. We must be careful not to allow situations, environment and even our weakness to temporarily lead us to question God's promise. We have to be even more careful not to explain the Bible or apply the scriptures based only on our own experiences. In particular, we have to know that all kinds of heresies and fallacies start from the use of one’s experiences to interpret the scriptures, and eventually they are defeated. They rely on their experiences from the start but are also led astray by their experiences. Indeed, there are many prophets and teachers in the church community who make baseless prophecies to the people. In the end, the people who received the prophecies were not blessed by the prophecies, instead, they all the more did not repent. They do not study and teach the word of God in a systematic manner, with a solid foundation. Eventually, they rely solely on their own subjective, one-sided feelings to apply God's words at their will. This causes the church to get into more problems. Therefore, we see people’s feelings and experiences becoming tools used by Satan to destroy the church. In addition, in our faith journey, we must also ask, “How can we have blessed and healthy emotions in Christ?” Because we are all emotional creatures, if we lack the rich emotions from the wonderful experience of walking with God, our faith will also become very rigid. Sometimes we also experience being set free from very negative emotions like what David experienced, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” <Ps 34:4> Sometimes, we also have to experience the emotional changes brought about by God’s words by turning our fearful hearts to the assurance in God, especially when we hold fast to what is promised in <Ro 8:15>: “The Spirit which you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.” Or when we cast all our anxieties on the Lord in prayer, we experience His care for us and how He bears our burdens <1 Pe 5:7>. Even after our Lord’s resurrection, He appeared to the fearful disciples and said, “Peace be with you!” <Jn 20:19>. It is true that we cannot do away with the living and active experience brought about by the changes in our emotions. Otherwise, how can our hearts praise and give thanks like how the psalmist often did? And, if our faith experience does not bring about sound emotions within us, we can easily fall into wrong and mystical experiences, seeking all kinds of deliverance and healing, thus damaging our own lives.


1.   Pursue Christ, not feelings

1 Many believers assume that they are not pursuing feelings but the Lord

<Jer 17:9> tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ”Hence, we should not be too quick to assume that we are not acting by our feelings. When we are not rooted and built up in Him and established in faith; when we are not meditating on God’s words day and night, we are naturally led by our feelings (what we see or hear, or what most people believe). In <Col 2:8>, a lot of believers are taken captive by such philosophy and empty deceit. Often, some people choose church by feelings, some incline to the teachings of certain pastors based on feelings. They accept or reject certain biblical teachings according to their own pleasure. Isn’t this feeling-based? Even if the feelings are real, we need to examine our hearts to see if we are faithful to the revealed truth of Christ, or succumbing to what is pleasing to our hearts.


2 What it means to pursue Christ?

To pursue Christ is not only a one-time conversion prayer, or the act of getting baptized. To pursue Christ is to first pursue His teachings. We need to understand that the entire Bible is His teachings, not only those few verses that we like or only the New Testament, but we must understand the teachings of the entire Bible systematically, and through these teachings, receive Christ’s purpose, heart, desire, methods, etc. This is what it means to be rooted and built up in Christ, established in faith, according to the Bible. Some people may know Bible verses well, but one can detect the difference between what they love and what Christ loves if one stays with them. They desire not what Christ desires. Christ’s mind is set on the heavenly kingdom, but they are concerned about the earthly kingdom. For example, when some believers talk about the issue of vaccination, they bring out many opinions about medicine science and human rights, but no opinion that seeks the benefit of gospel. Furthermore, to pursue Christ is to pursue His example. This also includes the way of life of Christ. Not living out the Christian faith surely means the faith remains as head knowledge, this absolutely does not bring us joy and thanksgiving from the Holy Spirit.


3Feelings surely follow faith

When we are rooted and built up in Christ, established in faith, the Bible clearly tells us that the heart of thanksgiving also abounds. Therefore, the knowledge of Christ is not devoid of feelings, rather, it is an issue of priority. If a person pursues feelings first, and reads God’s word with his feelings, what he eventually wants is not Christ but to be satisfied emotionally. He will drift further from God’s word to get such satisfaction. As a result, a positive feeling slowly becomes that person’s idol. He comes before God for one purpose, that is to receive the feelings he likes but not to submit to God. On the contrary, if the teaching and example of Christ is one’s pursuit, the joy that follows is the fruit of the Spirit. That joy comes from God and will not replace God. John Bradford said, “Faith must first go before, and then feeling will follow.” Indeed, the joy and thanksgiving received from God when man submits to God is completely opposite from those experienced if one centers on pursuing positive feelings. The former is a slave to Christ, while the latter is a slave to feelings.




2.  Fickle emotions reveal certain realities

1The threats of sin and the world challenge our emotions

Because of the evils of the world and our own weak temperament, no one person’s emotions can always be kept at a positive state. Suffering will grieve us, uncertainties worry us, people’s words affect us. Sometimes, we may also lose heart and be discouraged for a moment due to weak faith. From the angle of God sanctifying us, sometimes God also allows us to go through all kinds of struggles in our inner heart, so that in those moments we can all the more rely on Him and experience His help. Thus, <Ecc 3:4> also says, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”. David also said, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” <Ps 30:5>. Sometimes, when we fall into the process of suffering and discipline, it is inevitable that our emotions fluctuate temporarily. However, David said that lasts only for a moment, but God’s favour lasts a lifetime. Actually, in this process, we must not rely on methods which the Bible does not directly advocate in order to seek liberation. At such moments, some people are brought to attend some healing and deliverance rallies, some start to speak in certain tongues, some people particularly like to find others to pour out their sorrows and vent their emotions, and some try to adjust their mood by applying positive psychology. In fact, the Bible does not instruct us to do these. On the contrary, the Bible tells us to go back to God’s word, confirm God’s promises, obey and act in accordance with the Holy Spirit’s guidance based on God’s word. When we keep relying on God like this, God will surely give us assured and peaceful heart to face all kinds of difficulties. In the midst of this, we will also put down many personal desires, and solely walk in obedience to the Lord.


2We cannot pursue a kind of joy and freedom without challenges

The Bible indeed promises us freedom and joy in Christ, but we cannot pursue an unbiblical and impractical freedom and joy. Paul told us that our days on earth are to fight, run and sow. Furthermore, our faith has enemy. In <2 Co 12:10>, Paul told us that sometimes, the enemy will attack us through weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. Thus, we have no choice but to rely on the Lord in order to rejoice <Php 4:4>. Sometimes, our joy is not the absence of sorrow, but despite having things that make us sorrowful, we still can keep rejoicing in the Lord. Hence, when Paul described his faith journey, he said he seemed sorrowful, yet always rejoicing <2 Co 6:10>. Some people’s idea of believing in the Lord is: “I just want to be safe and sound”. Indeed, God will give us peace, but that is a peace which trusts the Lord, not a “all is well” kind of peace. Certainly, we live in a world which is in enmity with us, so we must know how to rely on the Lord, and seek the peace and joy that are in the Lord.


3We also cannot let our dignified emotions suffer long-term torment

Even though there are troubles on earth, God promised that He will save us. Thus, we also cannot let our emotions be endlessly oppressed and tormented. Sometimes, it is necessary for us to receive appropriate refining in our hearts, but God does not want us to be tormented in our hearts for long, but He wants us to cry out to Him. David prayed to God in his distress, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” <Ps 40:17>. David also said, “Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” <Ps 34:18> Some believers thought that sufferings are ordained by God, so they live for a prolonged period in suffering. In fact, this is not what God desires. Particularly, do not think that God has abandoned us in our suffering or weaknesses. On the contrary, we should cry out to Him, and firmly believe He will help us. When some people cry out to God, they see the help of His countenance <Ps 42:5>. In the midst of this, some people also discover what God wants them to submit. Some people realise God wants them to leave or put to death their evil deeds. Importantly, what we should pursue is Christ, not feelings, then we will see God saving us. We always see some people go through trials of many kinds in their emotions, and the testing of their faith produces perseverance. In the end, their lives are mature and complete, not lacking anything <Jas 1:2-4>. But some were also tempted, and in all kinds of torments in their spirit, they doubted God’s word all the more and thus wandered away from the Lord. Such people ultimately still gave in to their feelings, instead of the Lord, thus they were not liberated. In certain circumstances, we may also meet some people who harm or tempt us, just as David met someone like Saul. Such people inflict certain harm to our faith and emotions. Just as <Ps 119:115> says, “Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God!” In <2 Ti 3:5>, the Bible also tells us to avoid those who do evil and bring harm to our faith.


3.  Submission and victory give us the emotions to love God and others

1Only by submitting to God, our faith living can experience lively emotions

<Jas 4:7-8> clearly tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Many believers are full of knowledge in their head, but often they cannot experience the abundant emotions that come from the Lord. That is because while they know the word, they are not doer of the word. Therefore, the devil often uses their own selfish desires to torment them, so that they are unable to experience the joy from the Holy Spirit. Their prayer life is also a failure, as it only remains in knowing God, but not drawing closer to God, and they do not see God coming near to them. This is like when we go travelling, if we are lazy and remain in the same spot, we will see that the scenery is the same, and will surely feel bored. However, if we start to follow the tour guide, and step by step move to different spots and take in new sights, our excitement will also increase. Similarly, if we hear the word and do not do it, it is like a faith that remains stagnant and after a while, it will become dry. However, for some people, after hearing the word, they start to pray for others, and share the gospel, testify, serve the church and bless the family, they will see the Holy Spirit guiding them actively. Such a faith is full of colour.


2The way to bring about active faith is to experience victory with the Lord in all kinds of challenges

Sometimes, when we encounter some difficulties or hardships, we must first guard our hearts so as not to fall into a valley. In every challenge, God promised us victory. When we see the lives of Joseph, Daniel and David, they had lots of challenges, but we also see how they had victories by relying on the Lord. Their weakness turned into strength, their helplessness turned into strength, their sorrows turned into joy. The main thing is that their focus was not on the end of the challenges, but they were focused on following the Lord. In the midst of this, they sometimes experienced tense moments, slowly they overcame the challenges bit by bit, and dismissed the threats of the enemies, in the end, they became strong and courageous. Therefore, if we only seek a peaceful and uneventful faith, how can our emotions to love and rely on the Lord be stirred up? Or if we live in comfort and are not willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom and people of the Lord, how can we experience grace upon grace, and grow from strength to strength?


3Ultimately, our love for the Lord will lead to acts of love for people

Our love for God must translate into love for others. A person who loves the Lord with zeal will surely serve others zealously. This is like the Lord asking Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I love you,” the Lord did not conclude with Peter’s response, but commanded Peter with, “Feed my sheep” <Jn 21:15-17>. Indeed, a heart that loves the Lord will not remain in just enjoying the intimacy with the Lord. Some believers are always chasing a hollow emotion, “I want to temporarily put aside all my ministries and be close to the Lord”. When we ask them to shepherd the sheep of the Lord or lead others in prayers, their answers are, “I need to first find the heart to love the Lord”. Such a person is actually looking for a hollow emotion. Actually, the Lord is among His people. When we do things for the Lord’s people, we are doing it for the Lord, and we will surely experience the satisfaction and joy from the Lord’s approval.