Facts, faith, feelings. As a young man studying for ministry I learned that was the proper sequence to follow in our walk with God: The three-step progression of following Christ was: 1) facts to be believed, 2) commands to be obeyed by faith, 3) feelings to be experienced as a result.
Yet, today most of our culture values emotions more than thinking. Feelings often trump facts. A Facebook post that’s hilarious or touching will get far more hits than an article that stimulates thought.
The arts, entertainment and politics 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.”
Impact on the church
Not surprisingly, many churches—attempting to relate to modern culture—emphasize emotions more than facts. Pastors and church leaders should resist this trend.
Some Christian teachers speak more often about God’s “inner guidance” than the absolutes of God’s Word.
A great deal of attention goes 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.”
A God-given quality
Now, emotions are God-given and healthy. Things like excitement, laughter, and grief are all biblical and proper. God commands us to love Him with all our hearts. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Still, God has also given us the capacity to think, which is why Isaiah wrote: “‘Come now and let us reason together,’ saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18 KJV). Scripture says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and to “have the same mindset as Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:5).
Feelings are important but reason is more important and should be given priority. Feelings fluctuate. Feelings aren’t dependable. What elicits strong emotions today can leave you unmoved next week. Facts are a solid foundation of faith and obedience.
As we mature in the Christian life we should move from being emotionally-driven to Scripturally-driven. Mature followers of Christ saturate their minds with God’s Word until it comes out their pores.
Conditioned to obey
Believers condition their minds to respond according to God’s commands, regardless of how they feel at the moment. They develop a submissive spirit toward God’s directives, much like a private is conditioned to instantly respond to a general’s commands.
When God commanded Abraham to climb Mount Moriah and sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on the altar, that was the exact opposite of what Abraham felt like doing. But by faith Abraham obeyed because he believed God’s promise that Isaac would be the father of a great nation, and that somehow God would bring Isaac back from the dead.
After God provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice, Abraham descended the mountain with his beloved Isaac by his side. At that moment, Abraham was exuberant with joy. Facts; faith; and feeling.
Yielding to temptation
Most of the time when Christians fall to temptation, it’s because they yield to temporary emotions. Why would a man have an affair with a woman at work when he has a beautiful wife and two kids at home? He explains, “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 church get sucked into a cult with teaching contrary to the basics of Scripture? She rationalizes, “The teacher had such charisma. It was really exciting to hear him speak. It was mesmerizing.”
Why would a middle-aged couple on the verge of bankruptcy buy a new motorcycle? They later shake their heads in disbelief and try to explain, “We got so excited about it. The test-ride made us feel so young and free we just had to have it.”
Remember, Satan’s most lethal temptations are emotional appeals much more than intellectual doubts. Facts, faith and feelings…that’s still the wise progression to follow for those who would walk in obedience to Christ.
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