The Appropriate Standard
How we act and react to matters in this world can come about through different avenues. On the one hand, we can purposefully make choices based on an appropriate standard of behavior. Such a standard is objective to us (outside of ourselves). In this case, we have chosen a standard that we believe gives us the best path for making decisions and living life, and we strive to be consistent with it. On the other hand, we can just go with what we feel at the moment, allowing the desires we have at any given time to determine how we will make our decisions. This will likely result in conflict with others who also may be doing the same. It would also be in conflict with those who strive to live by an objective standard. Being guided by feelings will generally result in making selfish choices. Christians know that this second way of making decisions is detrimental to loving God and loving others. Feelings are typically not good at determining the best and wisest course of action because they are geared toward “the moment.”
The objective standard chosen by the Christian starts with God as the Author of all. He has revealed His mind so that we can know His will for us (cf. 1 Cor 2:10-13). His word serves as the baseline for our decisions as we seek to train our senses to discern good and evil (Heb 5:12-14). Through this inspired standard, we have what is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” in order to be complete (2 Tim 3:16-17). We also know that in order to follow Jesus, we must deny self (Luke 9:23). This means that we will need to place God’s will over our own will. And this is at the heart of the tension between feelings and objective truth.
That our culture has been trained to act more on feelings than objective truth and reality is evident in so many ways that it hardly needs proving. The outbursts of anger, the murders, the sexual abuses, the lack of civility, the completely irrational denials of reality, and more, are ever before us and do not seem to be waning. Feelings have overtaken facts; it is more important that we do not hurt feelings (as defined by … feelings) than that we deny truth and reality. This goes along with what, for our culture, has been termed “post-truth” (the 2016 Oxford word of the year).
Unfortunately, the feelings-over-truth paradigm can also found among believers in God. We may define what it means to glorify God by what we like and feel rather than allowing God to define what He wants. This is evident in the worship-for-entertainment industry. Some seem to be more interested in being rock stars for Christ than humbly submitting to God’s expressed will. We might love to revel in fame and attention and call it glorifying God. This turns worship into a charade, and we know this is not what God desires.
Humility must control feelings. Feelings can be arrogant, selfish, demanding of others. What matters is what I feel. Me. Not you. Me. Humility, however, constrains and limits how we allow our feelings to outweigh the need to submit to God and others. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). This is the mind of Christ, and it is a mind that is geared toward servanthood, sacrifice, and love. The Lord Himself gives us Himself as the Standard in how we think and act.
Feelings are not a proper source of truth because they are subjective, fickle, and constantly changing. We may feel otherwise, but then we have entered the vicious circle of defining truth by our own desires. That lie can be traced back to the garden. When we allow that to happen, then we will inevitably let the flesh take over the Spirit.
Herein is the difference between letting our feelings take precedence over truth and vice versa: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5 — really, the whole chapter; and while you’re at it, the two previous chapters…and book).
Paul also wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:16-17). Doing the things that we please will often run contrary to what pleases God. It takes faith to please God (Heb 11:6), and this faith requires humility and self-denial.
What will define your actions today? The flesh (your feelings) or the Spirit (God’s will)? Feelings are very good followers, not leaders, of truth, but we must first give way to that Truth in Christ so that our feelings will do what they were actually meant to do. Therein will we be set free from sin (John 8:31ff).