Sifting Out Feeling and Believing
It is time to send our language through the sifter on a particular issue. Feelings are one thing, and beliefs are another thing. They are not the same thing. But for too long we have used them interchangeably and muddied the water of what it is to walk by faith.
Sifting Belief from Feeling
Belief is not something you feel. Belief is embracing someone’s word about reality. Jesus said, “…your word is truth.” (Jn. 17:17) Therefore, biblical belief is embracing what God says about anything and everything. But people regularly speak of feelings in the place of the truth.
See if some of these statements sound familiar:
“I feel the Lord is leading me to…”
“I feel that this means…”
“I feel like this is a bad thing.”
None of the above statements are things feelings can do. The Lord does not lead his people by feelings, he leads them according to his Word. When you rightly apply his Word you will know what he wants you to do. Feeling peace about it does not mean God wants you to do something. That peace has to be verified by scriptural truth. Feeling excitement does not mean the Lord is confirming some decision. Excitement has to be verified by scriptural truth.
Feelings are also not the rule of interpretation for your Bible study group. What you feel about a passage is irrelevant when it comes to what a passage means. Your feelings cannot create meaning any more than feeling like an ice skater will help you land a triple Salchow.
Even interpreting your own situation is not a function of feelings. Feeling like something is good or bad does not make something good or bad. Good or bad is a statement of reality that must be defined by an authoritative standard of truth.
Sifting Feelings from Belief
It may look (I almost said “feel”) as though I am trying to suck the emotional experience out of all of life. Not so. What we are trying to do is reestablish a biblically ordered life. And feelings are a real and true part of life. God made us emotional beings and our emotions tell us tons about ourselves.
The reality is that the Lord leads you by his word and you may hate what you read there. That is important to know about yourself, but it doesn’t change the nature of what he is calling you to do. Confessing your hatred (or fear or anger or disgust) for his leading is the first step to having your mind transformed. In fact, that is exactly what Romans 12:2 says. When your mind is not conformed to the world but transformed, then you will approve what God’s will is. You will not hate it anymore. The feelings of joy and excitement for knowing and doing God's will show your mind has been transformed to a degree, and consequently you are beginning to feel how God feels about it.
Remember, God commands us to have feelings. He commands us to have joy, peace, zeal, sorrow, hatred, compassion and a host of other emotions. But these feelings do not create truth. Feelings reveal what our heart does with the truth. Truth is a rock and feelings are our Spirit-produced dancing or kneeling on that rock, or conversely our flesh-driven sledgehammer against that rock.
Keeping Feelings and Belief in their Place
Unfortunately many people talk about feelings when they mean belief. This is demonstrated when they say something like this, “I feel the Lord is leading to me this job because he has gifted with the ability to do it, it is going to meet the needs of my family, and it is not going to take me away from being active in church.” In that sentence, everything that follows “because” are reasons, not feelings. And those reasons line up with biblically informed principles. The problem here is that the statement is tied to feelings and not biblical authority, and this is misleading. When people wrongly speak of “feelings” instead of “belief”, both they and their listeners will be imperceptibly shaped by this use of language. Feelings, and not biblically-driven thinking, will become the dominate feature in decision-making.
Feelings do need to be recognized and discussed, but only after God has spoken. When a person sees that a job is a good idea or a bad idea due to well-applied biblical principles, then, and only then, you should ask how they feel about it. Perhaps they are angry about moving, or fearful of continuing to work with hostile co-workers. These are good things to know, and shows where heart-work needs to be done. They may now know the truth about a career decision, but next they need the truth about dealing with fear or anger. The truth will transform those faulty feelings, just as it instructs us about making a decision.
The more we let “feelings” dominate our discussions, the less we will remember the call to build our house on the rock of Jesus’ Word (Matt 7:24). Feelings are important, but only as a barometer of the heart responding to God’s word. May our beliefs be grounded in the Word, and may our feelings follow after as a reflection of Jesus’ own emotions.