Put feelings in their place

Galatians 5:16–26

How are you feeling this morning? Sad? Hungry? Tired? Useless? Cold? Scared? Rejected? Are any of you feeling afraid? If you are wise you are afraid, according to the Bible.

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
“여호와를 두려워하는 것이 지식의 첫걸음이건만 미련한 자들은 지혜와 교훈을 멸시하고 있다.” (Proverbs 1:7)

Fear is a feeling. The Bible suggests that there’s nothing wrong with having feelings. Feelings can be helpful if they make us wise. You know what a feeling is, don’t you. But it’s actually very hard to describe or to define.

During World War Two, some British soldiers were marching through the Egyptian desert when they began to feel extremely thirsty. Their guide was taking them to the nearest water. Suddenly they saw a lake and changed direction. They all died. It was a mirage, one of them wrote in his journal before dying. It seems that they despised discipline.

Turn with me to Genesis 3:6 and look at why Eve ate the forbidden fruit. It was because of her feelings. “She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her.” Beauty lives in the realm of feelings, as does taste. She was convinced and deceived by her feelings.

What then, are we to have no feelings? We have more feelings than we have names for them, and we have hundreds and hundreds of names for feelings. Feelings are a particular blessing and at the same time an exceptional problem.

The challenge for us is to understand the place of feelings in our walk with Jesus. And to give our feelings over to his control so that he can change them. The renewed person in Jesus will have not only renewed ideas, but renewed feelings too.

There is a battle for our feelings. Galatians 5:17 explains it like this. “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”

Our feelings touch us and move us. They can attract, but they can also repel. It is common to hear people say, “If it feels good, do it.” It is how many people live, seeking good feelings. And soon they are addicted to feelings. That’s not how God intended us to live.

If you have thought about it you may have realised that it’s impossible to control your feelings. You cannot wish them away, and you cannot manufacture them at will. For this reason many people give in to their feelings, and you will be able to think of many examples.

Those people who remain under the influence of their feelings often believe it is right to obey their feelings. And to deny them is wrong, they believe. In these cases, who is god? The person becomes a slave to their feelings.

As children of God, we have made Jesus the Lord of our lives. We do not have to obey our feelings. We struggle, especially with extreme feelings of despair or pain or pleasure, but we don’t give them control.

Our aim is not to avoid sin. What do I mean by that? Shouldn’t we all avoid sin? Look at Romans 6:12 and see what it says there.

“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.”
“그러므로 죄가 여러분의 죽을 몸을 지배하지 못하게 하여 악한 욕망에 따르지 않도록 하십시오.”

It is the desires we are to avoid. It is the temptations and inclinations toward sin we fight. We never should let it get as far as the acts of sin. Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5 that it is the desire that is wrong. Jesus said that “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!”

An important part of growing as a Christian is to develop a desire to not have certain feelings. For example, to encourage the feeling of distaste for the feeling of being angry with someone.

We aim to desire new desires. We feel a longing for different feelings. This is the first step, but it isn’t the last. A battle awaits. It requires copious amounts of God’s grace. We reject our sinful self and instead we desire to be holy, fully remade in God’s image. We admit that we cannot do this ourselves, We admit we need to give up all our feelings and have God change us.

Jesus told a story about Levites who refused to help a robbery victim and a Samaritan who did. Jesus told his disciples to be like the Samaritan. Luke 10:33 – “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.”

What we are told to emulate is the feeling of compassion that the Samaritan had. We are thus being told to reject the feelings of the others. They had feelings too, but wrong ones. They felt disgust, or disdain. They had selfish feelings and hard hearts. We are shown we should have sacrificial feelings and soft hearts despite the pain and difficulty it will surely bring.

So often we have destructive feelings. James 3:16 says, “For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.”

God’s purpose is not to remove the effect, which is disharmony. God’s aim is to remove the cause, which is wrong feelings. This is not done by denying the feelings. Of course, we should resist them and not act on them. We must recognise them for what they are.

Leprosy is a terrible disease that leaves it’s victims horribly disfigured. It wasn’t realised until recently that a major reason for the disfigurement was that victims lost feeling. They didn’t feel when they hurt their finger or toe, for example, and so they damaged themselves.

It is good to remind ourselves also that feelings are not conditions. Peace is a state or condition. The feeling is called peacefulness. When we seek peace, we must be careful not to seek peacefulness instead. That way is the path of seeking feelings. For example, a common problem is people seeking the feeling of love rather than seeking love itself.

You may have noticed that it is impossible to reason with some people. Logic and truth do not move them, they are only persuaded by feelings. These people are called blind in the Bible.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galatians 5:24)

There is so much more to say, but let me conclude. Your feelings were created to be servants, not masters. Feelings are like angels, given to us by God to serve us. Eve was mastered by an angel and by feelings, and this was a reversal of the created order. It was sin. It was evil. It destroyed her relationship with God.

When I see a beautiful sunset it stirs feelings in me. I can then share those feelings with God. That is how God made us to live. Then I hear God say to me, “My son, I created that for you. Look at it and feel my love for you. Think upon it with wonder, and know that I made you to appreciate a glorious sunset.”

When you start to feel unpleasant feelings as someone pounds nails into your wrists and pins you to a cross, bring them to God. He will help you with those feelings. He will cause you to think how the person hurting you is a slave to sin and doesn’t know what they are doing.

Ideas have the power to direct our feelings. Our feelings should not direct our ideas. Ideas take hold of feelings and direct them into the appropriate action. Only the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us can restore the proper order. When you feel guilty, bring that feeling to God. Don’t let it control you. God will whisper to you that he is greater than your feelings of guilt. “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)

As disciples we may find we are asked to do things we don’t feel like doing. We bring our feelings of dislike to God, and he takes control. You may call it self-control, but actually we are talking about having God-control in your life. It’s discipline. Don’t despise it.

God promises that when the Holy Spirit is in charge, you will have feelings based on love, joy, peace, etc. as listed in Galatians 5:23.

Holy Spirit, come and take control.

Amen 아멘

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About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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