From our team: We’re in a month-long journey of discovering God’s Truth about obedience. Lara’s here to debunk the lie that we have to feel right to obey. Are you ever frozen from decisions because you’re waiting for the right emotional confirmation? Or maybe you’re tempted to run from hard obedience to something that feels better? God’s Word provides a surprisingly simple answer to these problems. Read on.
What are you led by? What directs your decisions, actions, words, and thoughts?
As believers, we’re called to live by faith. And yet so many of us choose to live by something else—our feelings. Have you ever made a decision because it simply “felt right”? Have you ever said something because it “felt like the perfect moment”? I know I have. Before I became a believer, I lived fully by feeling. My feelings informed my reactions to life and directed my every step. If a pathway wasn’t accompanied by a nice feeling, it wasn’t the one I took.
Shortly after I became a believer, I still lived by my feelings rather than my faith. I doubted my salvation because it didn’t feel real. I struggled to believe that God still loved me when I sinned because I couldn’t feel His love. I often gave into temptation to sin because it felt better than obedience. My worship time was completely regulated by my feelings as well—if I felt near to God, then I had worshiped effectively and rightly.
Do you live by your feelings? Do you live in a similar way that I did? If so, we need to consider what God’s Word has to say about our feelings and what living by faith actually looks like.
Your Feelings Can’t Be Trusted
The Bible is quick to tell us that our feelings (or hearts, more accurately) can’t be trusted.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5).
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered (Prov. 28:26).
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9).
Why are our hearts deemed so untrustworthy? Two reasons: They are constantly changing and affected by sin.
Our feelings are about as certain as the sand on the beach. The sand is always being moved, pushed forward and backward by both wind and water. It’s kicked and thrown by people running across it, children building with it, and dogs digging in it. It may appear to be a solid foundation for your sandcastle, but add just a little too much water and the entire building will collapse.
Our feelings are no different than that sand. They’re easily changed by people and circumstances. One moment you could be happily reading a book in your favorite chair, and a few minutes later be angered by the trail of mud your dog just brought in. You may have felt down when you first woke up this morning, but after an invigorating run with your favorite music playlist, your day is looking a lot brighter. See how fickle our feelings are?
Our feelings can also be influenced by others. A speaker could make you feel passionate about a new social justice need. A worship leader could make you feel like God’s presence is all around you. A pastor could make you feel guilty. A friend could make you feel happy again. A salesperson could make you feel anxious that you don’t have the latest product. Our feelings are so easily influenced and changed by words, actions, and tones.
This is where we can see the folly of trusting our feelings. How can you rely on something to inform you that is always swaying? We wouldn’t take confidence in a leader if he was always second-guessing and changing the plan of action. Why would we trust your feelings any better? They aren’t certain, and they are poorly informed.
Affected by Sin
Because of the fall, our entire being is affected by sin. Our bodies decay, fail, and die, and our hearts are corrupted. Our hearts desire that which is sinful, and we must always be fighting against that. Paul himself writes about this battle we have with the flesh:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Rom. 7:15–20).
There’s a battle that we must always be fighting against the flesh, and that battle also resides in our feelings. Our feelings will lead us to do what feels right or good—whether or not it is considered righteous by God. Our feelings will try to persuade us to do things that are disobedient to God. If we are to live a righteous life, they cannot be trusted.
Living by the Certainty of Faith
We’re called to not live by our feelings but by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Our faith is rock solid if we have placed it in God—the unchanging, perfect, eternal, sovereign One. And this faith is founded on the infallible, certain, life-changing, authoritative Word of God. Scripture tells us how to live and what to believe. This is what should govern and determine how we speak, think, and act—not our ever-changing, easily influenced feelings. Our faith is not blind but informed and guided by God’s perfect Word.
Sometimes these two can be mixed up; we try to live by both faith and feeling. We may say, “I am going to be a missionary, regardless of the Bible telling me that the church needs to confirm me, because I feel like that’s what I’m called to do . . . I’m going to marry this person, despite the fact that the Bible tells me not to marry an unbeliever, because it feels right . . . I won’t forgive this person, even though the Bible tells me to forgive, because I don’t feel like I can.”
We often allow our feelings to dictate our stance with God rather than what His Word already declares about us. I don’t feel forgiven by God, so He must still be angry with me. I don’t feel joy, so I will not worship God. I don’t feel God’s presence, even though I have the Holy Spirit living inside of me. I don’t feel God when I do my Bible study, so I must be doing something wrong.
God calls us to live instead by faith. This means we act not based on our feelings but on what God calls us to do. We don’t believe something because of how it makes us feel but what Scripture says about it.
Old Testament Examples
Hebrews tells us of the countless believers of the Old Testament who lived by faith rather than feeling. Take a moment and read through Hebrews 11, analyzing the stories referenced by the writer, and consider how they may have felt versus how they acted. All of them probably had feelings of doubt, fear, temptation toward sin, and uncertainty, yet they walked by faith. They allowed their faith to inform and guide them.
Take the example of Noah.
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Heb. 11:7).
Noah was living in a world of pagans who hated God and loved sin. He was building an ark because God was going to send rain—something never seen before this time. Noah was already old, and he spent many years building this ark. Do you think he felt like building it? Do you think he felt fearful of the sinful people around him—what they might think or do? Do you think he was tempted to give up or to not trust God? Probably. But he chose to live by faith in God. His faith in God propelled him forward, not his fickle feelings.
We’re faced with the same decision today, friends. We can live by our feelings or by our faith. If your faith is in Christ, it’s solid and trustworthy. Your feelings are forever shifting and influenced. Which will you look to?
Informing Our Feelings
In the end, it is God and His Word that should inform our feelings, not the other way around. When you are tempted to listen to your feelings or your feelings are overwhelming you, stop and look to God’s Word. Compare what you are feeling to what He says.
Do your feelings line up? Great—follow what God’s Word says. But if your feelings contradict God’s Word, you need to say “no” to them. Those are the feelings we put off and ignore. Though they may feel strong, they’re not trustworthy. God’s Word is your source and foundation. Live by it, not your feelings.