Apr 25, 2014
In my early years as a Christian I relied on my own will-power to obey Christ, and did not see much need for Spirit-power.
But that changed when I saw that God’s commands focus not just on actions, but also on feelings.
Take Deuteronomy 28:47-48 as an example —
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies…
So God does not want sullen obedience, or lethargic obedience, or I-can’t-wait-for-this-to-be-over-so-I-can-do-what-I-really-want-to-do obedience. God wants obedience that’s full of joy in Christ.
Passage after Passage
And then I started noticing this emphasis on feelings everywhere — in passage after passage. Here are some examples —
- Isaiah 41:10 — Fear not, for I am with you …
- Matthew 5:6 — blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
- Matthew 6:31 — therefore do not be anxious, saying, ’What shall we eat?’
- Romans 12:10 — love one another with brotherly affection …
- Romans 12:11 — do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord …
- 2 Corinthians 9:7 — for God loves a cheerful giver.
- Ephesians 4:31 — let all bitterness and wrath and anger…be put away from you…
- Colossians 3:12 — put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness…
- Colossians 3:23 — Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord…
- 1 Peter 2:1 — so put away all…envy
This emphasis on feelings showed that my will-power alone could not produce biblical obedience.
Here’s why —
Let’s say you are feeling envious that your friend is spending more time with someone else than with you.
And yet we saw in 1 Peter 2:1 (above) that God commands us to put away all envy.
But as soon as you try to stop feeling envy, you discover something — you can’t.
And the reason you can’t is because feelings can’t be turned on and off by an act of the will. We can’t just CHOOSE to stop feeling envy, or to start feeling feel peace, or joy, or contentment.
Jim Elliot, martyr-missionary to the Auca Indians of South America, agrees. Here’s what he wrote in his journal —
“How vial and base my thoughts have been lately. Not just unkind or unsympathetic, but rotten, lewd thinking that cannot be overcome simply by willing to be rid of them.” (Jim Elliot, in Elizabeth Elliot’s Shadow of the Almighty: the Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, pp.105f; italics his)
But if we can’t WILL ourselves to get rid of wrong feelings or to stir up right feelings, what can we do?
One not-so-helpful approach is to admit that we can’t do it, and wait for God to change our hearts in his own time.
But God does not tell us to WAIT for him to take away our envy. He commands us to PUT AWAY our envy.
Another not-so-helpful approach is to start acting as if we had the commanded feelings, believing that the feelings will come through the acting.
But if you are envious of your friend, will acting as if you were not envious take away your envy? I don’t think so.
So what can we do to change our feelings?
Faith and Feelings
God’s Word shows that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between faith and feelings.
That’s true regarding joy —
For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:21)
And peace —
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
And love for others —
The aim of our charge is love that issues from … a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)
So when I’m not experiencing joy and peace in Christ, and the resulting outflow of love for others, that shows there’s a problem in my faith.
And the good news is that when I take steps to strengthen my faith, I will experience the Holy Spirit changing my feelings.
Putting Away Envy
Let’s take the example of envy. What can I do if I am feeling envy because my friend is spending more time with someone else than with me?
The fact that I am feeling envious shows that there’s a problem with my faith — I am not trusting all that God promises to be to me in Christ Jesus.
So what promise am I not trusting? And what lie am I trusting?
I am not trusting John 6:35 — that fellowship with Jesus will satisfy all my heart hungers and thirsts. Instead, I’m trusting the lie that to be satisfied I need to have my friend spending more time with me than with someone else.
So what can I do? Here are steps I have found helpful —
First, turn to Jesus as I am.
I don’t need to overcome my envious heart BEFORE coming to Jesus. In fact, the only way I can overcome my envious heart is BY coming to Jesus.
And even though I am struggling with envy, as I look to Christ by faith alone, he welcomes me with open arms (Luke 18:13-14).
Second, confess my envy as sin and receive assurance of forgiveness.
I would confess that I am NOT trusting Christ as my all satisfying treasure, and that I AM trusting my friend to be my all satisfying treasure.
I would confess this as sinful unbelief, and be assured that on the basis of Christ’s death I am fully forgiven, and on the basis of Christ’s righteousness I am fully accepted (1 John 1:9).
Third, ask for the Spirit’s power to change my heart
I can’t change my feelings by my own will power — but the Holy Spirit can. And will.
So I would pray earnestly for God to increase the Spirit’s work in my heart (Luke 11:13), asking him to help me once again see and feel Christ as my all satisfying treasure.
Fourth, meditate prayerfully on God’s word
The sword the Spirit will use to slay my envy is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
So I would take Scriptures that display the glory of Christ, and ponder them, pray over them, and meditate deeply on them.
Fifth, continue until the Spirit changes my heart
Envy shows I have heart hungers and thirsts. But Jesus promises that if we will come to him and believe in him he will satisfy all our heart hungers and thirsts in himself (John 6:35).
And coming to him and believing in him is exactly what we are doing in taking these steps. So as you take these steps you can claim Jesus’ promise that he will meet you and change your heart so you are completely satisfied in him.
So trust his promise, and keep praying and meditating on God’s word, until your heart is so satisfied in Christ that you no longer feel envy.
That’s how to “put away all … envy.” Not by gritting your teeth and trying not to feel envy. Not by waiting for God to change you. Not by acting like you are free from envy in hope that your actions will change your feelings.
But by understanding that sinful feelings are caused by unbelief. And by fighting the fight of faith until your faith is strengthened so you once again feel joy and peace in Christ, and love for others.
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And here are some related posts you might find helpful –
- I Don’t Feel Like Obeying God — What Should I Do?
- If Faith Without Works Is Dead, What Should I Do?
- Where Can I Find Peace?
- A Christian Counselor Disagrees About Faith And Feelings
(Picture is from everystockphoto.com by Mike Tigas.)