Do Feelings Matter in Our Relationship with God?
The role of feelings in a believer’s relationship with God has been a topic of conversation for every generation of Christians.
The Great Awakening was an intense period of spiritual revival that began in America in the 1730’s. People all over the American colonies were convicted of sin and turning to faith in Christ in massive numbers in those days. Any pastor would be happy about seeing salvation in his church, but many were also concerned because these salvations were accompanied by explosions of emotion in the lives of the people in the congregations.
Jonathan Edwards was the leading theologian of the Great Awakening. He was never a man who believed that feelings could be legitimate apart from the truth that was bringing those feelings about. One of Edwards’ greatest writings was about feelings and other signs of religious awakening in a person’s life. He titled the essay Religious Affections.
Jonathan Edwards did recognize that sometimes the outbursts of feelings could be excessive and beyond what God intended. At the same time, he was one of the greatest intellectuals to defend the fact that affections (feelings) are a vital pathway through which a believer knows God. He also recognized that affections could not be substituted for obedience in giving people confidence that they truly belonged in God’s family.
If you have time to watch, John Piper gives a really great overview of Jonathan Edwards’ teachings of the important role of feelings in the Christian life.
If you would like to read Religious Affections for yourself you can access it at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/affections.html.
As a pastor, Jonathan Edwards was very concerned with helping his people. Feelings could demonstrate a genuine knowledge of God or nothing at all. Edwards wanted to help people determine whether they were allowing feelings to give them a false sense of salvation or a false sense of condemnation. Passages like 1 John 3 are supremely helpful in helping people to put their affections in the proper perspective of a genuine relationship with God.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.1 John 3:19-24
- In what ways do you experience God with your feelings?
- Do your feelings sometimes tell you things about God that you don’t believe to be true?
- Has there been a time when your feelings condemned you in a way that God’s word did not?
- How have your emotions helped in giving you confidence of God’s love?
- Have you seen the Holy Spirit activate obedience in your life?
- How has obedience strengthened your own faith in the Gospel?
Ask these questions of your group as you begin to work to identify where they are at in the discipleship pathways (Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Christ-centered) that we have talked about as group leaders. Keep in mind that we are not merely interested in box checking religious acts. We are seeking to shepherd group members to evaluate how their measurable actions reflect their personal journeys of faith.
These questions will be on the discussion guide each week, so if you don’t get to all of them, you will have a chance over the next few weeks. If you need more information as a discussion leader, please contact Jonathan Pugh.
- Have you come to a place in your life where you can say that you have trusted God for salvation?
- Have you publicly stated that faith through believers’ baptism?
- How are you serving God with your time?
- In what ways are you making prayer a part of your daily life?
- How is your personal Bible study going this week?
- Have you been able to talk about faith with somebody outside of church this week?
- How are you currently being led to give of your resources to God’s work?
Try breaking into groups of three or four for a brief prayer time to close. You may simply want to break into men and women. Give each group member the opportunity to pray for the person on his/her right to be encouraged in his/her Christian walk this week.