“Feelings Driven” Christians

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemporary Church


On Faith, Facts, and Feelings in the Christian Life.

Our society is passionate. We feel strongly about politics, religion and other issues. Frequently, I hear people state they are really “passionate” about this or that. For decades now, the sensate has come to dominate how in our culture people view life. People determine the validity of things not by whether they are right or wrong, but rather by whether it makes them feel good or bad about themselves. Joel Osteen makes people feel good about themselves. With his message of “hope and change,” Barack Obama did the same during his election campaign, and became President of the United States. This is the manner of contemporary culture, and I am concerned that it has also become the way of culturally driven Christians who have immersed themselves in the contemporary way of doing church.

Many Christians determine the rightness or wrongness of something based upon how it makes them feel. They feel their way into faith. I think of the person who declared, “I refuse to believe in a God I cannot feel!” Many Christians have developed a spirituality based upon sights, sounds, signs, and sensations. Their faith is based upon anything that is immediate to them. Proof of Christianity rests soley upon their experience. Their epistemology (this word concerns how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe) is based upon how they have come to feel about a subject and belief. According to this truth test, the biblical doctrine of God’s judgment and hell is–the thought of this can prove upsetting–is being purged from evangelical movement.  But are we to find reason for faith inside or outside ourselves? Can we think or feel our way to faith?

I suggest that if we cannot find the source of faith in our heads (rationalism), or with our hands (legalism), then neither will we find it in our hearts (emotionalism). Frankly, any source for faith must be found outside myself. If it isn’t, then it’s not faith. If faith cannot be found in God’s propositional truth which is exterior to us, in God’s Word, then it’s worthless. Truth is not truth because I think, will, or feel it to be. If the source of faith is believed to be exist in my head, hands, or heart, then it’s man-centered. It’s faith in “Me.” So my faith must begin with truth which resides exterior to me. Presumably, that’s why God gave us His Truth, the Bible, which is the authoritative witness to the life and ministry of Jesus who is the Truth. Antecedent to faith in it, this Truth cannot be discovered esoterically within the human heart, but exists historically without the human heart.

Desires or feelings are not necessarily wrong. Like everything else, and depending upon the spiritual state of a person’s heart, experiences can be either centered upon God or man, stem from spiritual Light or darkness, or be positive or negative. Even in our fallen-ness, we are constituted to desire God. That’s why He created us, to reciprocate His love for us in Christ, and such feeling not only can stimulate feelings for God, but also cause us to look out for the best interests of others. Sympathy and compassion are obvious examples of right feelings (See Hebrews 10:34). The Gospels inform us that Jesus performed healings out of the “compassion” for the multitudes (Matthew 14:14; Mark 8:2). Truly, Jesus felt their pain. This is the bright side of emotions. But they can also possess a dark side.

Feelings can be, and often are, self-centered and self-serving. The New Testament calls such feelings lusts: “deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22); “foolish and hurtful lusts” (1 Timothy 6:9); “youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22); “worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12); “fleshly lusts” (1 Peter 2:11); “ungodly lusts” (Jude 18); and so on. Lusts are the perversion of love. Insatiable, they cause us to want and take instead of give. Such depraved and sinful feelings reside in all of us, whether we’ve been born-from-above or not (John 3:3, 7), and will remain in believers until the Lord Jesus Christ comes for us and extirpates them from our being (Romans 7:24-25).

Meanwhile, indulging fleshly lusts may account for why so many churches engage in what Paul Proctor calls “evangetainment.” Worship is designed for them, not Him. He writes that, “today’s church no longer believes that Jesus is enough–that the Living Word of God can’t really compete in a sensory-driven world and that the Holy Spirit needs our help.” Thus he continues, “It’s not even enough to ‘tickle our ears’ anymore. Now we need our eyes tickled, our noses tickled, our taste buds tickled and our funny bones tickled . . .” [1] The Apostle warned Timothy:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

As one pundit might have understood the sense of the verse: In a day of illusions / And utter confusions / Upon our delusions / We base our conclusions.

If it’s to survive, faith must be sourced outside ourselves, therefore it cannot be be based upon how we might feel or think at a paticular point in time. Faith cannot be based upon the sensate tendency that resides in us, but must rest upon the Scriptures that live outside us. If it’s to survive, faith must be based not upon how we might feel, but upon what God has said. Only on such a foundation will faith survive and thrive in us today, into the future, and until eternity. The things of God are written in the Bible so that we might “know that you [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). As a poet wrote:

Three men were walking on a wall: Faith, Feeling and Fact, / When Feeling got an awful fall, Faith was taken back; / And so close was Faith to Feeling, he stumbled and fell too, / But Fact remained and pulled up Faith, and Faith brought Feeling too. (Author Unknown)


[1] Paul Proctor, “America is not Prepared for What’s Coming,” NewsWithViews.com, February 25, 2009 (http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor174.htm).

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