Recently I’ve been enjoying the benefits of reading through a Christian book with a friend. We take turns reading to each other, and commenting as we go along.
I find I take more in when I’m listening and making notes, and it helps me in my thinking to discuss things with someone else.
Having finished one book, we’ve just started to read through Living the Cross-centred Life by C.J. Mahaney. It’s been recommended to me by several people for its helpful, practical encouragement, and challenge to live according to the good news that we believe.
Here are some of the thoughts that hit me this week, as C.J talks about how our feelings can affect our Christian life:
He says that as Christians we often “let our feelings tell us what’s true, instead of letting the truth transform our feelings”. But he goes on to explain that are feelings are fickle, flighty, and easily dominated by a whole range of things!
When it comes to the gospel this is so dangerous!
When we are feeling good – woke up on time, had a great quiet time, spoke to a colleague about Christ, ate a good sandwich at lunch… – we feel joyful about the gospel, close to Christ, good about life!
When we feel bad – overslept, stressed about deadlines, worked late, boring church meeting, haven’t prayed today… – we can feel far from God, guilty, and bad about life.
(Ok, a little simplistic, but you get the point!)
Yet in reality nothing has changed about the gospel. If you’re a Christian, you are still saved, still clothed in Christ’s robes, with his perfect record of righteousness attributed to you. Still loved deeply and eternally by God. Good news to rejoice in whatever our circumstances!
Yet we can act as though our feelings are the source of gospel truth.
I know I do this all the time!
When I’m in church, and I feel a bit down and not very worshipful, I let my feelings tell me a gospel of works, where God will only love me if I’m praising him as I should. Instead of reminding myself of the gospel of grace, and God’s steadfast love (hopefully through the words of the songs we’re singing!)
When I’m preparing to give a Bible study on Pride, and I’ve just caught myself inwardly reviewing my achievements, (not to mention the boastful content of the last conversation I had) I mentally berate myself, saying that “I should just quit gospel ministry, as I’m obviously a hypocrite, I’m sure God could find someone better…” Instead of thanking God again for my salvation, humbled anew by my inability to keep his laws apart from his spirit; and rejoicing that he is at work in me to make me more like Christ!
Feelings are God-given, but they mustn’t be the first thing we listen to. The gospel remains completely unaffected by our shifting situations, emotions, and deeds. So listening to our feelings is not a wise place to start!
We must begin with the promises of scripture which stand firm. And as C.J says we must “let the truth transform our feelings.”
As we spend time with God, worship, serve him, pray, our first question should not be “How do I feel?” but “What is true?”
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones reminds us that “What we have in the Bible is Truth; it is not an emotional stimulus…and it is as we apprehend and submit ourselves to the truth that the feelings follow.”
What we want is reliable feelings that are “anchored in truth”.
Thank God for the unchanging good news of the gospel, however we feel!