The following comments illustrate the great need for Christians to be clear on how God directs us. "I hear an endless stream of testimony on the matter of experiences which prove this or that or the other thing…In the bulk of preaching and teaching today it is the work of the Spirit which is at the center of things. But more specifically, it is the work of the Spirit in some man’s life. The sinner is at the center of things rather than the sinless One. Just listen next time and see for yourself! ‘Today God told me…’; ‘Yesterday the Spirit led me…’; ‘Last month the Spirit gave me this song to sing to you…’; ‘Let the Holy Spirit into your life and he’ll change you…’….If we believed the Spirit did all that we are told He did; and if we believed all the messages the Spirit is said to have given we’d live in utter confusion" (Romans, Jim McGuiggan pp. 244,245).
"I just feel"
We live in a culture that places a greater importance upon how a person feels than upon objective facts. And false elements in culture always seem to eventually trickle down to the local congregation (Romans 12:1-2). Thus, people who are liberal in morals, doctrine, or politics tend to make the same argument, that is, "caring and sensitive feelings are far more important than facts, doctrine, or objective truth". God, who created man in the first place knew that many would be tempted throughout the ages to follow their feelings, hence He gives many clear warnings: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5); "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death"(Proverbs 16:25); "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (28:26); "I know, Lord God, that a man’s way is not in himself; Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23); "So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). From these passages it is clear:
- Feelings and emotions are a very unreliable guide concerning the truthfulness of spiritual realities. This should have been obvious to anyone who has read Isaiah 55:8-9 "For My thoughts are not your thoughts". Mankind cannot "feel" what is on God’s mind or what God would think about a particular situation.
- Allowing yourself to be directed by your emotions is dangerous because emotions can be self-serving, immature, and based on circumstances rather than on reality and objective truth.
- People can really be hurt, disappointed, and turned off from God if they have been taught to follow their feelings. Because people have often followed the path of feelings, only to be burned. Now if they have been taught that God was guiding them through their feelings, who gets the blame if the end of the journey turns out to be a complete failure or disaster?
- When we are following our feelings we aren’t trusting in God, we aren’t looking to Him, rather, we are caught up in ourselves. Because who ever follows a feeling which is negative? But such things as duty, sacrifice, counting the cost, doing what is right regardless of the price, and standing up for the truth when you are all alone, are situations which produce negative feelings. "There are those whose constant topic is the work of the Holy Spirit in them. But in the end it is the work of the Holy Spirit in THEM; they again become the center of attention; their story becomes the central story" (McGuiggan p. 244). In other words, which feeling would lead a person in the development of self-sacrifice, patience, self-control, and unselfishness? The danger in letting feelings be our guide is that most people operate under the illusion that they would really never do anything which is selfish or evil. Their feelings could never be wrong or that misguided, for after all, they’re good people (Romans 3:23; Hebrews 3:12).
- If our feelings become the standard of truth, then what about the feelings of those who are Humanists, skeptics, agnostics, Hindus, atheists, pantheists, Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostals, and so on? People who aren’t even serving God "feel" that they are doing what is right. When we adopt feelings as the standard, then we have become just like everyone else and consistently would demand that their feelings are just as valid as our feelings. The Book of Mormon says, "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4). But what if I read some material published by the Jehovah Witnesses and get the same good feeling?
- There are many examples in the Bible where "feelings" led to someone’s spiritual downfall. It is very tempting to place your feelings as being more authoritative than Divine truth. "I know what God says, but I just feel….". Every act of disobedience and the resulting condemnation recorded in Scripture, could be overturned if human feelings and emotions were the standard (Leviticus 10:1-2; 1 Samuel 15:1ff; Acts 5:1ff; Matthew 7:21-23).
- Too many people have been taught that if something doesn’t "feel" right, "have the right ring", "create a pleasant emotion", "have something good to say about them", "already be in line with what they want to do in the first place", then it must be wrong. But God has often told people things which were very unpleasant (Mark 10:21; John 6:26; 53-60; Acts 8:20-23).
The Word of God
- In both Testaments, God makes it very clear that He guides His people through the Scriptures. In fact the Scriptures are spoken of as, "a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).
- Jesus promised the apostles that they would be guided into all the truth through the inspiration given to them by the Holy Spirit(John 14:26; 16:13). In turn, they recorded all the information given to them by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:3-5). If all truth was revealed through them and we have what they recorded, then we have all truth in the Bible. "seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3); "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If this is true, then God isn’t going to mysteriously guide a person, or speak mysteriously to their heart. Rather, God expects us to read the Scriptures so we know how to live (2 Timothy 2:2; 15; 4:2; 1 Timothy 6:3; 4:13).
- Even in the Old Testament, God guided His people through the Scriptures: "Lead me in Thy truth and teach me" (Psalm 25:5); "He guides me in the paths of righteousness" (Psalm 23:3) (but where do we learn about how to distinguish a righteous path from an unrighteous one? Hebrews 5:14). "With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me" (Psalm 73:24); "The integrity of the upright will guide them" (Proverbs 11:3) (but where do we learn what is and what isn’t integrity?); "Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way" (Proverbs 23:19); see also Proverbs 6:20-23.
There is a tendency to say, "Yea, I believe that God directs us through His word concerning doctrine, but what about things like when I should marry, whom I should marry, job changes, starting a new congregation, and so on?"
- Yet even in the above areas God has already given us a tremendous amount of information. Has God revealed the character traits that I should look for a marital partner? (Galatians 5:22-23) Has God revealed who I can’t marry? (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11)? Has God revealed what it will take on my part to be a good husband or wife? And am I mature enough to make this commitment? (Ephesians 5:22ff).
- Has God revealed the type of job that is acceptable with Him? (Ephesians 4:28 "but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good"). Can I support myself and my family with this career? (1 Timothy 5:8) Can I maintain my moral integrity and keep this job? Will I have time for God and family?
- When it comes to starting a new congregation: 1. Of course God wants churches to be established in areas where there aren’t any congregations (Matthew 28:19). 2. But the real question is, "Are you the person to start such a congregation?" Are you zealous in spreading the word to unbelievers? Are you dedicated to preaching the truth, regardless of the consequences? (2 Timothy 4:2-3)Are you able to teach others? (2 Timothy 2:2)
- We need to be honest with ourselves. It is all right to do many wholesome and morally acceptable things, simply because it appeals to us. It is all right to say, "I want to move to so and so, because I prefer the climate there". Let’s be careful about distinguishing between personal preferences and God directing us in a certain path. There are probably many places which we could live and many jobs which we could have, all of which would be just fine with God.
- Righteous men in the past were very careful about interpreting circumstances as being "providential", or evidence that God was working behind the scenes (Esther 4:14; Philemon 15). "It is crucial for people to base their assurance on the Scripture which makes sense of experiences. When we make experiences the basis of ground of salvation (truth or God’s perceived will), we have the cart before the horse" (McGuiggan p. 244).
- There are things far more important than a career, where we live, etc…that is, regardless of our circumstances the most important thing is that we are doing God’s will wherever we might live, or in whatever stage of life we might be (2 Corinthians 5:7-9). It is easy to become preoccupied with personal decisions like the above and completely miss things like evangelizing, giving of our time and talents, seeing someone who is sick, extending hospitality, volunteering to teach, encouraging our brethren, and so on.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/644-9017