The Pitfalls of Living by Feeling

The following is written by Erwin Lutzer. If you are struggling with loving someone, forgiving someone, or a bad habit you just can’t seem to kick, this is well-worth your time–

Before I suggest how you can cope with your emotions, I want you to consider what happens when you live by the dictates of your own hunches and whims. A life based on desires is an invitation to the sin of disobedience. Often our feelings run counter to what God requires. In fact, most sinful habits are developed by simply following the path of least resistance, by doing whatever we feel like doing. Many of our struggles can be traced to sensuality, and by that I mean being controlled by our physical senses. This spawns defeat, self-absorption, and unbelief. Many people who think they cannot obey God’s commandments simply don’t feel like obeying. Occasionally they have days when they wake up wanting to do what God requires— but not often. Our fallen human nature never feels like obeying God; usually it wants to do its own thing. This attitude comes from Satan as he suggests to us— as he did to Eve— that God has asked us to obey commands that we cannot or need not keep. If we think we can’t obey God until we feel like it, we will never get off the ground in our spiritual lives.

Let’s be specific. In his book on overcoming difficulties in marriage, Jay Adams writes of a particular counseling situation in which all love had been drained from the marriage and the partners had already agreed to a divorce. Neither one had committed a serious sin against the marriage. They just didn’t feel in love anymore. They went to the counselor hoping he would confirm their decision that since there was no feeling left, they should divorce. The couple was shocked to find the counselor saying, “If you don’t love each other, there is only one thing to do: You will have to learn to love one another.” The couple was incredulous. “How can you learn to love someone? You can’t produce feelings out of thin air!” The counselor explained that in the Bible, God commands us to love one another. When the husband was told that he should love his wife as Christ loved the church, he gasped. He could never do that. But the counselor persisted. He explained that the husband should begin on a lesser level. The Bible also commands us to love our neighbor, and since his wife is his closest neighbor, he should love her. But even so, the husband rejected the idea that he could love his wife that way. Then the counselor explained that he was still not off the hook, for God had commanded us to love even our enemies! This couple had made a common error; they had equated love with feelings. In the Bible, love is not a feeling. We can learn to love, even though we begin with little or no emotional impetus. In other words, we can choose to love. And God gives us the grace to do so.

Love is not an emotion; neither is forgiveness. The Bible commands us to put away all bitterness (Eph. 4: 31); we are to forgive others whether they solicit our forgiveness or not (v. 32). Yet many Christians believe that they can’t forgive until they feel like it! They think that if they forgive when they don’t feel like it, they are hypocritical. However, if forgiveness were an emotion, God would be commanding us to do the impossible. We cannot switch our emotions on and off. We cannot develop the right feelings on our own. But God is not mocking us when He tells us to forgive; we can choose to do so, whether we feel like it or not. Never try to skirt God’s commands under the pretense that you don’t feel like obeying Him. A second danger of living by feelings is that you may tend to derive your doctrine from feelings. If you believe God is with you just because “He feels so close,” you will also believe there are days when He forsakes you because “He feels so far away.” The assurance of God’s presence does not come by feelings, but by faith (Heb. 13: 5). Fortunately, you don’t always have to feel God’s presence to be in fellowship with Him and to make spiritual progress.

Lutzer, Erwin W. (2010-01-01). Getting to No: How to Break a Stubborn Habit (p. 104). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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