I am wrestling some right now with the appropriate place for emotions in religion. I am involved in a study right now that says that “Feelings are involuntary. They are caused indirectly, not directly. Feelings are not willed into being. They are indicators, not instigators. Feelings, in and of themselves, are not sin. How do we know that feelings are not sin and that God does not hold us responsible for changing our feelings? We are never commanded anywhere in the Scriptures to change them. God only commands us to change our deeds.”

I did a concordance search – on feelings in the Bible directly linked to the heart – ie. 2 Sam 6:16 “…and she despised him in her heart.” The heart expresses no less than 60 different feelings in the NIV version of the Bible – pain, rejoicing, yearning, guilt, anguish, cheerfulness, delight, sincerity… Some of the feelings are commanded “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord” Philippians 3:1. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

I guess I am confused on what the heart is, if not feelings? This study suggests that it refers to “one’s character or inner life with its desires and purpose for living.” It also says that it includes “the mind, intentions, and motives.” I do not understand how we can possibly separate this from feelings. It seems to be alot of hair-splitting. When does a feeling (I am jealous of how close you are to my sister) become a thought to repent of?

Feelings can clearly be sin – I think at the root of this study’s teaching is the word “involuntary”. Feelings are these things that just happen to you – like a sneeze or a hiccup. Since we cannot control them, we are clearly not responsible for them. This flies in the face of the gospel – and is even contradictory to passages the study itself leads to. James 3:14 “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.” or Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already commited adultery with her in his heart.”

What may be missing is the working of the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist says in Psalm 119:36 “Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” This psalm especially is full of how dependant we are on God’s grace to love Him:
Do not utterly forsake me! v4.
Teach me statutes! v12.
Open my eyes v18.
Hide not Your commandments from me! v19.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts v27
Put false ways far from me, and graciously teach me Your law! v29
Lead me in the path of Your commandments v36
Uphold me according to Your promise v116
Hold me up, that I may be safe v117
Keep steady my steps according to Your promise v133
I have gone astray like a lost sheep, seek Your servant v176

Some days we just wake up grumpy. Repent. Some days we hear something that makes us unrighteously angry. Repent. And, beg of the Holy Spirit to incline our hearts towards Him! We can not will our feelings to change. But we may, we Must, beg of the Spirit to work in our hearts – to produce the fruit of the Spirit, to sanctify us, as we diligently seek God’s face and glory – in humble, delightful obedience.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue
    Sep 23, 2007 @ 13:43:00

    i think ‘hairsplitting’ is a good term for these statements about feelings and heart and such. almost circular arguments really….

    -for, if we ‘feel’ one way ( i am jealous of how close you are to my sister, to use your example)

    -but then proceed to react in another ( ignore the feeling and treat you as though nothing is the matter).

    i believe the bible would still consider that sin for it is the heart that matters to God. (beginning in Genesis already God saw that mans heart was only evil, the ‘thoughts of his heart’ were detestable to God. what are those if not ‘feelings’?) genesis6:5

    Do they perhaps mean (in this study) that our first reactions to the feeling are what we are accountable for? so….as soon as you feel Jealous you will be held accountable for your reaction : repent or not repent?

    this is where it gets circular for me. because, essentially that is true, we either sin in our feelings or repent of them…. whether you call it sin as soon as it takes place or nanoseconds afterwards (once you have either decided to repent of it or live in it) seems like an awful lot of hairsplitting…. i hope you find out that there is more to the teaching than what you have heard so far dearie.

    proverbs 21:2
    “all a mans ways seem right to him,but the Lord weighs the heart.’
    prov 28:14
    “blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”

    hmmm so confusing. why can’t it just be simple, like… our nature is to sin and hate God. we need to repent of everything human and seek God and have Him change us?


  2. Sue
    Sep 23, 2007 @ 13:44:00

    wow, my comment didnt’ look that long when i was writing it…heehee.


  3. Nikk
    Sep 23, 2007 @ 17:55:00

    Thanks for the input Susan! Honestly, I am not sure how they view feelings such as jealousy, and when it becomes sin… have not got that far yet. I am hoping things become more clear later.

    Excellent summary too, by the way -it really is all sin, apart from what God does in us. Isaiah 64:6


  4. clearly
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 07:52:00

    I think the material that you are studying has been influence by some stream of secular psychology. Contrary to what the liberals would have us believe, God cares so much about our thoughts, emotions, and heart attitudes. I agree with you 100% — as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. If a person’s first response is hate when someone mentions a particular individual, that person is still struggling with hate regardless of whether or not he repents right away. He still needs to grow in that area.


  5. Nikk
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 11:20:00

    thanks for posting Clearly! The ironic, and confusing part, is how adamantly against modern psychology this study is, it is very, very sola scriptura (from an arminian perspective). I am not sure where the idea spurns from – our what the motive is for separating the feelings from the heart.
    If, what they are saying, is that sometimes we cannot trust our feelings to lead us to make the right choices, I would agree. That does not mean my feelings, or initial response to something should not change. As I grow in my walk with the Lord, I do not believe my first reaction to a bad situation is the same as it would have been in the earlier part of my walk.


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