Oh, Those Feelings
We all have feelings that run wild. Some of us are stoics and we don't like to admit our rampant feelings. Whenever one tries to break loose and reveal itself, we squish it down again. Others of us are emoters. We don't just embrace our feelings: our feelings control us.
Both extremes are wrong.
God has designed humanity to have feelings. These feelings are thermostats to the condition of our hearts, to the state of our relationships with God, and to the state of our relationships with each other. Those of us who are stoics are denying how God has made us, and we are refusing to use a valuable tool He has given us.
However, because of the Fall and the subsequent depravity of man, we cannot fully trust our hearts or the feelings that come from them (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). Our emotions will lead us astray if we allow them to control us. Those of us who have a tendency to be controlled by emotion, need to temper that emotion with truth.
So, how do we use emotions correctly?
Identify the Feeling
First, we need to identify the feeling, whether it is anger, hurt, sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. Feelings are no use to us if we do not identify them. These feelings are a thermostat of what is going on around or inside us, or at least, what is perceived to be going on. These feelings are not wrong. However, these feelings can lead to sin. As Paul writes: "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:26-27). Any feeling, if left unchecked and unresolved, can be a tool of the devil to cause us to sin.
So, we need to identify what the feeling is. By doing this, we are slowly bringing that feeling into control of Truth.
Race to the Root
After identifying the feeling, we can then explore why we have that feeling. Feelings do not happen in a vacuum. They come because a situation, whether in the present or in the past, has prompted them. Someone did, said, or insinuated something, or a circumstance happened that affected us in a specific way. This situation prompted in us a feeling and a reaction. If we don't understand the situation, the feeling, and the reaction, we cannot use the tool that God has given us as a thermostat.
Growing up, I would get angry at my siblings a lot. Sure, this is normal. However, I would sin through this anger. I allowed my emotions to control me, instead of using it as a tool. Looking back, I can see that my anger was due to not feeling heard by my siblings. I was the youngest. I wanted to be valued. Because I did not feel heard, I became angry. I would act upon that anger (yell, blame, make their lives miserable, etc.) and sin.
After identifying the feeling, we need to understand the situation (the root) that prompted the feeling.
Weigh the Truth
After identifying the feeling and racing to the root, we need to weigh the truth we are believing. Feelings are thermostats to what we believe. Often times, we are not believing truth (see Jeremiah 17:9 again). Our emotions are responding to a lie that we happen to believe. Other times, our emotions are based upon truth, and they prompt us to act righteously. Either way, the emotion is not the problem. What we believe is the issue.
When I got angry at my siblings, I was believing that my identity and value were based in my siblings' attention. If they listened to me, I would have value. This is a lie. My value and my identity is in Christ.
After we have identified what we are believing, we can then speak truth. This is an essential step. If we are believing a lie, we can preach truth to ourselves, furthering our maturity. If I had followed this process earlier in life, I would have understood my identity in Christ much sooner, and I wouldn't have sinned against my brother and sisters. My emotions wouldn't have controlled me: I would have used them as God designed them.
If we were believing truth, we should act upon our emotions correctly to speak truth to those around us. There is such a thing as righteous anger. But, that is another blog.
No matter if our emotions are based on truth or a lie, we should let our Christian community know what is going on. Even if we are believing a lie, our Christian friends need to know the feelings we are working through, especially if our feeling stems from what someone else has done. This is part of the process of reconciliation.
May we all use our feelings correctly, not stuffing them or allowing them to control us. May we use them as thermostats for what we are believing in different situations so that we can grow in maturity and so that we can build up the Body of Christ.
Love and Reconciliation
How many of you want to feel loved by those around you? Thank you for that show of hands.
We all have a desire to feel loved by our family, friends, even the random person that walks by us in the street. God has designed us with this desire. He has placed within us a desire for genuine community and intimacy.
However, even though we have a desire to feel loved by others, often times we are not willing to put in the work to love those around us. People are messy. They hurt us, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We hurt them. We get jealous at each other. We misunderstand each other. For numerous other reasons, people are messy, and often we don't want to put in the effort to see past that messiness, and love them.
So, how do we as followers of Christ look past the messiness and love the person who has "hurt" us?
Remember who we are
We are human. Because of our human nature, we naturally hurt each other. However, we have hurt more than just fellow humanity. We have hurt the Creator of the Universe. Ever since Adam and Eve chose the fruit of the tree over the Creator of the tree, humanity has been choosing their own desires over their Creator. We have hurt Him over and over again.
However, our God loved us in spite of all we had done. He loved us because He created us, saw value in us, and wanted to have a renewed relationship with us. The Father loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son for us. He died that we might live, and that we might have a close, intimate, loving relationship with our God. All glory be to Him!
We are imperfect people who were perfectly loved by a great God.
Remember who the person is
The human who has hurt us, no matter the level of hurt, is just like us. They have emotions; they have needs; they have hurts. More importantly, they are imperfect and they are loved by our Creator. In fact, He died for them. If He loved them so much that He would die for them, why would we not follow in His footsteps and love them?
Paul said it this way, speaking of the two groups of society that hated each other in his time: "For he himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Eph 2:14-18).
If we, the hurt, are imperfect and loved by God, and the one who has hurt us is imperfect and loved by God, we are the same. We should love that person and seek peace with him through Christ.
Work toward Peace
Now, seeking peace (or reconciliation) is hard. Our natural tendency, ever since Adam and Eve, is to hurt someone as we have been hurt, whether it is active, by seeking vengeance, or passive, by putting up barriers. Either way, we must remember that God is the one who avenges, not us (Rom 12:19).
To illustrate the process of peace, I will use a fictional character: Uz.
Uz hurt me, and he hasn't apologized. However, because I need to love Uz as Christ loved me, I need to seek reconciliation. First, I need to remember who I am and how much God loved me. Then, I remember who Uz is and how much God loves Uz. Since God loved Uz that much, I need to forgive Uz and seek reconciliation. Remembering who I am and who Uz is, and praying for God's help, I can forgive Uz, releasing the right to seek vengeance.
I need to talk with Uz so that we can understand each other (Ephesians 4:15). I don't want to be the fool in Proverbs 18:2 ("Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions"). To show Uz that I have a desire to understand him and that I am not coming to hurt him, I keep the conversation away from accusation, focusing on my feelings and reaction. My goal is that he will know the truth, not that he will feel the hurt (Eph 4:25).
I would say something like this: "Uz, I felt hurt (or sad, or insecure, etc) when you said (insert comment), or when you did (insert action). This made me think that I am (insert possible truth). Could you help me understand what you meant when you said/did this." Then, I am quiet and allow him to speak (James 1:19).
I did not accuse him. I stated what I felt and what I thought based on what he said/did. I then showed that I wanted to understand him. I have given him enough information so that he can understand me. Now, I need to humble myself and seek to understand him.
It could be that I completely misunderstood Uz. Now, I have the ability to admit my wrong perception and be at peace with Uz again. Uz can apologize for unintentionally hurting me. Through this interchange, Uz and I can grow in how we interact with others in the future.
However, Uz might have intentionally hurt me. He might not want to have peace or admit his fault. My duty is to love and forgive Uz (Colossians 3:13). I need to seek reconciliation in whatever way I can. If Uz is a member of my church, I can bring other church members with me later to approach Uz (Matthew 18:15-16). Hopefully, this will bring reconciliation.
The Attitude of Peace
Through all this process, we need to remember that we are not here to hurt or to vent our opinions (Eph 4:26). Our attitude should be love, peace, and reconciliation. Christ has forgiven us so much. He has shown us so much love. He has reconciled us to Himself. Why are we so hesitant to seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why won't we live in complete love?
Aren't We Sinless?
So, you are a Christian. You've been following Christ for a couple months or maybe seventy years. You know that God has given his Holy Spirit to you to guide you in life, to remind you of all that Christ taught, and to convict you of sin and righteousness. You know that God is completing His work in you. You know that people are known by their works, whether good or bad. However, there is a sin that you just can't shake. Maybe, there are twenty sins that you just can't shake. Does this mean that you are not actually a Christian? Should a follower of Christ be sinless? How can we reconcile sinful humanity with the work of God?
I'm glad you asked.
The Character of God
First, we need to start with who God is. God is God. As God, He is good. He is righteous. He is holy. There is no sin or evilness in Him. There is no one else that comes close to His goodness. Our human minds cannot fully comprehend his complete holiness, because we are surrounded by a life of brokenness and sin. From the beginning of the Bible, to the end, His perfect character is attested to (Ex 15:11; Rev 15:4).
As a perfect God, He cannot have sin close to Him. This isn't because sin weakens God, but because sin is not able to come near God. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, their relationship with God was instantly severed. They died spiritually, because they had introduced sin into the world. God, based upon His justice and holiness, separated humanity from himself for eternity. (Gen 3; Rev 20:11-15)
The Work of Christ
God loved His creation, though, and wanted to reconcile them to Himself. In the fullness of time, He sent His Son to die, taking humanity's punishment on Himself. He also defeated the works of the devil, and took sin away (Rom 5:1-11; 1 Jn 3:5,8). All who place their faith in Christ will be restored back into relationship with God, because of the work of Jesus Christ. That relationship starts at the moment of salvation, and continues throughout eternity.
All who have placed their faith in Christ have been made new (1 Cor 5:17). Their old sinful nature is gone. They now have the ability to live a life of good (Rom 6:18-23). This is because of the power of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, those who are following Christ should understand the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God to the extent that any action against His character would be shunned. Because of what Christ has done, I should not want to sin.
The Reality of Humanity
However, we as humans, even if we are following Christ closely, still have a tendency to sin. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7 when he bemoans his own nature that does what he hates (Rom 7:15). In 2 Corinthians, he talks about a "thorn in the flesh" that tormented him and wouldn't leave (2 Cor 12:7). I believe this is a sin that Paul struggled with his whole life. We are broken creatures. Even though we have the ability to do good, and even though we are not slaves of sin anymore, we still choose to sin. We still choose to grieve our God and our Savior.
We will be broken until Christ comes again and ushers us into His eternal kingdom. At this point, he will give us glorified bodies like His (1 Jn 3:2; Phil 3:20-21). We will be made complete, and we won't have to struggle with sin anymore. That will be a glorious day.
God understands our nature. He knows that we are broken and have a propensity for sin. That is why He sent Christ to die. Christ's death paid the penalty for all our sin: what we committed in the past, present, and future (1 Jn 2:1-2). When God looks at us, even though we don't meet His standard, He sees the righteousness of His Son on us. This grace gives us hope and endurance for this life.
This grace should also cause us to think twice before sinning against the character of our God and our Savior. For, if we truly understood the seriousness of sin, the character of our God, and amazingness of His grace, we would be running in the opposite direction of sin.
Grace and Adoption
Ok, so this picture is a little crazy. We don't normally see a grown adult male sporting a cape and a mask. I love this picture, though, for several reasons.
This picture reminds me of when I was a child. I would tie my security blanket around my neck. Suddenly, I was transformed into one of my heroes, either Davy Crockett, or Daniel Boone, or Peter Pan, or the Lone Ranger. I would go on all sorts of adventures with that "cape". The first adventure would be to find my mom and introduce myself as her "long-lost son". She would welcome me with open arms, calling me by the name that I had chosen that day. I knew that I was welcome no matter what name I had, for I was her son.
This picture also reminds me of what it means to be a child in God's family. He accepts us as we are (no matter how crazy we look), gives us security and confidence in Himself (see that big smile on this man's face), and promises to bring us to live with him.
In 1 John 3, John writes that God calls us His children. This is language of adoption. While there aren't many examples of adoption in the Old Testament, adoption was growing in popularity in the Roman world. It would grow to be so popular, that Roman emperors would start adopting grown males in order for the emperors to choose who would replace them. A Roman citizen could adopt a child of any age at any time. In fact, a Roman citizen could adopt a child after death through a will. Once a child was adopted, he had full legal status as a child of his new father. He was not a "second-rate" child. He was equal with any children born to that man. Once a child was legitimately adopted before witnesses, he could not be removed from the inheritance.
Paul and John both refer to followers of Christ as being adopted into God's family. John writes in his Gospel, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God" (John 1:12-13). Paul in his letter to Rome states this: "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:15).
We, as adopted children of God, are not second-rate children in God's family. We are loved more than we can imagine. We have full access to God as our Father, no matter what. We have complete confidence that all the promises that God has made to us will be kept, for we are His children.
Our adoption is not based on what we have done. Truthfully, we cannot do anything to earn God's favor. We all have sinned, and we will all continue to sin. Nothing that we do can undo the harm we have done. In spite of all we had done to Him and each other, God looked at us with love, wanting to reconcile us to Himself. He made the first move, sending His Son to pay the penalty for our actions. After paying our fine, He adopted us into His family. And, just as the Romans couldn't disinherit an adopted child, God promises that He won't disinherit us. He promises that He will come again and give us new clothes, changing us to be like He is.
This is grace. Accepting us for who we are. Keeping us, in spite of who we are. And changing us to be different than we are. All this is not based upon what we do, but based upon our great God who proved His great love by adopting us.
We can have confidence that our Heavenly Father views us the same at all times. He loves us as His children, and He accepts us as His children. We can also have confidence that God won't leave us as we are. No matter what we have done in the past, or the struggles that we currently have, God will make us new. We will be like He is, because He has promised that. In expectation of that time, we should try to imitate our Father, just like a little child tries to imitate his dad. Just like that child never is able to truly be like his dad, we won't either. However, this is where grace comes in. God loves us and accepts us as His children. We can rest in this.
So, next time you see a child putting on cape, or an adult doing the same, see the look of glee on their face and remember what it means to be a adopted child of God.
Pastor of Calvary Bible Church, Neligh, NE. Missionary with RHMA. Husband to Maggie. Father to Grace, David, and Daniel. Saved by Jesus Christ