Emotion and Our Religion

What role does emotion play in our religion and in our salvation? We know that we cannot let emotions rule our lives, nor should we be staid and stoic in our spirituality. How do we know we have a right feeling when it comes to our salvation? What role does emotion play, and does how we feel trump what the Bible says regarding worship? These questions stem from good motivations to move away from unemotional and unfeeling worship, but we have to be careful to avoid swinging the pendulum to the other extreme.

Joy and Salvation

Are we saved because we feel good, or do we feel good because we are saved? In Acts 8, Philip receives instruction to intercept a eunuch from Ethiopia who is studying from Isaiah 53. We are familiar with how Philip teaches Christ to the eunuch starting from this passage, how the eunuch requests to be baptized based on Philip’s teachings, and how the eunuch departs rejoicing. Which direction did this man’s joy go? Was he saved because he felt good, or was he joyous as a result of salvation?

Acts 16 records Paul and Silas singing and praying to God from prison. A great earthquake opens the prison doors, and the jail supervisor prepares to kill himself when he thinks his charges had escaped him. The jailer responds to the gospel message, and he rejoices after obeying the word. Feeling good is not, by itself, proof of salvation. Emotion provides no guarantee, though we see joy coming from salvation.

The Deception of Emotion

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers plot to kill him. Instead of murder, they sell him into slavery again. They convince Jacob a beast killed his youngest son, and the patriarch mourns for many days. His distraught is great. His emotions are strong, but he is wrong. Joseph is alive and well. Also, Acts 26:9 records Paul describing his being convinced that he should persecute Christians, even to death. He was zealous in his devotion to God, but, again, his emotions were wrong.

Ephesians 3:3-4 contrasts Paul’s words of Acts 26 when he appeals to understanding God’s word. Peter wrote that Paul’s writings are hard to comprehend – but not impossible. We can understand God’s word intellectually. It has to take root in our minds, but too often we interpret an emotion as communication from God. These emotions, as we’ve noted, can unfortunately mislead us, and II Timothy 3:16 reminds us that scripture is the primary source of our faith. Our feelings cannot instruct or correct us in righteousness. This has to come from God, and II Peter 1:3 encourages us that God has given us all we need. We cannot allow our feelings to set aside God’s word, for when we do, we question His power and divinity.

Romans 8:15-16 calls us heirs of God as witnessed by the Spirit, and Hebrews 10:15 tells us the Spirit bears witness to us through God’s covenant and laws. We are not left to our own feelings to determine right and wrong. God has not left us directionless in the matter of our salvation. Psalm 119:11 speaks of laying up God’s word in our hearts. Verses 97-99 and verse 104 tell of the understanding that comes from God’s word, and verse 130 describes God’s word as a light of understanding. The only proof I have of my salvation is in the commandments of our Lord.

The Role of Emotion

Does this infer, then, worship and life bereft of emotions? Philippians 1:23-25 records Paul praising Christians who demonstrate joy and glory in their salvation. Chapter 3:1 of the same book calls upon us to rejoice in the Lord as does chapter 4:4. There is nothing wrong with showing emotion and having strong feelings regarding our relationship with God. God and Jesus demonstrate emotion in their love for us, in Jesus weeping over the lost, in commitment to our reunification with our Lord.

Our joy comes as a result of our salvation, but we cannot mistake good feelings for a guarantee of salvation. We are not saved because we feel good. Like the eunuch and like the jailer in Acts, we should be rejoicing as a result of having obtained salvation.

lesson by Tim Smelser