“For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:20-21).
“But I don’t feel forgiven.”
“I don’t feel saved after some of the things I’ve done.”
“I feel so bad. I know God says He has forgiven me, but my heart says otherwise.”
Every pastor gets this. People who have grown up in sound churches and call themselves Bible-believing Christians fall prey to this malady of judging their standing with the Heavenly Father by their feelings.
Imagine that. As though one’s feelings about anything are accurate, consistent, dependable.
Martin Luther had a word for all who find themselves tangled in the struggle with their feelings:
“Feelings come and feelings go
And feelings are deceiving.
My warrant is the Word of God–
Naught else is worth believing.
Though all my heart should feel concerned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose word cannot be broken.
I’ll trust in God’s unchanging word
Til soul and body sever
For, though all things shall pass away
His word shall stand forever.”
What we know about feelings and emotions….
–Good feelings are desirable. People spend billions of dollars and risk their health and very lives in their search for good feelings. Who among us doesn’t like to feel great? A Spring day, the brisk air, sunshine, flowers, butterflies, and a picnic under a tree on a hillside. I’ll take that in a heartbeat. (Feels good just to imagine it!)
–Feelings are fickle. Feelings are poor barometers of anything. Emotions can be manipulated by the food we eat, the amount of sleep, fatigue, temper, the conditions around us, the last thing our boss said to us, and a thousand other factors.
–Feelings are often detached from reality. You’re on the phone with someone and suddenly, you sense the line is dead or that they’ve left. You call their name. “I’m here,” your party answers. That inner sense misled you.
–Feelings are often the very opposite of faith. In another context, Martin Luther said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” Pity the person asked to stake his life on the way he feels at the moment.
–Jesus once asked the disciples, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).
–It is true that the lack of good feelings can seriously hold us back. You’re about to speak before a huge assembly. A sense of foreboding settles over you like a storm cloud. This is not good. You need confidence, to radiate a sense that you know what you’re talking about.
–Feelings of confidence and assurance can make a great difference when facing a strong foe or formidable obstacle.
–The Lord said to Jeremiah, “You will face kings and princes and anyone else I command, and you will call them to repentance. But you must not fear them. In fact, if you get stage fright in their presence, I will humiliate you in front of them!” (Jeremiah 1, especially verse17). God wanted no quivering, vacillating, nervous spokesperson, but a confident speaker who feared no one but God and nothing but disappointing Him.
Nothing serves as an antidote to our negative feelings like the Word of God.
A full half-dozen times before Joshua ascended to the leadership position over God’s people, he was told, “Be strong and courageous; the Lord is with you.” (See Deuteronomy 31:6,7,23 and Joshua 1:6,7,9,18.)
“Whoever is fearful (as we go into battle), may go home.” (See Joshua 7:3 and Deuteronomy 20:8.)
Fear is contagious. “Let the fearful return and go to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart” (Deuteronomy 20:8).
But the Word is greater than our hearts. And even more, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).
The question then becomes whether we will believe His word above our own feelings and fears.
–“Whoever believes on the Name of the Son of God has everlasting life.” Will you believe God’s word above your own feelings?
–“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of iniquities.” Will we believe we are forgiven whether we feel it or not? The answer says volumes about our trust in God’s Word.
–“And shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.” “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” “And they shall never perish.” Will we believe we are saved forever even when our hearts condemn us?
Every Christian must decide whether to believe God’s Word above his own convictions, fears, ideas, and opinions. How we decide makes a world of difference in how we will then live and work and serve and honor God.