The Bible tells us in Genesis 1, that we were made in God’s image. This means that we have emotions because God has emotions. What a blessing to live in the likeness of God every day with every emotion we experience! While our emotions are a divine gift, not recognizing them as such and managing them can make them more of a curse than a blessing.
We cannot flee from our own feelings, and trying to ignore them seems to make matters worse. Our only option is to learn how to deal with them. The stewardship of our emotions is critical to a healthy spiritual life, and recognizing emotionality and spirituality are two very different things.
For those who live according to the flesh
set their minds on the things of the flesh (Romans 8:5a)
Emotions are feelings related to worldly life. We are happy or sad; angry or joyful; loving or distant. Emotions are produced by our interactions with the world, by living and experiencing life through our expectations. “I am excited about going to the party (happy) because it’s going to be fun.” “I am sad and a bit angry (dejected) because it wasn’t fun and a waste of time.” Emotions are a product of the complex process of desire and expectation interacting with reality.
The dangers of unchecked emotion are legion. If we base our decisions—especially our faith decisions, on emotion, we will be led not toward God, but away. Emotion-based faith is misleading because it uses feelings to interpret our circumstances and form our thoughts about God. This is putting feelings before faith. With emotion, the criterion for positive opinion is a product of “what makes me feel good,” not necessarily “what God wants for me.” An emotional perspective seeks satisfaction or confirmation of the self first and receives all things according to an emotional need.
Sadly, Christians often confuse ‘good feelings’ with spiritual awareness.
…but those who live according to the Spirit
set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5b)
Spirituality is about being godly in thinking and acting, focusing on unearthly or unworldly life, and divine realities. Spiritual awareness leads to equanimity and tranquility of the mind, emotional states which are the result of divine influence. To experience life through spiritual growth and reflection is to encounter the world without the expectation of ‘my happiness,’ but rather with the foreknowledge of God’s intention. A spiritual perspective seeks God first and receives all things in the companionship of the Holy Spirit.
As we are created in the image of God, Scripture calls us to be people who feel what we believe; people who not only know truth but experience it. Our emotional life is hallowed in our earthly experience when it is in line with the divine intention. Our feelings and emotions must be governed and guided by God. We should fear the Lord, hate evil, love the truth, mourn over sin and injustice, and rejoice in our sufferings. These are not idle commands, but precepts given by God in light of who God is and what Jesus has done. We are supposed to feel the weight and power of the truth revealed in Scripture and be informed and inspired in mind and soul.
The key is not to pursue feelings themselves, but to pursue the Lord Jesus Christ by looking to Him, knowing His ways, pondering His promises, and obeying His commands. God has created us as emotional people. As we hear in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to weep and laugh, to mourn and dance, to hate and love” (3:1–8), but it is faith that gives birth to godly feeling. As the English Reformer John Bradford noted, “Faith must first go before, and then feeling will follow.”
The pursuit of a deepening spiritual life includes both knowledge and action. As St. James tells us, "But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing" (1:25). It relies on the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to God's will. The Holy Spirit serves to lead us into all truth (John 16:13), gives joy (Ephesians 5:18), and convicts when we sin (Ephesians 4:30). As St. John teaches us, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:5-8). True spirituality depends on the supernatural power God gives through the Holy Spirit rather than dependence on human expectation.
St. Paul tells us that when a believer lives by the power of God's Spirit, it produces godly qualities and brings honor to God. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23). Growing in the Spirit creates a life able to serve others and point the way to Christ. As Jesus taught, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).
From this perspective, Christian spirituality is for the honor of God, and personal maturity, and serves as a blessing to others, both through the good deeds that take place, as well as a heart attitude that points others to God.
Spiritually in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†