Feelings: The Gospel Changes What You Love

What should you do with sinful feelings?

Option 1: Relativism (Do what feels right)
Option 2: Moralism (Do what’s right no matter how you feel)
Option 3: Gospel Transformation (Feel the right things)

Most people think option 2 is a valid option. They think the godly choice is to “just do the right thing” even when you don’t feel like it. While acknowledging that this is sometimes a good first step, we observed that a pattern of dutifully “doing the right thing” without a change of feelings is simply Pharisaical. Remember what Jesus said: This people honors me with their lips (i.e. their external obedience), but their heart is far from me (Mark 7:6).

The gospel confronts both relativism and moralism. It confronts both those who would indulge sinful desires and those who would repress them. It seeks nothing less than the total transformation of feelings. While moralism is content to keep anger suppressed, the gospel demands that anger be converted to love. While moralism demands only that pride be directed toward different ends (like taking pride in good theology or missional living), the gospel demands that pride be converted into humility.

But for the gospel to take root, you must first be convinced of the utter fallenness of your feelings. And so this morning we considered Ephesians 2:1-3, where God tells us that in our natural state, we “indulge the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Or, as Martin Luther put it:

A man without the Spirit of God does not do evil against his will, under pressure, as though he were taken by the scruff of the neck and dragged into it… he does it spontaneously and voluntarily.

The gospel changes what you love. To choose to follow God, we must first love God. But the Fall has so affected our emotions that we cannot love God. And so we contrasted Pelagius’ incorrect definition of free will with Augustine’s correct one. Free will, observed Augustine, is simply “doing what you want to do.” And the problem, according to Ephesians 2 and Romans 3, is that before the gospel changes us, God is the one thing we don’t want. Until God implants in us a desire for Himself, we will continue to freely choose to sin. Like I said on Sunday, it’s a lot like peeing your pants. But you’ll have to listen to the sermon (on the Resource page) to make that connection.

For more, reflect on Ephesians 2:1-5; Romans 3:9-20; Genesis 6:5.

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  1. I was struck recently that the primary focus of the Heidelberg Catechism’s discussion of true conversion is the affections. It defines repentance (mortification) as

    a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our
    sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them

    and correspondingly, defines faith (quickening) as

    a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with
    love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

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