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.

by Dusty White

It seems like there have been a lot of funerals at my church lately. People are always passing away—into Heaven or Hell. This past Friday afternoon I slid into a funeral service for a gentleman that had suffered from a severe heart attack a week ago. If there is such a thing, it was “an upbeat funeral” because He lived his life in a godly way. Two Thursdays ago I was in a meeting with some other pastors and teachers and around the circle it went…people sharing about people that they know dying or battling with cancer, disease, or freak accidents. Just two nights ago my wife and I received a phone call from a friend informing us of another friend that had been in a major car accident.

These things are all around me. They are all around you. It is life and death around this earthly world. I guess that is why the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15).”

Last week I spent a few days with high school teenagers at a camp. Teenagers have a lot of energy as it is. Throw “camp” into the mix, and… They jump around a lot and they talk with a lot of energy and they don’t sleep much. It is a very interesting stage of life.

Today I went and saw Elisa. Elisa is my new Scripture reading friend. She is suffering from stomach cancer and is the dear mother and grandmother of some friends of ours. Elisa and I don’t spend a lot of time together, maybe an hour a week if you total up all the times that I visit her. But the time spent is precious and has a rare feeling to it. It is always sincere. She is suffering severely from this cancer that has swept through her body. Today she told me that she is losing strength in her eyesight and she complained between breaths of some strong back pains. Due to her fatigue my visit at her bedside was about 20 minutes.

One minute I’m talking to over-energized, sugar-hyped teenagers that are on a camp high, and the next I’m listening real closely to Elisa’s struggling and soft voice. Between these two different moments I played trucks with my son and held my daughter in my arms because she can’t even walk yet. I’m telling you folks—life on Earth, by God’s design, is a very complex and interesting thing.

For me, it puts a serious twist on Ephesians 5:15. Do I really make the most of my opportunities? Do you? I mean really, some of the things that surround me have nothing to do with God and His fame on this Earth that is plagued with the fall.

These recent happenings make me think of Psalm 119:128, “and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.

I want to develop a healthy hate for all of the things that have nothing to do with God and his glory. I want to make the most of my opportunities. I don’t have time for any wrong paths or side-tracked energy. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Funerals, car accidents, cancer, and heart attacks have a good track-record around here.

We live in an age when theology is devalued. At best, it is seen as an academic hobby for the religious intelligentsia. At worst, it is perceived to be downright divisive – an encumbrance that causes godly Christians to debate each other (gasp!). When it really comes down to the nitty gritty details of life, does it matter what you think about predestination or election or providence? Most would say no. My time in a hospital room yesterday suggests otherwise.

The hospital room belongs to Mike, a founding father of Coram Deo who is in critical condition in a Denver hospital after a life-threatening car accident. I spent the day there yesterday. Mike and his wife Brenda share a deep love for the soft and strong theology of the Reformation that undergirds Coram Deo. They actually believe the biblical truth that you are saved because God chose you, not because you chose him. They actually believe that God rules the universe in glorious sovereignty and that nothing happens outside of his design. They actually believe that God’s irresistible grace is strong enough to soften even the hardest heart and secure the salvation of his elect people. I say “actually believe” because Mike and Brenda have done the biblical and spiritual work to hold these convictions as their own. They didn’t just hear a sermon or read a book.

I know lots of people who can win an argument with their theological convictions. And I say: so what? The question is: does your theology anchor you when it really matters? Can it?

I have been in a lot of hospital rooms. I have talked with a lot of people who believe in “the sovereignty of God” in a vague, amorphous way – as in, “God exists, so there must be some reason for this tragedy.” Yesterday, I had the privilege of worshipping God with a family who believes in the sovereignty of God the way the Bible declares it. I sat next to a wife who said, “Bob, this is God’s plan, and we receive it with joy.” I spoke with a son whose first words to his mom were, “Mom, God is sovereign and good, no matter what happens.” I prayed over a man, immobile in a hospital bed, whose first words upon awakening will not be, “Why, God?” but rather, “Hallowed be Thy name.”

I walked into a situation of tragedy, and I worshipped. We worshipped. That is why theology matters! Because God must be worshipped in all things! “I am the Lord, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). If your theology leaves any situation where God cannot be worshipped and adored and trusted, then it is not the theology of the Bible. On the other hand, if your theology causes you to delight in Christ even in pain and tragedy and confusion… then I daresay it is beautiful and biblical.

Brenda reminded me of a phrase that a mutual friend of ours likes to say: “Our theology is all we have.” And Brenda’s strength today comes not from the pious platitudes of gift-shop Christianity, but from the deep truths of the Reformation. She called just a few minutes ago to share the hymn she’s singing tonight:

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

(Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, Samuel Rodigast, 1676)

To follow up our conversation yesterday about how spiritual formation in Christ affects our feelings, I thought I’d post a number of quotes and thoughts from wise authors about our feelings/affections. Hopefully these spur some deeper reflection. Feel free to offer your comments…

No one can succeed in mastering feelings in his or her life who tries to simply take them head-on and resist or redirect them by “willpower” in the moment of choice… Those who let God be God get off the conveyer belt of emotion and desire when it first starts to move toward the buzz saw of sin. They do not wait until it is moving so fast they cannot get off of it. Their aim is not to avoid sin, but to avoid temptation – the inclination to sin.
– Dallas Willard

Love for God is the mark of the truly called person – all the time. Of course, our love for God has moments of intensity and moments of weakness – just like every other love relationship we have. But in those who are called, love for God is what defines them. It’s the abiding condition of our hearts – whether strong or weak. …Let me grasp for the kinds of words that I think will help us know if we love God. Loving God is desiring God himself beyond his gifts. Loving God is treasuring God himself beyond his gifts. Love for God is delighting in God himself beyond his gifts… Love for God is valuing God and prizing God and revering God and admiring God beyond his gifts. All these words are grasping for that essential response of the heart to the revelation of the glory of God, especially in Christ through the gospel. It is a glad reflex of the heart to all that God is for us in Christ.
– John Piper

Real worship is, among other things, a feeling about the Lord our God… If you do not know Him and worship Him, if you do not long to reside where He is, if you have never known wonder and ecstasy in your soul because of His crucifixion and resurrection, your claim of Christianity is unfounded. It cannot be related to the true Christian life and experience at all.
– AW Tozer

Though true grace has various degrees, and there are some that are but babes in Christ… yet everyone that has the power of godliness in his heart, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things, with such strength and vigor that these holy exercises do prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them: for every true disciple of Christ “loves him above father or mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands: yea, than his own life.”
– Jonathan Edwards

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
-John Donne

Tonight my son Parker and I ventured down to Mosaic Community Development (MCD) to serve dinner to about 30 homeless men and women. Paul and Michelle Gardner have been involved with MCD for a long time, and JD and Michele Senkbile have been serving there recently as well. We’ve looking for missional pathways into the city, where Coram Deo can partner with already existing ministries to make a difference in the name of Christ. MCD is on the short list.

It was a really interesting experience. If you’re a Coram Deo person reading this, I hope you’ll take the time to serve at Life on the Brick (the Monday night dinner) in the coming months. You’ll be thankful for the worldview-shaping and the jolt out of your “normal American” bubble.

On the one hand, I’m frustrated by the complexity of homelessness. The people I met tonight weren’t earnestly trying to get off the streets and back into society. They were, for the most part, people who had made peace with being homeless. Some of them are even proud of their ability to “make it” on the streets. That doesn’t make them less needy or less deserving of ministry. But it does make for a much greater challenge in figuring out how to serve them effectively.

I’m also challenged by my own utter ineptness when it comes to having conversations with people who aren’t like me. I wish you could have been inside my head as I was desperately trying to figure out how to have even the simplest conversation with my new friends. I mean, think about your standard conversation-starters. “So, what do you do for a living?” Nope, can’t use that one. “Do you come here often?” Shoot, I don’t even come here often. I’m the new guy. “Who are you rooting for in the Big 12 Championship?” Oh, yeah, you don’t have a TV. “What do you do in your free time?” Hmm… most of your life is free time. Nothing like a basic conversation with a homeless man to show you your need for the gospel in a whole new way. I think I see why Jesus liked hanging out with the down-and-outers. There’s something refreshing about their simplicity and honesty. They have less to hide and less to care about than most of us.

I come away with more questions than answers. But there’s something desperately redemptive about that. This fallen world is a complex place. And if we’re going to pray and work so that God’s will gets done here just like it is in heaven, it’s going to take a lot of good question-asking. Redemption is free, but it isn’t easy… especially on the Brick.