If one were to take a survey of people inquiring how they determined things for themselves, I believe it would be a safe bet that a majority of people would respond with some form of “well, it would depend on how I feel about it.” Worldly philosophy oft relies on intuition and feelings based decisions. This has certainly been true of myself the entire time I was unsaved, and even the first few years of being saved. As an unregenerate person, I approached the world and determined what I deemed as truth all according to “my gut”.
When people are born again, God grows them in sanctification (becoming more conformed to the Savior) at different rates. For the first couple of years, I assessed my spiritual growth and relationship to the Lord based solely on my feelings. This made for a very stressful, confusing, and unstable early walk. I went to a church where the music was loud, the lights were just right, and the “worship” time was geared to stir up emotions. A lot of times this would feel like a spiritual high to me. I approached my personal bible study time in such a way that I expected every verse that I read to have specific personal meaning to me, and when it didn’t seem to, I would feel empty or confused. I also expected each quiet time to be emotionally intense. I decided that was how I was “sure” God was there with me and that I was on track. I was a spiritual hot mess. Believers with more maturity tried to caution me not to rely on my feelings. Honestly, at the time I did not truly comprehend what they were trying to teach me, and I didn’t trust that I could be okay spiritually without my “feelings as litmus test of truth” system. I had the error of being me-focused; man-focused. Mercifully, God led me out of this error, into the light of His truth through listening to and reading theologically sound teachers like John MacArthur, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Phil Johnson, Steven Lawson, and other believers who wrote or commented on theologically solid blogs. Through these fellow believers, God changed my perspective and showed me how to properly view Him, His Word, and my position to Him.
From observation, many professing believers have their focus confused, and have carried over a worldly, feelings-based philosophy, as I did. This opens people up to, and creates all kinds of error and confusion in the church. An example of this is seen in how people view scripture: “what this verse means to me is”. See the self-focus there? We don’t decide, of our own volition, what a particular verse means. Scripture has specific meaning. We can properly discern what scripture means by using good hermeneutics (method of interpretation). The grammatical-historical method of interpretation (the rules of grammar and the facts of history), ensures a correct understanding of the text.
Now the task of hermeneutics is to realize, first of all, that there is a God given meaning in Scripture, apart from you or me or anybody else. Scripture means something if means nothing to me, understood? It means something if it means nothing to you. It means something if it means nothing to anybody. It means something in itself, and that meaning is determined by God, the Author, not by one who is going through some kind of mystical experience. The interpreter’s task then is to discern that meaning. To discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting, to draw the meaning out of the Scripture, rather than to read one’s meaning into it. The importance of careful, Biblical interpretation can hardly be overstated. We spend three or four years at the master seminary trying to teach men how to do this because it is the heart and soul of effective ministry. In fact, I would go so far as to say misinterpreting the Bible is ultimately no better than disbelieving it. (source)
Am I saying that feelings are wrong? No, I am not. Feelings are part of being human. Jesus experienced and expressed emotions. But we do not build our faith, or our concepts of God and truth on them. Feelings and emotions should always be subservient to Biblical truth. Biblical truth is objective. It is not derived from our own perspective or personal interpretation. It is wise to remember that we are fallen, flawed and limited human beings. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Your “heart” (feelings) cannot be trusted as an independent authenticator of truth. One who relies on their own feelings and implements a self-focused approach to interpreting scripture is in danger of making a god of their own design.
The Bible is not about us, it is about God’s program for human history. It is a letter from God, revealing Himself to us. The focus is Him, not us. I long for the Church to forsake the modern error of narcissism (reading one’s own meaning or self into the Bible), and to turn from the precarious practice of building faith on personal feelings. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1; 1:14), and the Chief Cornerstone (Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20; psalm 118:22); the foundation on which our faith should be built. He is the only reliable source and sustainer of our faith. Look to Him as the basis for your Christian faith, not your faulty and unreliable feelings. It will be a much more smooth and sure path. The narrow path.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Related blog post:
Christianese: Standing on the Word by Jennifer, author of One Hired Late In The Day
Further Reading and Study:
Proper Biblical Interpretation by Dr. John MacArthur
How To Interpret the Bible by CARM
Edifying sermons online:
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years
Dr. John MacArthur, minister at Grace Community Church for the last 40 years