By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article originally printed August 31st, 1976)
Does the Bible teach that one feels because of the faith he has or one believes because of the feelings he has? The question focuses on faith in Christ, but in reality it is an important facet of every decision making process. The question does not infer we come to each new situation void of feeling, but whether we have our feelings in check to the degree of being able to sift the evidence fairly. The question is asked because men must determine what is the foundation of their faith no matter what the object of their faith is. Why do we want men to ask themselves about the foundation of their faith? It determines their eternal destiny.
The issue pressed by this question is misunderstood on many occasions. The question has nothing to do with whether a Christian feels strongly about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He who says I feel because I believe can be just as strongly attached to the Lord as the man who says I believe because I feel. Although you will find the two parties will differ in their verbal expression of faith and in the proof accepted to determine faith in Christ. This question has nothing to do with the question, “does religion involve feeling.” When you consider the nature of man such would be a foolish idea to entertain. Man’s cognitive and affective states cannot really be divorced from each other in the daily process of living.
The cliques of the day or the slogans of the moment really are an exercise in futility in facing the problem. Generally, the cliques are shallow and protect men from facing tougher tests about their faith. For example, think about these typical one-liners. “Worship is having an experience together.” “I want to be saved by the experience the apostles had on Pentecost.” “Tell me about your Christian experience.”
What do these phrases really mean? Is everything that people experience together worship? Were the apostles unsaved until the day of Pentecost? Is the Christian experience a one-shot forever affair? People feel we are irreverent when we treat their modern cliques in this fashion, but do they realize our thoughts on these cliques involve feelings, too? Again, the question is not do I feel, but what is the foundation of my feelings? Do my feelings come from a faith based on the testimony of God’s word or is my faith based on self-feeling, conditioned and gathered over the years from who knows where?
Faith Demands Testimony
Search where you desire in the Bible and you will find the answer is consistently the same. Faith is based on testimony and feeling comes from the nature of the facts believed. Paul affirmed the universality of salvation, by declaring that whosoever calls on the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:11-13). The person who is tempted to build his faith on one passage of scripture may make a hasty conclusion that is unwarranted. He may say, “I will just get down on my knees and cry for salvation and everything will be fine.” This is not uncommon and people frequently declare they know God answered them. How do they know He answered them? They say, “I know because of the strange feeling that swept over me, the voice I heard and the vision I saw, or such phenomena.” They make such feelings and experiences the proof or foundation of their faith and salvation. Dare we use Paul’s words to establish such teaching? NO. Neither the context nor Paul’s words in other places would permit such a bold and uncalled for conclusion; (See Galatians l:8).
Paul revealed how God’s plan of salvation reached beyond the Jew and included the Gentile. How would the ignorant Gentile come to call on the Lord? How would they “believe in Him of whom they have not heard (Romans 10:14)?” These verses unfold the proper foundation of faith being public testimony that can be shared and reasoned upon by all. The Gentile world was full of faith in gods due to strange experiences and personal feelings. This was not faith in the true God, nor was it to be the foundation of the true faith (Jeremiah 10:23; Romans l; 1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 23:1; 26:9).
The first step in building a genuine faith is hearing the facts concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. Men must hear the gospel, the good news that Jesus is the Christ. What then is the proper foundation of the Christian’s faith in Christ? Paul answers, “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).
The word “faith” has a wide range of meanings, from the truth believed to the belief of the truth. Still, we do not leave the mooring that binds genuine faith to testimony from without, and that testimony is the word of God. John says, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son (1 John 5:9). Now, if we do something because of believing the words of men, how much more confident we can be when we believe the words of God. AGAIN, FAITH IS BASED UPON TESTIMONY OUTSIDE OF RELATING ONE’S OWN EXPERIENCE. My feelings of trust and confidence are only as realistic and sure as the testimony they are founded upon. One dare not over generalize, but we might suspect that many people who are experience-oriented for their faith in Christ were experience-oriented prior to their “Christian Experience.” Furthermore, just because one might claim to have been a scientist prior to his “experience” doesn’t necessarily dispel the fact his lifestyle on a personal level could have been experience-oriented.
The New Testament reveals time after time the same pattern for the obtaining of a sound faith. This is true in spite of the varied circumstances we see the gospel preached under in the book of Acts. The one point that appears almost to the point of redundancy is that men had to have the Word preached unto them, so they would know what to believe and obey to please God. MEN HAD TO HEAR THEN AND MEN HAVE TO HEAR NOW. Men heard the word of God and it was the word heard that was the lasting foundation of their faith in Christ. This was and is true, in spite of the credentials necessary in that day to make men consider if the word was from heaven, and the gifts given to nourish the early church and protect it from Satanic revelations. Permit us to look at it from the other side today. Does anyone desire to claim the Bible does not give adequate evidence to believe that Jesus is the Christ today? Does anyone desire to claim the Bible does not give adequate instruction to protect us from the teachings of Satan today? When one approaches the question from this frame-of-reference, the volume of the protestors loses much of its strength.
True it is, one might hear and not believe (Acts 22:18; Romans 10:18-21). Yes, but forget not that people may see great feats done and not believe also. In fact, the Bible is full of a lot of them. The truth remains that no one ever obtained or came to a sound faith without receiving the gospel and words of how to express their faith in God (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The Bible is absolutely silent when it comes to recording a case of a man believing or being saved because of a unique experience or strange feeling in and of itself. Pity the man that cannot feel, but woe to the man that finds feelings the suitable foundation for his faith in Christ. Saul did not claim salvation because of a vision on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:6; 22:6-10,16), neither should we. Cornelius did not claim salvation because he saw and talked with an angel of God (Acts 10:3,6; 11:13,14), neither should we. Warning enough is fair warning, do not make such the foundation for your faith today.
The Christian faith is based upon testimony, the hearing of the word of God. This is the problem we are coping with, when we tell man the Bible says you feel because you believe and not you believe because you feel.
One might say, “Don’t you think as a Christian we respond because of how we feel?” Of course we do, and let us pray God we will always have the capacity to do so. Isn’t this the role of conscience? But remember, we are talking about how we establish the conscience to be active spiritually and not how the conscience works once it is activated by the living word of God. We are not saying men do not have strong feelings when they hear of the cross, hear of their sins, or step into the water to be baptized. The individual will feel very intense, but it will be due to the testimony heard and believed.
We have no real interest in trying to reduce our conversion down to an oversimplified series of behavioral steps. Such emphasis leads to forms without life, words without meaning, and Christians without Christ. However for the sake of clarity let us say the following. When one hears the word and it falls on good soil, the process of receiving and believing begins. The testimony believed is the stimulus of the feelings we then experience. One may feel ashamed, guilty, and sad, as the news of Jesus death and our sins are taught. Already, we are gleaning the results of testimony received. We see how Godly sorrow worketh repentance in this setting of conversion (2 Corinthians 7:9,10). Feeling is the result of faith and not the foundation of faith.
The confidence of the Christian faith is full when founded on a thus saith the Lord. Every Christian will experience the full spectrum of human emotions as a child of God. He will often taste joy, but sadness will be no stranger to him. These will be the result of his faith and not the cause of his faith that Jesus is the Christ. When we permit feelings to form our convictions about Christ we cause the scriptures to suffer from violence. Feelings of right are a reward of one’s Christian faith, but they can only be accepted as such when established as being right according to the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).
Remember The Worst Sinner Often Feels Right And the Best Christian Often Feels Wrong. Therefore: Hear Ye Him.