Making Biblical Decisions: Untrustworthy Feelings – November 17, 2023

As time passes, many look at the world around them and feel like they have entered a strange dream in which everything is upside down. Many things we took for granted, our world now questions in absurd ways. In the 1979 movie Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the scriptwriters included a dialogue in which a group of male characters argued with their male compatriot about whether he could be a woman and have a child. When the movie was released, the scriptwriters viewed the conversation as ridiculous and included it for an absurd laugh. Not so today. This conversation has moved from the satirical movie screen to the lunchroom near you. We live in a world that determines right, wrong, and truth based on feeling. Often, your story (narrative) trumps truth. Thus, we often hear encouragement to “speak your truth” as if truth is malleable. Carl Trueman notes, “The modern self assumes the authority of inner feelings and sees authenticity as defined by the ability to give social expression to the same.”[1]

Sadly, many parents and grandparents seeking to instill Godly principles into their children discover pushback when they speak to their children about these issues. Their children receive indoctrination from school, peers, and culture, which directly contradicts the things that seem so obvious. Yet, these same parents unwittingly reinforce the concept of truth and self that led to this dramatic cultural change. Rather than live life intentionally, they live reactionary. Here is what I mean. Instead of making decisions by deliberately asking what God, through His Word, says about the situation, they rely on their feelings and experiences. It feels mean and harsh to restrict sex to marriage, so they wink when their family member practices fornication. They are tired after a long week of work and a Saturday of play. So, instead of honoring the Lord on the Lord’s Day, they skip church, sleep in, and play outside. When their kids sin, they care more that they were inconvenienced than the fact that their child sinned against a holy God. In the end, they live by the mantra given to us by David Houston and Barbra Mandrell, “How can it be so wrong when it feels so right?”

As we consider making biblical decisions, we must remember that our feelings are terrible judges in determining what is right. The world is filled with things that cater to our feelings. This is an intentional tool of Satan and the result of the fall. In his first epistle, John reveals that the world is filled with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). So, he challenges us not to fall in love with the world. Two choices face us: love the world or love God.

When we speak of the world, “There can be no doubt that in the present context, it means worldly attitudes or values that are opposed to God.”[2] One cannot love both the world and God at the same time. One cannot become fascinated with the world’s systems and goals while worshiping God. What does it mean to love the world? It means to have the same goals and desires as the world. What equals a successful life for you? What must happen for you to reach the end of your life and think, “I was successful?” We could even simplify it and ask, “What equals success in life for you now?” Does it mean possessing a lovely family, advancement in your job, or the ability to buy bigger and nicer toys? Scripture reveals that success in life is faithfulness to God. Success is standing confidently before God one day because you lived with eternity in mind. Anything else demonstrates a love of the world.

The challenge before us is that the world caters to our feelings and desires. The world caters to our flesh. The flesh refers to the base cravings of our evil hearts.[3] Akin notes, “John would include anything and any way in which humans improperly fulfill fleshly desires (overeating, drunkenness, etc.).”[4] We live in a culture that is all about fulfilling the desires of the flesh. This is the very premise behind the sexual revolution. If it feels good to you, you should have a right to do it and an obligation to do it. Love is simply a feeling (not a commitment). So if you don’t feel in love any longer, then you end the relationship (even if it is a relationship bound by a marriage covenant). If you don’t enjoy your job anymore, you find a new one. At all costs, fulfill the desires of your body.

Further, the world makes these bad things look lovely. Sin caters to the desires of our eyes. The entire media industry is built on the lust of the eyes. Advertisers place before us everything that looks good. This is why the Psalmist determined not to look at anything worthless (Psalm 101:3). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day would agree with the biblical sexual ethic. They confined sex to a man and woman inside of marriage. However, Jesus rebuked them in that they did not go far enough. He stated that any man who looks lustfully at a woman has sinned (Matt. 5:27-30). Sin is often activated by the things that we see and then crave.

Finally, the world plays to our pride. F. F. Bruce noted that when my reputation and the desire to ensure that others think highly of me trumps my desire to glorify God or serve others, my reputation has become the idol of my life and the object of my worship over God.[5] My feelings are often geared towards ensuring that others do not think ill of me. However, our struggle with pride would be significantly diminished if we realized that others do not think of us very often.

Our feelings also stand as poor indicators of right and wrong because we possess traitors within us. Jeremiah 17:9 informs us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked. Our sinful nature results in hearts that long to elevate self over God. Our hearts desire personal satisfaction more than sacrificial service to God. Although we want as believers to live lives honoring our God, our hearts play Benedict Arnold and work against us. As a result, we cannot afford to trust our feelings. Just because it feels right does not mean that it is right. We must anchor ourselves to something more stable than our fickle feelings: the Word of God.

As we seek to make decisions, we cannot afford to ask, “What do I feel about this?” Instead, we must ask, “What does God say about this?” All too often, Christians have shipwrecked their lives because they made decisions according to their feelings. Although God clearly stated in His Word that the action or decision was a sin, they listened to their feelings instead of God and suffered the consequences. In every decision, we would be wise to ask, “Is this a sin?” if the answer is “yes,” do not do it!

[1] Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2022), 22.

[2] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 94.

[3] John MacArthur, 1-3 John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 87.

[4] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 110.

[5] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 61.