How do emotions get the best of us? While the Lord certainly created emotions and they have a good purpose for our lives, we can abuse what the Lord has given us. We can use emotions to affirm what we want to believe is the truth instead of God’s word. We can let the truth become subjective based on how we feel. This leaves us with having everyone’s truth be different than one another, and that’s no truth at all. (Check out this article: If I Feel It, It’s True: Responding To The Rise of Emotionalism by Hillary Morgan Ferrer)
I want to discuss the problems with being emotional and using our feelings/experiences to discern because what is objective truth can become subjective based on how we feel. As Voddie Baucham says in this 4 min clip (paraphrase), “The 11th commandment is ’Thou shall be nice,’” and “I’m more offended at you confronting the sin than I am at how the sin offends God.”
In the following weeks, I’d like to cover topics like Christian mysticism, the wrong way for Christians to meditate, and the like. It really helps to understand how our emotions can be used against us before venturing to those topics. Some of the best wolves in sheep’s clothing are the nicest people. If we judge the godliness of something based on how it makes us feel, we could be deceived. I do not want anyone to be deceived.
Webster defines emotion as an intense feeling, such as love, hate, or despair. Part of the definition for feeling can mean a state of mind, emotional condition, and unreasoned opinion or belief. One of the definitions for emotional is dominated by or prone to emotion .
Understanding these words helps us get to our word for the day, which is “emotionalism.”
Emotionalism is the cultivation of an emotional state of mind; tendency to regard things in an emotional manner. (Webster)
Hillary Morgan Ferrer expands this defintion of emotionalism in her article If I Feel It, It’s True: Responding To The Rise of Emotionalism –
“According to emotionalism, ultimate truth can be sensed by emotions and expressed in emotional language; truth claims can be gauged by the strength of one’s emotions. If the strength of one’s emotions determines the truth of a claim, then what is the logical extension of attempting to convince not only one’s self but others? More emotions. Louder emotions. ALL CAPS EMOTIONS.” (Emphasis mine.)
Emotions Are Not Stable For Discerning
The Bible does not tell us to use our emotions as a way to discern. Yet our world, and yes many Christians, are committed into discerning “with their hearts.”
Discernment is being able to understand what is not easily understood. Discernment helps us distinguish between what is true and what is mostly true. Emotions cannot help us discern well because emotions are fleeting, they are not a consistent guide. A guide that is constantly inconsistent and unstable can’t possibly understand what is not easily understood.
Our feelings often lack self-control, a form of stability. Emotions are kinda like computer glitches. They can freeze when we do not want them to. They can flash with varying degrees. They can be completely unstable.
So, how can something completely unstable retain itself in a self-controlled manner, in order to understand something that is difficult?
Christians are not called to use feelings to discern. We need a lot more than our feelings in order to judge righteously, check out: If We Cannot Judge, Then All Convos Are Made Void, I talk about discernment and righteous judgment much more in-depth.
While our emotions can be a large reason why we want to believe in certain things and not believe in others, the truth is that going along with our “gut feeling” might actually be wrong. “Follow your heart” is a misleading message because the heart does not know what it desires, aside from complete and utter selfishness.
The Heart Is Deceitful
It’s not surprising that our emotions reflect our constant state of self.
(ESV) Jeremiah 17:09, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
(ESV) Jeremiah 16:12, “and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.”
While the audience for Jeremiah is the Jewish people, we can take away some notes about the heart. The heart remains the same for every human.
(ESV) Romans 3:10-11, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
This scripture is referencing to the Old Testament, and it shows how both Jew and Greek cannot be righteous on his or her own. Our natural self is not about God. Our heart is deceitful. Our heart seeks after ourselves, what is pleasurable and “good” in our eyes. We see this is a main theme in the book of Judges.
(ESV) Judges 17:06, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The heart is a storehouse of emotion, likes, dislikes, worship, potential idols and other sin. The heart can be cleansed and sincere, this is only through Jesus Christ. Part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. Our heart, our emotions, must be in submission to the will of God. We can only be in control of our heart and emotions, if we have received the Holy Spirit, which happens after putting our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a battle we will have daily. Self (flesh) over the Spirit. (Luke 6:45, Hebrews 10:22, Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:17)
Sentimentalism, Righteous Judgment & God’s Wisdom
Emotions are subjective. What one person views to be true may be different than another. I really enjoy Michelle Lesley’s post on “Altar of Tone,” and I always recommend it when I can. Post Recommendation | Sacrificing Truth On The Alter Of Tone as Michelle says, “Our sensitivity to tone (of voice, of writing, someone’s demeanor, etc.) is a hindrance rather than a help to us when we refuse to evaluate the content of what someone is saying to us simply because their manner of speaking, writing, or behavior has offended our sensibilities. This is especially harmful when that content is biblical truth.”
As mentioned, God does give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), but that new heart is about seeking after Christ, not self. (In my post, If We Cannot Judge, Then All Convos Are Made Void, I talk about this a lot more.) Which means using our emotions is not how we discern Biblically because we easily can misunderstand something. But the way of the Spirit seeks after Christ. Check it out.
(ESV) John 16:08, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Part of the role of the Holy Spirit.)
(ESV) 2 Corinthians 1:12, ”For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”
We need the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of world. The world says to go with whatever we feel. But God’s word, which is where we receive His wisdom and discernment, tells us to follow Him despite what we may feel.
It’s possible we might feel uncomfortable with something someone does or says. Now, emotions do have a purpose, and it’s important we use self-control (part of the fruit of the Spirit) in deciding if something is wrong or not. We should test our emotions, as we should test all things. (1 John 4:01)
The Bible gives a ton of guidelines on what isn’t sin and what is sin to discern if words or actions are wrong. But if we are still unsure, it helps to discuss with others. If we are sensitive, maybe getting the perspective of someone who is less sensitive. Women tend to be more sensitive than men, and while there are blessings that come from being sensitive (as Michelle points out in her article), there are problems, too. The point is that we hold up everything to the Bible. We do not hold everything up to our emotions and how we feel about it.
Scripture says our mind is to be transformed. (Romans 12:02) We need to think differently than how we did in the past. We are not be reactive with our emotions, but with the wisdom of God, which is found through the righteousness of receiving Jesus Christ. Instead of self, we look to Christ for discernment.
We are to be quick to listen and slow to speak. (James 1:19) We need to stop making assumptions about people based on how they make us feel. We need to hold up what people do and say to the word of God, instead of our feelings or past experiences.
We are not perfect. We can made mistakes. We will not always know the answer. The measure we use to judge others, we will be judged by. Emotions, ironically enough, can make us EXTREMELY judgmental in an unrighteous way. We need the balance of the wisdom of God to help us discern whether or not what we feel is valid. It’s important to test our feelings and thoughts with the word of God before we react.
Please Note: I’m not saying past experiences can’t teach us beautiful lessons. What I am saying is we need to be careful from making assumptions about circumstances and people based purely on feelings and past experiences. We can easily slander someone if we think, “This person is just like all the others I know.” This is not a Biblical way to discern.
How Using Emotions To Discern Hinders Us
– False teachers will appeal to our emotions and vulnerability. Their charisma can be deceiving and because we feel good from their message, we trust them. Scripture warns we can be lead astray because myths and words are pleasant to our ears. People would rather be lied to and deceived because it’s pleasant. Lying is viewed as kind and gentle, all because someone made us feel good. Do you see the deception in this?
– Emotions can cloud the truth. When we have a bad day that doesn’t mean God isn’t loving, good, or sovereign. But emotions can cloud our way of thinking about God. Our circumstances do not define God. Emotions say circumstances DO define God. Emotions will use experience as a way to determine what is true and what isn’t. This is why many Christians fall into Christian mysticism because it makes them feel good. They believe spiritual encounters with God happen because they “feel” the experience. (Melissa Dougherty recently shared how some Christians struggle with the addiction of constantly seeking a “spiritual high” in order to feel affirmed by God. Check out: The Spiritual Damage from “Spiritual Encounters.” )
–Emotions are best friends with subjectivity. What is loving may not be loving if it doesn’t make us “feel good.” What is kind, gentle, and the most caring thing to do can be looked upon as mean-spirited simply because we don’t like how we feel about it. We can get caught up in tone and words people use when there are bigger issues that need to be tackled. (Again, I recommend Michelle Lesley’s post, Sacrificing Truth On The Alter Of Tone) Sometimes the kind, most gentle, and loving thing to do is to say something that IS unpleasant. Check out my series on sarcasm: Have You Not Read? | Sarcasm In The Bible.
Emotionalism is dangerous for Christians because it is the complete opposite of what we are suppose to do. Emotionalism relies more on self defining the truth, than the word of God and what God deems to true, gentle, kind, and loving.
Many false teachers will cater to emotions (even negative ones, like anger) because it is luring to the ears and makes individuals feel really good about themselves or at least stroke one’s pride. Unfortunately, these followers are being led straight into Hell, the most UNLOVING thing these wolves could do. And those warning about such false teachers often are thrown to flames because, “it’s not nice.” Do you see the full circle here?
We like what feels pleasant and nice. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will use that against us. We are not discerning what is most loving with the word of God, but with our feelings, instead. Truth becomes subjective. Using ourself as a guide is dangerous because we are fallen, and we can be deceived. We need to use the word of God as our guide, not our feelings.
(ESV) Jeremiah 23:32, “Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.”
If you would like to read about how the Greeks used emotional manipulation through music and experience to affect their listeners, check out this article: What The Bible Says About Emotionalism in Religion – kinda reminds me of some churches who manipulate with their music to influence their theology on their followers.
– Melissa Dougherty- Spiritual Damage from “Spiritual” Encounters
– Michelle Lesley – Sacrificing Truth On The Alter Of Tone
– Article- If I Feel It, It’s True: Responding To The Rise of Emotionalism by Hillary Morgan Ferrer
– Mike Winger (BibleThinker) 7 Lies Your Kids Will Believe Unless You Do Something – with Elizabeth Urbanowicz
Emotion. (2014). In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus(p. 355). Springfield, MA, MA: Merriam-Webster.
Emotional. (2014). In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus(p. 355). Springfield, MA, MA: Merriam-Webster.
Feeling. (2014). In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus(p. 404). Springfield, MA, MA: Merriam-Webster.
What does emotionalism mean? (n.d.). Definitions.Net. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.definitions.net/definition/emotionalism
Scripture To Memorize/Meditate On – (ESV) Romans 5:08, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
*To learn more about what Jesus did on the cross and why His atonement sacrifice is so needed please see: Why Did A Loving God Kill His Son? (Does God Hate?)
*If you do not know the Gospel, do not turn away. If you think you know the Gospel, check out these questions and see how prepared you are for the day someone might ask you why you believe: The Gospel Challenge (30 Question Quiz) – Are You Ready To Defend Your Faith?
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7 thoughts on “Should We Use Our Emotions As Truth? | What Is Emotionalism?”
““This person is just like all the others I know.” This is not a Biblical way to discern.” This is so true and million and one time I had to correct some members of Christ about this and they just didn’t understand me at all and had gotten irritated and I’ll say aggressive as well which did hurt me but of course I had to forgive and continue to pray for them. I really took my time and read this impacting message and it really broke down for me what is emotionalism. More anointing and grace to you and keep being used by the Lamb of God. ❤
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Jeremiah 17:09 tells us the heart is deceptive. Any time we try to use our emotions or experiences to discern something, we can be deceived because we are using our own understanding. Whereas we are told to trust the Lord and His understanding, which we gain through scripture. That’s how we test our own theology and false teachers. And yes, Tammy, people really struggle with their emotions. We all can get in our emotions.
And you are right, keep praying and forgiving. Because people do not know when they are deceived. I didn’t know until the Lord exposed the theology I thought was true through godly leaders explaining scripture in context.