Emotions. We were created with them whenever we were formed in the image of God. They are amoral – neither right nor wrong in and of themselves. They can be invoked and changed easily and instantly, well, unless you are Chuck Norris…
All of this being said, what role do emotions play in the kingdom of God? Our Heavenly Father’s anger burned toward people (Exodus 4:14), He even calls Himself a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). In fact, He even hates things (Deuteronomy 12:31). Jesus cried (John 11:35). The Holy Spirit grieves (Ephesians 4:30). If God, Himself experiences these emotions, then they obviously can’t be sinful or wrong, right?
In our own lives, there are obviously times when our emotions are pure and bring honor and glory to God; especially as we worship Him and are overwhelmed by His presence. However, there are obviously also times when our emotions tempt us to stumble and act in ways contradictory to the way in which we’ve been called to live by God; like when I want to punch someone in the face.
How do we discern the difference? How do we manage our emotions since they come instantly and are real and valid? This morning, we’ll learn these things as we learn to live beyond our feelings and gain 20/20 vision for our lives!
We’re starting this morning with the people of Israel in Exodus 20. They have just been delivered from their slavery in Egypt. Moses has climbed Mount Sinai and has been given the 10 commandments, God’s code of conduct for this brand new nation to live by.
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Here, we find one of the most practical displays of the impact that emotion has on our relationship with God. What we’re about to learn are the fundamental basics of Christianity that we too often forget!
What separates us from God?
Right! The one thing that separates us from God (as far as He is concerned) is sin.
Sin is either doing what we should not do:
But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.
as well as not doing the things that we are supposed to do:
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
However, Israel was not separated from God by their sin in this case. In fact, the entire assembly there has consecrated and purified themselves so that all sin was atoned for! In this case, the people separated themselves from God because of their emotions. They felt afraid and so they refused to listen to God and even physically distanced themselves from Him.
Unfortunately, this occurs all too often in our lives. We allow our feelings to control us. Instead of eagerly listening to hear from God, instead of drawing near to God, instead of doing what we are supposed to do, instead of behaving as we are supposed to behave, we do the exact opposite because of how we feel. We’ve all been there and all done it, too.
Sin is the only thing that separates us from God, as far as He is concerned. However, we can choose to separate ourselves from God, as well as from others, for a vast array of reasons. These reasons are more often than not, derived from our emotions.
We cause divisions amongst ourselves because:
I feel like that person doesn’t like me.
I feel hurt by that person.
I feel jealous of that person.
I feel intimidated by that person.
I feel afraid because of what that person might think.
I feel annoyed by that person.
Not only do these feelings cause division amongst the body of Christ, but even worse! These same feelings keep us distanced from people headed straight for hell unless we overcome our feelings and both be and speak the gospel to them.
What is the key in all of this? Our emotions are real and valid. They are not wrong to have. However, they can cause us to sin if we choose to live by our feelings instead of living by faith! God is calling us to live beyond our feelings and to have 20/20 vision.
Where does this 20/20 vision come from that enables us to live beyond our feelings?
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
Do not be afraid, God wants you to fear. When we first read this, it sounds contradictory and hypocritical. However, this is just another one of the perfect paradoxes that exists in God’s kingdom. When you remember the context of what we just learned about, your perspective on this statement begins to go from confusing and fuzzy to logical and crystal clear.
Moses knew the heart and intent of God. The entire purpose and intent that God had in mind by this physical encounter with God that tested Israel was to eliminate any separation between them and Him. He wanted to be close to Israel and to reveal Himself to them. He wanted them to be His people and for Him to be their God. For this to happen, they had to have a very sincere and powerful fear of and reverence toward God so that they would not sin. God wanted to keep them from sin, which keeps them close to Him.
Unfortunately, feeling afraid, Israel ran away from God instead of away from sin.
Fear was not the issue here! God wanted them to fear. They were not wrong for feeling afraid. However, He wanted them to fear sin and not Himself. The issue was introduced by Israel’s choice – the choice that they made in how to respond to their feelings.
Our response to our feelings is a choice, which is why were are held accountable for it. Israel was not wrong for feeling afraid, they were wrong for their chosen response to their feeling of fear. Instead of choosing to draw near to God and to trust that He had only the best in mind for them, they chose to separate from God trusting that their feelings meant that God intended to harm them.
This is what give us 20/20 vision and enables us to live beyond our emotions. We accept and acknowledge our feelings. They are from God and have a purpose. However, we choose to trust in God and to be obedient to His word regardless of our feelings.
This is where our faith is put to the test to see what we truly believe! Is God good? Is God faithful? Is God trustworthy? Does God really care about me? How we truly answer these questions is not with our words, but with our actions whenever these questions are put to the test and we have to choose whether to obey Him or to obey our feelings.
The absolute greatest example of this came from Jesus, Himself.
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
Jesus reached a point in His life where He just wanted a way out. He even prayed for it. He didn’t want to have to endure the things that He knew were coming. He was completely overwhelmed. He was sorrowful to the point of death. He made a choice.
Think about it, Jesus didn’t want to take on the cross. He didn’t feel like it. Neither did anyone in scripture who did anything great through the power of God. However, He chose to do the Heavenly Father’s will over that of His own. Jesus overcame and lived beyond His emotions. As a result, the power of sin and death were crushed, the veil was torn, the single and narrow path had been pioneered into the kingdom of Heaven by the sinless blood shed by Jesus.
When our faith is put to the test, how will we choose to respond? Will we allow our emotions to guide and steer the course of our lives? Will we allow our feelings to become a cage that keeps us from all that God has destined us for? Will we allow our feelings to mold us into a savage beast that tears others apart because we, ourselves are hurt?
Will we live beyond our emotions? Will we allow God to be God in our lives? Will we allow God to heal us when others hurt us? Will we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony? Will we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven victorious having run the good race and fought the good fight? Will we hear well done, good and faithful servant?
The feelings and emotions will be exactly the same in either case. The difference is the choice that we make in response to them. God is calling us and expecting us to be a people of faith, not a people of feelings.