Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [logikos = reasonable] service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2
Feelings. We all have them. They are a whole zoo of different varieties: urges, drives, emotions, “hunches”, moods, sensitivities, sensations, affections, desires, instincts, attitudes, prejudices, and a multitude of other types of subjective feelings which have yet to be named or catalogued. Feelings are a force to be reckoned with! It often seems that we are carried about on every wind and wave of emotion, helpless to do anything about it. When we finally begin to think we are stepping on the solid ground of reason and objective facts, a wave of feeling comes over us and we are once again at sea. Yet many times we revel in our feelings. Those who are newly “in love” do not want to be brought back to terra firma. Many a couple in pre-marital counseling will stoutly resist any attempt to help them see themselves or their soon-to-be partner for life (hopefully) in the light of all the relevant facts. Later, when the marriage shows the inevitable cracks and fault-lines that were plainly there prior to marriage, the couple is shocked and surprised. They sometimes feel that they are the victims of fraud!
On the other hand, what would life be without feelings? The quintessential fictional character of absolute reason who almost completely rid himself of feelings is Spock, of the original Star Trek television series. His Vulcan culture trained its members to root out every vestige of subjectivity and emotion and act only upon objective fact and logic. But the truth is, we cannot entirely eliminate our faculty of feeling – nor should we try to. We were created to be sentient, feeling beings, like the God whose image we bear. One of the terrible conditions the Bible warns against is to be “seared… in conscience, as with a hot branding iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2) Seared flesh can no longer feel. A seared conscience is one that no longer makes us feel bad when we do bad things or good when we do good things. The Bible frequently promises good feelings to those who trust in God and do His will, feelings of love, joy, peace, contentment, fullness and exaltation, sometimes even to the extent of provoking laughter, dancing and the spiritual equivalent of inebriation!
The fact is, feelings out of control or separated from the facts are what get us into trouble. But when feelings come under the control of facts, reason and divine revelation, they become mighty engines to aid in our efforts to do the will of God. That is why Paul gives the advice he does in Romans 12:1-2. The world, that is, the cultural collective of those who do not know and love God, is controlled by feelings, insufficiently constrained by the facts of God’s word. To be sure, even the lowest demon, let alone a fairly civilized human, has feelings that are affected to some degree by facts, even by those facts which only God can reveal to us. James writes, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19) So, while the world does confess and respond to some truth it is not to the whole truth. Feelings still play the main part with fact following after. Followers of Jesus, on the other hand, have agreed to a life with Him of bearing the cross, going against their feelings whenever those feelings are false to the truth.
Paul says to us, first of all to present our bodies “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” which is our “spiritual [logikos = reasonable] service of worship.” Why the NAS and NIV translators rendered “logikos” as “spiritual” I cannot say, for the word means “logical” or “reasonable”. The world worships the body and puts first priority on meeting its demands. These demands come to us in the form of feelings to do, or refrain from doing, various things. Often these demands are reasonable, but not always. We are to offer our bodies to fulfill God’s purpose and will, just as Jesus did. Only God’s will is fully right and reasonable.
The second thing necessary to put feelings in their proper place, as Paul says, is to “be transformed by the renewing of” our minds. The mind here is understood as distinct from the feelings, affections and inclinations of the heart. The intellectual, cognitive and rational part of our nature, informed by the revelation of God is to take the lead. The mind therefore, needs renewing. It must meditate upon truth as God reveals it. It must see that truth with sufficient clarity and depth so that it may generate feelings that counter the force of those feelings moving us away from doing God’s will. This, of course, requires two basic ingredients: 1) the words of God and 2) the work of the Holy Spirit. When the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, He appealed to Christ’s feelings, as John summarized it, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”. (1 John 2:16) Not that Christ indulged these feelings at all but He was indeed “tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) And how did Christ overcome these temptations? He remembered and recited the appropriate words of God to counter them. In this, He was no doubt guided and aided by the Holy Spirit with whose power He had been recently endued and under whose power and guidance He was led into the wilderness. (Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2) Fasting and prayer were useful for maintaining that close contact with the Spirit which He needed to overcome the power of feelings that, if indulged, would lead Him to disobey His heavenly Father.
Feelings are good but they are meant to be guided by facts. God is the only One who has a full knowledge of the facts and who is, in fact, the greatest Fact of all! When feelings trump the facts of God they lead us contrary to the will of God. We must continually fill our minds with God’s truth, meditating upon it, seeing its various applications and admiring its many beauties, depending upon God to use His truth to renew our minds and purify our feelings. Then, instead of being conformed to this fallen, sinful world, we will become more and more like Jesus Christ and therefore useful to God and truly useful to the world. Feelings, instead of an enemy can become a wonderful ally when they are controlled and produced by the facts as God sees them.