Emotions and Affections

Recently I was talking with a few brothers when one of them raised some interesting questions. His (paraphrased) questions went something like this: What is the proper place for emotion in the Christian Life? More specifically, how can we be continually affected by the Gospel in everyday life? And what of the Christian who has grown up in the Church, and who’s love for the Gospel has grown slowly with understanding? (I don’t really answer any of these questions; this post is an introduction of sorts. Hopefully I can answer and connect these questions in subsequent ones. I just wanted to get all my thoughts out on this before I forget.)

Let me start off by saying that the fight to feel, and to be affected by the things of God, is the chief struggle in my life. Honestly it scares the heck out of me. Why? Because to have the right emotions and affections for God is entirely out of our control. If you lack knowledge of God you can solve the problem by studying the Bible. If you’re always gossiping, you can solve the problem by disciplining yourself and seeking to be an encouragement instead. Of course, God is needed to work in us, but we still retain a certain amount of “control”. It is not so with emotions and affections. You cannot make yourself feel harder; you cannot make yourself truly affected by something you are not already. The fight to love God in our hearts simply cannot be forced by sheer will-power or discipline. It is God alone, who can transform the heart to be affected by His glorious Gospel.

And what’s more scary? This is not a secondary or peripheral battle in the Christian life, it is the most important one. The Westminister Catechism ask the question: “What is the chief end of man?” It’s answer? To glorify God, and enjoy him forever. And so we find that to enjoy God forever — to be rightly affected by the Gospel, and to feel proper emotions towards it, is the very purpose for our existence! If we lose this battle of loving, and marveling at the Gospel, we fail in the very thing we were created for!

I lose this battle more often that I would like to admit. There are days, and even extended seasons when I wake up, and I simply do not care about the Gospel, I am unaffected by the Word of God, and prayer feels ineffective. Oh, how I want to radically love the Gospel in my heart! How I long to feel what I ought to feel when I hear of my Savior on the cross for my sin! But too often my heart is hard as rock. In this state the doubts start to creep in: What if these emotions and affections you long for never come? What if they don’t even truly exist? And perhaps this will shed some light on my struggles addressed in my last post: What if Jesus isn’t worth it? What if this is all a sham?

There is so much I can say on this. and this will undoubtedly be a frequently occurring topic in my blog. However in the interest of keeping this at a reasonable length, I’ll end with three observations: one an exhortation for myself, one an important reminder, and the other a truth that I take comfort in.

1. Fighting to marvel at the Gospel cannot be passive:

Jeremiah 29:13 famously says this: “13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We do not wait around lazily for joy to arrive. No, we fight hard for joy. As I established earlier, enjoying God through the Gospel is the purpose for which we were made. Christ did not die to rescue us into a life of dreary intellectual knowledge. He saved us so that we might look upon Him, and be overwhelmed at His glory. He saved us so that our affections would burn for him alone, and our emotions would be passionately joyful and thankful in his presence. We cannot lose this battle. A Christian that is emotionless, and unaffected by the Gospel is not a Christian at all. If I find that I struggle to marvel at the Gospel, I must not take it lightly. I must be active, passionate, and focused on fighting to marvel in the Gospel. I must diligently seek joy in His Word, and earnestly plead for eyes to see his beauty in my prayers. I must fight with every ounce of my being, while still knowing that what I’m seeking comes from God alone.

2. It is the Gospel that allows us to see:

A few weeks ago I spoke on “The Marvelous Gospel” from Psalms 118:21-24. In that message, I spoke on what makes the Gospel so amazing: Jesus’ unfathomable humility, our total depravity, God’s unexplainable love at the Cross, His power in the resurrection, and His glorious plan all wrapped in this thing we call the Gospel. Intellectually, we must understand why the Gospel is marvelous, but that is only half the battle. One can understand everything mentioned above and still be cold to it. Our hearts and heads must work in unison.

So where does the heart marveling, and the deep emotional response come from? Ironically, the way we marvel at the Gospel is through the Gospel itself! We were dead in our trespasses, with no ears to hear, eyes to see, or tongue to taste the goodness of God. Dead. Dead people don’t feel anything, nor are they affected by anything. But God being rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ by grace you have been saved! (Ephesians 2:5) It is Christ who fulfills what is foretold in Ezekiel 11:19: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” This is as true now, as it was at the moment of salvation. Christ brings joy. He does what no amount of intellectual knowledge could ever do: he transforms hearts of stone into hearts that feel, and hearts that are affected by the Gospel. In this fight to feel, and to be affected,  may I never stray far from the Cross.

3. God is all about His Glory:

This is important to remember as we seek to respond afresh to the Gospel everyday. God is infinitely beautiful, and the origin of all joy and He is not interested in keeping it to himself. The saint who honestly seeks to love the Gospel in his heart asks for a noble thing, and it is a request that God will be faithful to fulfill. God loves for his glory to be seen, and rejoiced in by his people. And as Piper famously says, “God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in Him.” If God is all about his Glory, we can be confident that when we seek His beauty He will be faithful to show it to us.

To those of you along with myself who are entrenched in this daily battle, let me end with a quote by Spurgeon. He says:

If you long for him, he much more longs for you.  No sinner was ever half as eager for Christ as Christ is eager for the sinner; no saint was ever one-tenth as anxious to behold his Lord as his Lord is to behold him.  If you are running to Christ, he is already near you.  If you sigh for his presence, that sigh is the evidence that he is with you.  He is with you even now; therefore, be glad!

quick note: I realize emotions and affections may not be the best choice of words to encapsulate what I’m trying to talk about. We cannot rely solely upon emotions; they come and go, and are no substitute for faithful commitment. However, I feel too often we downplay, and thus neglect this aspect of the Christian Life. Why? We fear the disconnect between what we intellectually profess, and what we actually feel. The battle to be emotionally affected is at it’s core a battle to find joy and marvel in the Gospel. If we proclaim the Gospel is the most beautiful thing, the greatest news, and our only hope; should not our emotions and affections be in tune with that?

Part 2’s coming soon!

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2 thoughts on “Emotions and Affections

  1. I never thought about the Westminister Catechism with the emphasis on the enjoyment of Christ until reading this blog. This made me wonder if a Christian can attain salvation with more or less only a intellectual decision that Christianity is true and little else. In other words, how much is loving Jesus Christ required to be saved?

    Because demons know, oh they KNOW, that Jesus is God. They know how all the events in revelations is going to utterly destroy them. But they are doomed to destruction. The demons have much better theology than we do, so it’s definitely not head knowledge that makes one a true Christian. If anything, this is just food for thought.

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