Emotions and the Christian Life

by Paula Muysenberg

It's happened again. You've had a run-in with a sister in Christ—the same fellow believer who has spoken sharply to you before. Why does she seem annoyed, despite your efforts to be courteous? You feel hurt and frustrated, but what can you do about it?

How do feelings relate to our walk with God? Even our Christian culture gives conflicting answers:

  • "Follow your feelings. Do what your heart is telling you to do."
  • "Do what's right, whether you feel like it or not. Act the way God wants you to, and over time your emotions will follow."
  • "Feelings are amoral; they're neither right nor wrong."
  • Our emotions can either hinder or enrich our relationship with God. They can lead us to rely on ourselves or to depend more fully on Jesus.

Our feelings result from the way we view people and circumstances. NonChristians have no choice but to interpret life via their own flawed human nature, the flesh. But those of us who have placed our trust in Christ are united with Him through the Holy Spirit. Our union with Christ gives us the capacity to see everything from God's point of view. We are no longer under the control of our fleshly human nature.

Unfortunately, the flesh continues to push its self-centered perspective, and our emotions follow suit. We may try to respond in a godly way, yet we are starting from a wrong assessment. We lean on our own understanding (Pro 3:5-7), and obey our feelings.

But could our emotions serve us instead? What if we use our feelings as reminders to seek God's view? Maybe that impatient food server needs someone to extend God's grace to him today. Perhaps the judgmental mom in your play group needs to experience God's compassion through a Christian sister. Looking to God teaches us to walk humbly with one another, recognizing He alone knows the full story.

God may not give specific guidance for every challenge, but He shows us in His Word how He wants us to relate to others. He can bring those truths back to our minds, as we look to Him for grace moment by moment.

The New Testament uses a variety of illustrations, to encourage us to seek God's perspective and draw on His grace. Jesus urged His followers to "abide" in Him, just as a branch must remain connected to the vine (Jn 15:1-5).

The apostle Paul summed up the Christian life this way: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20. See also Gal 5:16-25 and Rom 6.

These are encouraging passages, but how do we put them into practice? It's easy to trust God one moment, but react in the flesh the next. As a starting point, consider the following questions. You might find it helpful to write out your thoughts on one or two of them, or to discuss them with another believer.

  • What feelings do you hesitate to acknowledge to yourself and to God? How do you believe God wants to minister to you in these areas?
  • What truths about God encourage you to talk honestly with Him about emotions you struggle with?
  • Which situations especially tempt you to follow the interpretation of your flesh? How could you prepare for these challenges ahead of time?
  • How might God use your feelings to warn you when you are relying on yourself? What Scriptures remind you to draw on God's infinite resources?
  • In what practical ways do you believe Jesus wants to love your family and others through you?
  • Here are links to other Bold Grace articles, which can help you think through ways to apply these truths.

"Expression, Not Suppression"

"Our Inability, His Ability"