In a recent seminar entitled, “The Dangers of Relying on Our Emotions,” two questions were posed to the group before the instruction began: “What was the emotion you experienced most strongly today” and “What emotion do you struggle with the most on a day-to-day basis?” Take into consideration the group was comprised of committed Christians, church leaders and staff, and most were either graduates or students within a biblical counseling program.
The result of this inquiry was interesting indeed, if not startling. Answers were submitted anonymously and totaled by the instructor. Out of the 31 responses, only eight conveyed a positive emotion as the dominant feeling of the day. Most reported included joy, peace, thankfulness, and happiness.
The 23 remaining answers were surprisingly negative. Frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, stress, shame, and regret were the dominant themes. How, we asked, could the Body of Christ, be so miserable? How in the presence and provision of our Lord and Savior could these feelings become the central experiences of a routine day of living?
The apostle Paul wrote:
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).
When first reading this passage, one might find the wording a bit confusing: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free…” Put simply, believers are set free to be free, unchained, and unburdened by the “yoke of slavery.” We were not set free to remain constrained. Yet this release is often undermined by the very prisoner who has been discharged from his/her cell of incarceration. In fact, we become our own jailers.
It is reminiscent of a prisoner released from prison after 10, 15, or 30 years. The door is open, yet he/she is afraid to exit. Often released prisoners quickly commit new crimes only to return to the cage from which release was granted. Frequently we hear of the fear their freedom provoked and the urgency felt to return to the familiar, restricted life, rather than proceed to the next phase.
Certainly Christians are emotional creatures; it is part of God’s human design. And clearly life events and external circumstances have impact and affect our feelings. But there is a great difference between being affected and becoming entangled.
Emotion is a critical function alerting us to danger and threat. Like an alarm system, emotions can stimulate discernment and response to a person or situation. Emotions also provide an element of our joy and contentment in life affirming the pleasures and gifts so abundantly provided by our Lord.
But the Christian life experience should be one of stability and consistency. There is tremendous danger in riding the waves of ever-changing experience. As our relationships and circumstances rise and fall, there is a truth and Presence that is stable, solid, and constant. Christians must guard themselves to the distractions and disruptions of life by looking repeatedly to Christ and finding order and structure in His Word.
Continuing in Galatians 5, Paul wrote:
“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Gal 5:7-9).
The gate was opened, your were advancing in your freedom, “…who hindered you from obeying the truth?” The apostle’s question was directed at false teachers who sought to undermine the freedom of grace with the bondage of law and ritual. He was encouraging Christians to avoid such influence and hold to the truth of the Savior’s provision with confidence and assurance.
But this question is far reaching. There are many versions of theology masked under the banners of philosophy, humanism, post-modernism, and even rationalism and intellectualism. The Christian today is inundated with false teachings coming through various sources that slowly dilute one’s devotion to the steadfast truth of the Gospel.
So what has persuaded (influenced) us toward the adoption of a secular world-view that forsakes the foundational truth and stability of our salvation? Paul assures the reader, this persuasion “…did not come from Him who calls you.” It is a notion contradictory to His very nature. And once consumed, even in a small quantity, can spread throughout a system. The “whole lump” that is leavened may be your mind, heart, and body. I might be your marriage or your entire family. And as we have seen through cultural influence, it can even advance a universal defilement believed and accepted by scores of people.
The world describes human experience as reactive. Our responses (emotional and behavioral) are subject to the external influences of life (people, finances, work, environment, etc.). But Scripture speaks to the unstable and unpredictable elements of a fallen world, and clearly warns the Christian that challenge and struggle will come while offering the sustaining and sufficient remedy that redefines our experience. Jesus said:
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
Our Lord is clear…the world is not about to change until He returns. Humans will sin and evil will advance (2 Tim 3:13). Circumstances will be hard (Phil 1:23). Yet the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) is not dependent on people or circumstances. It is dependent only upon one’s abiding relationship with Christ (Jn 15:5). When we allow ourselves to respond to the unchanging disappointments of the world, without finding modification through His divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), we bring validation to the secular worldview that leads the unbeliever astray and promotes the crippled walk of a suffering Saint.
The world is itself a fixed reality, set in motion with the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. But we rest in the confident truth that Christ has “overcome the world.” The world and its components have no true power, no authority, and no hope, except for the enduring call of the cross and the sacrificial love of the Messiah. If sin is the problem (anger, fear, anxiety, and their resulting conduct), there is no human or worldly remedy. The only remedy for sin is Christ.
When speaking of His impending death, Jesus offered the promise of His Spirit and the assurance that believers have something unknown and unavailable to the world at large. He said:
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (Jn 14:27).
Here Jesus acknowledges the world has a version of peace. But, He says, it is different, inferior to “His peace” which is given to every follower of the Savior. The world’s peace is temporal at best. It does not fill, complete, or change anything or anyone. The peace of Christ is transformational. It is not simply a provision in a time of stress or difficulty; it is life-altering, heart-changing, character-forged, and constant in its supply.
In Christ, there is no panicked response or surrender to the world’s false frame of reference and misguided solutions. In Christ there is the enduring immovable, imperishable truth that sustains and advances one through the midst of sorrow, injury, stress, and grief. Without Him, we are all in bondage to the momentary relief; the newest approach, the latest fad, the current opinion, and the transitory reasoning of a debased human mind.
The Christian must remember that as followers of Jesus, we are no longer flesh alone. We are flesh and Spirit, and our potential and our capacity is forever changed. Too often we believers revert or our fleshly state and fail to invoke the power of Christ and His resurrection.
We are encouraged to have the mind or attitude of Christ (Phil 2:5) rather than the position and impulse of the world. Our attention must be heavenly, not earthly. Our meditations are to be pure and selfless instead of lustful and self-serving. Our heart defines our character and our character promotes our manner of life. Proverbs records this truth:
“For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov 23:7).
Therefore, the Christian must constantly attend to the focus, devotion, and meditations of the heart, knowing that the source of our investment will produce either a fruitful or barren yield. Scripture is clear regarding the rules of crop production:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7).
If we sow into the world’s growing field, we will reap a secular crop. But if we invest and plant ourselves in the pure soil of Christ, our production is pure, godly, and abundant. The fruit that is spiritual abounds. Paul continues his assertion of this point in the following way:
“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:8-9).
Sowing to the flesh is in fact service of the flesh. It is the taking of temporal relief and the answering of desire, over the transformational gift of Christ. It is a devotion to self which is never satisfied and will soon burn again with the urgent plea for relief. Devotion to Christ builds a sustaining, substantial quality within the believer that remains steadfast, perseverant, and empowered to complete what is a human impossibility.
Regrettably we “grow weary” and we do “lose heart.” But this is not because His capacity is lacking. Rather our fatigue is a product of this alternate persuasion discussed earlier. We fall prey and surrender to the destructive teachings of the humanistic world that advance the theories of a victimized life, environmental and biochemical dominance, and human inability to change.
Simple though it may sound, the truth of Jesus’ words is undeniable:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).
But what does this really mean? What things will be added to you? Often we fail to read well-known passages in full context. When we do, the meaning is greatly expanded. In fact, this often-memorized verse of Scripture is placed in the center of the Lord’s teaching on the emotions of worry and fear:
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:25-34)
So what is added through our proper pursuit of the Kingdom?
- The provision of God who knows everything we need before we ask.
- The sovereignty of God that foreshadows life and cannot be changed. It is God’s will that controls the universe, not ours. When our gaze is fixed on Him, then we no longer wrestle for dominance of what He has already ordained.
- Peace is promised in our surrender to truth and the faithful reliance upon His hand; acceptance of His design; and surrender to His love that seeks only to answer our true need and secures our eternity.
- We don’t have to know what to do; we need only to follow the One who is the provider of all matters pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3).
This passage is not about food and clothing alone. It is a lesson pertaining to all factors of life, relationship, circumstance, and need. Our fretting, toiling, worry, and fear reflect our lack of Kingdom focus. Our anger with matters, not to our liking, is most often based in self-centered desire over Kingdom serving activity. Everything that God ordains is for our good and His glory. Faith is tantamount to trust in His perfect will.
In this passage, Jesus rebukes the worried for their “little faith.” Is it no wonder our destructive emotions and the deleterious effects they render, are grounded in misplaced faith in the world’s solutions. Isn’t it amazing we can trust Christ with our salvation, but we fail to trust Him with our marriages, children, and finances? We surrender our hearts yet insist upon controlling aspects of life only He can influence. When we divide ourselves from His promises and His presence, we are fighting against a wind only the Savior can calm.
Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:36-41).
In the midst of the disciples’ panic, the Lord teaches again that the storm is not the problem. The threat to security is internal, not external. Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid?” In essence: “Did you forget Who you are with? Have you forgotten what you have seen?” Once again He provides the correction we should dread to hear: “Do you still have no faith?”
Life is unsteady at best. It is a roller coaster of experiences with no particular pattern or end. Christ and His Word are imperishable and eternal (1 Pet 1:23-25), empowering (Luke 10:19), sufficient (2 Cor 12:9), life giving (Jn 4:14), and unchanging (Heb 13:8).
The remedy of Christ for toxic emotion is not an exercise, plan, directive, or rule. The remedy of Christ is Himself…His very presence. With Him, the conundrum of this world is negotiated with grace and empowerment that cannot be fully explained, and often is rejected. When we neglect our relationship to the Lord, we become focused on the world and our personal desires. When divided we grow vulnerable to explanations and plans that did not come from Him. Our faith is now misplaced; given to personal ability and worldly philosophy.
Believers know that if God withdrew His hand, the universe would fly into particles, yet we believe He can take His hand from us and we will be just fine!
Challenge yourself today:
Evaluate your faith. [Rom 1:16-17, Rom 5:1-2, Rom 10:17, 1 Cor 2:1-5, 1 Cor 16:13, 2 Cor 13:5, Heb 11:6, and 2 Tim 2:22]
Test the focus of your heart? On what or whom do you meditate and depend? [Mark 12:30-32, John 15:5, Phil 4:809, and Heb 12:1-2]
Examine the source of your emotion. [Ps 37:8, Ps 38:18, Prov 16:32, Mark 7:14-15, 21-23, 1 Tim 1:5, Heb 4:12, and Jas 4:1-3]
Finally, evaluate your position with the Savior. [Is 59:1-2, Matt 4:17, John 15:5, Eph 2:13, Heb 4:16, and Jas 4:8]
As Christians we cannot accept daily sorrow, fear, bitterness, and dread as the normal expressions of life. People and circumstances will fail but we are declared victorious! Not because we are strong, talented, or gifted, but because our Lord and Savior is our all in all. As Paul wrote:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:18-23).
Larry Creamer, M.Div. is the Senior Pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Appleton, WI and faculty member of the Biblical Counseling Institute. He also serves as overseer and director of the ValleyConnex Biblical Counseling Center.
Ab Abercrombie, Ph.D. is the founder and director of the Biblical Counseling Institute based in Fairhope, AL and teaches nationally on the subjects of biblical counseling, discipleship, and transformation. He further serves as Associate Pastor of Biblical Counseling at Rocky Bayou Baptist Church in Niceville, FL.