Feelings Or Faith
The nineties may well go down in history as the decade of feeling. Feelings clearly determine the values and standards of our times. Feeling good about ourselves is the mark of the good life. Feeling good is considered our birthright, and anyone who interferes with our good feelings has wronged us.
Schools encourage this attitude. I recall visiting the principal of a school which was adopting a new educational policy. Each student made a contract with the school and when he arrived in the morning he could do whatever he felt like doing that day. I have not heard the results in that school, but the results of such education are evident in our society. Multitudes of able bodied people are depending on others for their livelihood simply because they feel more like loafing than working.
Feelings have become the test of morality. “If it feels good, do it” is a popular motto. “How can this be wrong when it feels so right?” is a question asked in a familiar song. More than one jury has acquitted an obviously guilty criminal simply because they felt good about him. And the grossly immoral conduct of more than one executive has been tolerated because people felt good about how things were going.
In religion, as well as in other areas of thought, people now talk more about how they feel than about what they believe. Years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to leave an assembly disturbed by what I had preached, saying, “I don’t believe that, and I am going to take my Bible and prove you wrong.” Now they say, “I don’t feel as you do on this subject” and go their way and think no more about it.
Some judge the success of a worship service by how good they feel when it is finished. Churches often cater to this by introducing various devices to produce those good feelings, and attendance grows. One problem with this is that such devices must continually be upgraded as the old ones cease to have the desired effect, and before long activities are introduced which are not authorized in scripture. Any criticism of such practices, however, is refuted by pointing to their rapid numerical growth.
Another problem is that those who are not right with God need to feel bad about themselves. Godly sorrow is necessary to produce repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Nathan’s rebuke left David feeling bad about himself, but it was his salvation. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord … No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5, 11).
Justifying our conduct by feelings is a cop-out. We do not feel obligated to defend our feelings, for no one else can know how we feel. But our beliefs must be defended; we are expected to be able to give reasons for what we believe.
Is right and wrong determined by feelings or by faith? Not one word in scripture justifies anything on the basis of feeling. “We walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
The demands of faith and those of feeling often conflict. The heroes of faith featured in scripture often acted contrary to their feelings. Would you suppose that Abraham “felt like” leaving his homeland for an unknown destination, or offering his son on an altar? Yet, he did those things by faith (Hebrews 11:9–18). Do you think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego “felt like” defying the king’s command to worship his image, knowing that a fiery furnace was already prepared for those who did? Or that Daniel really “felt like” praying openly to Jehovah when he knew that hungry lions were waiting to feast on one who did so?
Read Paul’s lists of things he endured as recorded in 1 Corinthians 4, 2 Corinthians 6 and 11 and ask if he really “felt like” preaching. In 2 Corinthians 5:12 he summarizes it all by saying, “death is working in us.” Why did he continue preaching? The next verses gives the answer: “But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul acted by faith, not by feeling.
Many justify absence from worship or failure to study and pray because, “I just don’t feel like it and if I don’t feel like it, it will do no good.” When we are tempted to think this way it is time to revisit Gethsemane.” See that suffering sinless one weeping, praying there alone.” And what is His petition? “O My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Does He feel like going to the cross? Obviously not! Yet, he adds, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
When Feelings say “NO” to any duty, Faith says, “Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as You will.” Only then do we have a right to “feel good about ourselves.”
God’s Absolute Faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith
Righteousness by faith: the character or quality of being right—in God’s sight—and that, not on the basis of our own merit or goodness, but, by faith.
A search for the beginning of such righteousness takes us back to the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis. Consider the following:
Abel. “By faith Abel … obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel, righteous? Had not Abel sinned? How could Abel be viewed as righteous, even by the Lord Himself? The answer lies in the fact that Abel’s righteousness was not based on his own sinlessness or merit; his was a righteousness by faith.
Noah. “By faith … became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Abraham. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). So significant is the fact that Abraham was accounted righteous by faith rather than by any merit of his own, that the statement is repeated in the book of James (2:23), in the book of Galatians (3:6), and several times in the book of Romans (4:3, 9, 22).
Righteousness by faith: a theme beginning in Genesis, but continuing throughout scripture. The theme reaches its climax in the book of Romans, where the “faith” by which one is proclaimed “righteous” is defined as faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). This righteousness had been “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21); was manifested in the death of Jesus whose blood became the propitiation (Romans 3:25); and is now “revealed” in the gospel (Romans 1:16, 17). The Holy Spirit in Romans reveals clearly that this righteousness is not the result of perfect law keeping, but of Cod’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:7, 8). Accountable beings have lived in different dispensations and under different laws, but all who are saved eternally will have been (1) saved by the blood of Jesus and (2) proclaimed righteous on the basis of faith.
Not One’s Own Righteousness
One cannot be saved on the basis of his own righteousness. The reason is stated clearly in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All the righteous deeds one may practice cannot erase one sin. One is therefore dependent on Gods grace. He must come to a righteousness which is of God: “But when the kindness and the love of Cod our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5). The Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” and in their self-righteousness, they “despised others” (Luke 18:9). Arrogance and contempt for others are inevitable outgrowths of self-righteousness. But when one comes in faith to be proclaimed righteous through God’s forgiveness he can only “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
What kind of faith is under consideration in the expression “righteousness by faith”? Clearly, it is an active, obedient faith.
Consider Abel’s faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).
Consider Noah’s faith: “By faith Noah … prepared an ark … and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Consider Abraham’s faith: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son on the altar … And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (James 2:21–23). Abraham demonstrated a faith that not only could believe anything God said, but would do anything God told him to do. This is the faith that results in righteousness—the righteousness which is of God.
When one places his faith in Jesus Christ rather than in his own righteousness, and submits to His command to “repent and he baptized” (Acts 2:38), he finds in Him “remission of sins;” he has become righteous on the basis of faith. As he continues a life of submission and obedience to the Lord, humbly asking forgiveness for his failures, he still rejoices in righteousness by faith. Then when he reaches the end of life, he can rejoice with Paul in being “found in Him, not having my own righteousness … but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God be faith” (Philippians 3:9). This is “rejoicing in the Lord.” Herein lies man’s hope!
The Faithful God
Discipline in the Home
by David Posey
I’M WRITING THIS on the Monday following Father’s day. My son has recently moved away and begun his career, and will be getting married in August. My daughter just graduated high school and will be attending Florida College in the fall. In other words, at our house, the disciplinary die is cast. All I hope for now is that the decisions my wife and I made during the past 18–22 years have been mostly wise ones. Did we “train them up in the way they should go”? (Proverbs 22:6)? We take some comfort in the promise of that passage, but still remember that it is a proverb, not an ironclad guarantee. So, like all Christian parents, we pray that our upbringing will lead to Christ being formed in them.
I don’t mean to imply that discipline is a matter of luck, or that the Bible doesn’t give us instruction in the matter. As Branch Rickey once said about baseball, “Luck is the residue of design.” Discipline requires design as well as hard work. The Bible provides the design, and we supply the hard work, along with fervent prayer. Of course, in the end, children make their own choices, and parents hold their breath.
We cannot force children to become Christian adults, but we can train them to be. It takes discipline. By “discipline,” I do not mean “spanking.” Spanking is an important part of the whole, but it is just a part. Proper discipline requires the use of a whole satchel of tools, including correction, nurturing, encouraging and warning (see Ephesians 6:4). Discipline requires setting some real boundaries and defining rules of proper behavior in the home. It demands that parents be parents and treat their children as children.
The dictionary defines discipline as “training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. The “specific character or pattern of behavior” which Christian parents are trying to achieve is holiness (Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 1:15–16). Every step in the training process is designed to raise up Christian children. In comparison, nothing else matters, and the children know that. Education, job, and social skills are secondary. We always told our kids that we didn’t care if they were ditch-diggers, as long as they were Christians. If our children do not clearly observe that priority in us, what can we expect of them?
Hebrews 12:5–11 connects discipline with love. God loves us and disciplines (“chastens”) us. Likewise, if parents love their children, they discipline them. This is love in the fullest sense of the word—doing what is best for the child, not what feels best to the parent. Afterward—not before!—it yields the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11). Unfortunately, we live in an age of instant gratification. We want the results without the work. But any discipline takes time and work, and this is especially true in trying to mold these little minds and hearts into God-fearing men and women.
Researchers have shown that children desperately want this discipline. James Dobson illustrated this by removing the fences that encircled a school yard. Did the children run out in the street, delighted with their new-found freedom? No, instead they huddled in the middle of the playground. For a small child, a school (or a home) without boundaries and rules can be a very frightening place.
If discipline is this crucial, then it deserves all the time and effort we can give it. A survey in Maryland found that, on average, parents spend just 15 minutes per week in meaningful dialogue with their children. Sounds like many parents want to raise their children like the operate their TV set—by remote control! Without time and effort, we sacrifice our children on the altar of Murphy Brown and MTV, and they will not produce Christians.
Discipline is the best-rewarded hard work and the most tragic easy work there is. It is at once time-consuming, tedious, frustrating and exhausting. But, if you’re a parent, it is the most important work you do. It has far-reaching effects on the church and the world. But it takes time, your time (see Deuteronomy 6:6ff). Discipline is instruction, so we take time to tell the child how to discern between right and wrong. Discipline is training, so we take the time to show him how to function, and then let him try and fail, and try and fail again (that’s frustrating!). Discipline is correction, so we take the time and energy to help him adjust his attitude and behavior, not just lash out at him in anger when he makes a mistake.
Communication comes before correction. Before we punish a child for disobedience, he needs to know precisely what we expect of him. When the child obeys, we ought to show our approval. But when he violates the (clearly stated) rules, swift and firm correction must follow. We must both clarify the rules and then enforce them (Proverbs 29:15 says that permissiveness brings shame to the mother). The child may need a spanking (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13–14, though “rod” may well refer to both verbal and corporeal punishments), but there are other alternatives as well. Betty Chase, in Discipline Them, Love Them (David C. Cook Publishing) lists six methods of corrective discipline, beginning with communication, and including spanking. For a simple example, “logical consequences” would require the child to clean up his own mess. “Natural consequences” means the child suffers the consequence of his or her action (e.g., if little Sally refuses to wear a sweater to school, let her be cold for a day). Knowing and using more than one form of corrective discipline can make a spanking more effective.
Sensitive, godly parents are well aware of the challenges facing them today. It sometimes seems overwhelming. But you can rise above the crowd, and train up children who will grow to love the Lord. God promises wisdom, if we will ask for it (James 1:15). By the grace of God, you can do this job. You must do it. Parents, “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Christianity Magazine: September–October 1992, Volume 9, Number 8. 1992. Christianity Magazine: Jacksonville, FL