Last night’s study was centered around this idea: We do not live by feelings, but by conviction. Here are the notes:
Question: How do I know what is real? Specifically, how do I know what is real about God—how do I know if God is real? And how do I know him if he is? And how do I know God is with me? How do I know that the things that the Bible says about God are real? In America, feelings, including visceral experience, are considered the ultimate proof that something is real. But consider: how many of us struggle because we don’t sense or “feel” God’s presence? …and consider this: if I suggest that you don’t need to feel God’s presence, for a lot of people that immediately makes their minds think that I’m trying to pull one over on you, that I’m going to suggest that you just take someone’s word for it without any proof…and the proof would be—that you really feel it?
For instance, in the Bible, God says:
He exists. He is God. He made the earth.
He is everywhere. He is close.
He made me.
He hears my prayers. He cares about my life.
He is working out his plan for the whole world.
So how do I know if all of this is true? A lot of people talk like the way they know these things is that they have a constant feeling of God’s love, or a visceral sense of God close by, or they hear God speaking all the time. But what about if and when you don’t feel these things. A lot of times we just conclude that…well, either it’s all fake, and those people are lying or just fooling themselves or whatever, or that maybe it’s real for those other people but for some reason it’s not real for me, so…I’m done with all of it. Maybe God doesn’t love me. Maybe I’m not chosen. Maybe I’m just spiritually dull. Who knows?
But what if the issue has to do with how we’re trying to know what’s real? Because of course, the bible does not say that our feelings are the ultimate proof of something. In fact, it seems to indicate just the opposite. Consider verses like these…
Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:5-10)
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26 )
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
The bible does not say that our feelings, or even our senses, are the ultimate proof that something is true. It points in a different direction:
The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:1)
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
God’s word is ultimate proof. If he says it, it is true. And if he says it, it’s because it is true, and he never lies.
So here’s the crucial question: How can I know that? How can I know it’s true? How can it go from being true out there to being something that I am aware of as true? How can I connect to this truth or be convinced of this truth?
Now, the bible is very clear that one day soon, when Jesus returns, and puts everything in the world right, we will have all the experience we could ever need. Every sense, and all the emotions and feelings inside, will be flooded with the reality of everything God every promised. Why isn’t that happening now? The bible says it’s because God is allowing humanity to have its way for a time—and typically our way is to ignore God, deny him, create lies that obscure his truth, offend his Spirit with sin—in other words, all of humanity is on a quest to drive God away from our consciousness. And so that creates a world where we’re all influenced by these things, and it becomes a battle to know God and hear his voice amidst all the noise and lies. So it’s not that God is anti-experience, but it’s that right now, we can’t rely on experience or feelings as our ultimate proof, because there is so much to mess up our ability to know God. That’s the issue.
So, for today, if feelings are not my ultimate proof, what is? The Bible’s answer is that there is something deeper than feelings. It lives at a deeper level in our souls. The bible talks about it in a few different ways. For instance:
[we are part of Christ’s house] …if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (This is the Greek word “Katexo” (hold fast).)
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (In these last two verses the Greek word “Krateo” (grasp, hold fast) is used.)
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (This is the Greek word “Plerophoria” (full assurance))
2 Timothy 1:12-13
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 13 Hold fast (echo) the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. (This is the Greek word “Peitho” (be persuaded/ be sure).)
This thing that is deeper than feelings…It might be called “conviction” or “apprehension,” or “grasp.” It’s a deep inner rest, or awareness, or firmness, that something is true. It stands and rests on God’s word. It thinks, “if God says it, it’s true.”
It’s the hand in the center of our being that is wrapped tight around what God says. And that is how the bible describes the experience of trusting God’s truth.
God says it. Believe it. Hold it fast. Know it. Rest on it. Find it to be true.
Sometimes this inner grasp, this conviction, is accompanied by feelings, and sometimes it isn’t. But that doesn’t matter to this settled conviction.
Here’s two illustrations of this in other areas of life:
Example 1: My Wife’s Love. I don’t always feel my wife’s love for me. Sometimes I can’t even sense her presence (when, for instance, I’m not around her). And sometimes I do. But at a level deeper than feeling or not feeling it, I know it. It’s not up for discussion. It isn’t called into question by presence or absence of feeling. Those waves might toss around on the surface of things, but they don’t disturb the bedrock below.
Example 2: Deep Ocean Currents v. Waves.
Deep Ocean Currents: “Invisible to us terrestrial creatures, an underwater current circles the globe with a force 16 times as strong as all the world’s rivers combined. This deep-water current is known as the global conveyor belt and is driven by density differences in the water.” (that quote is from howstuffworks.com)
Think about this. Here you have a contrast between
1. Waves on the surface of the ocean—driven by winds, unstable, unproductive, dangerous—and,
2. Currents beneath the surface—unseen, but huge and powerful.
Emotions, feelings, are like waves. Conviction is that deep underwater current.
Now, consider a famous verse like Proverbs 3:5—Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding. What does it tell us?
Don’t trust in your heart. But trust in the Lord, with all your heart. Make your heart serve the greater purpose of your life—to trust God. Don’t let your heart lead you. Don’t let your heart be your master. Make it a servant. Make it serve your trust in the Lord. Train and bend your feelings, your innermost being, to assist the greater thing—trusting God.
Even in this life, feelings do come. There are times in the Christian life when we have awesome feelings of God’s presence. He can speak things into our hearts or even into our ears. Sometimes these things do happen. It is not that Christians are against feelings, or that we don’t want feelings. It is that we don’t rely on them. We rely on God’s word. We let ourselves be persuaded, in the depths of our beings, that he is trustworthy, and that his word is the most true thing there is.
His promises can be trusted. He is there when we don’t sense him. He sees us when we don’t see him. He hears us when we don’t hear him. He loves us when we don’t feel loved. He is accomplishing his purpose for the world when we don’t understand our lives. And his word never changes.
Friends, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
Is that something we feel?
Or do we know it to be true in the depths of our being?