No Other Foundation
Book 1
Toward Repentance of Sin and Faith in God

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Chapter Five
Sin Gains Control Through Our Feelings


The Contents Of This Chapter


Sin Gains Control Through Our Feelings

God created us with feelings to enrich our lives. Feelings intensify the cravings of desire, the burning of passion, the expectation of hope, the joy of accomplishment, the warmth of friendship, and the ardor of love. Moments of pleasure are richly enhanced by feelings of ecstasy, excitement, elation, inspiration, appreciation, happiness, tenderness, and affection. Feelings also magnify the pain of rejection, the heartache of abandonment, the trauma of abuse, the anguish of defeat, the despair of hopelessness, grief over loss, and indignation over injustice. Feelings act as an alarm against those things that cause emotional pain and physical harm. Often, it is our feelings that rouse us to back away from people, animals, things, and situations which stir within us a sense of fear, revulsion, or disgust. And feelings enable us to empathize with others. Because we have experienced the feelings associated with such things as love, kindness, gifts, pleasure, embarrassment, discouragement, injustice, loss, pain, and death, we are able to identify with those who experience similar situations. 

God Gave Us an Intellect

        Feelings are a tremendous gift from God. Yet as wonderful as they are, feelings do not have the capacity to reason or remember. Feelings cannot be educated so as to increase in knowledge and wisdom. Feelings cannot dependably distinguish between truth and error, right and wrong, reality and make-believe. Therefore, God created us with an intellect so we would have the ability to think, reason, conceptualize, remember, learn, gain wisdom, ponder, and project probable future outcomes or consequences of current situations or choices. This makes the intellect uniquely different from the ability to feel.

        For example, the ability to think enables us to learn from the past, make sense out of what is, and discern what should be. The ability to think allows us to learn new things and integrate new knowledge with what we already know. It enables us to invent, discover, design, and build. It helps us understand others so we can relate in meaningful ways.

        With intellect comes the ability to remember what we have learned and experienced. Memory makes it possible to accumulate knowledge, which in turn allows us to grow in understanding. Increased understanding improves our ability to wisely deal with people and the daily circumstances of life. Memory also gives us the ability to remember important things necessary to our well-being. It is this ability which enables us to remember what is foolish or harmful, and what is wise and helpful. When we use our memory as God created it to be used, we are able to make better decisions in the present because of what we remember from the past.

        Intellect makes it possible for us to reason and conceptualize. The ability to reason and conceptualize helps us understand complex ideas, human behavior, difficult situations, and ourselves. The ability to reason and conceptualize helps us apply truths acquired from one experience or area of life to other experiences and areas of life. This ability improves our decision making, enabling us to consider what may happen as a result of the choice we are about to make. With this ability, we can imagine what might be and proceed to pursue it or avoid it. We can reason things out in order to better understand something or make a wiser decision. And we can understand the feelings and needs of others.

        Truly, in giving us an intellect, God made us more like himself than any of His other creatures, for it is our intellect that enables us to choose what is good and behave in sensible, loving ways.

God Gave Us a Conscience

To work in cooperation with our intellect, and to increase our ability to do what is right, God added a conscience. Our conscience has the ability and responsibility to be the moral guardian of our lives. It helps us discern what is or is not right and good about our behavior, our intentions, our thoughts, and the varied attributes of our character. God has given our conscience the ability to warn us when we are about to do something wrong. Our conscience is able to fuel within us a sense of guilt when we have done something we know is wrong. It is able to promote a sense of obligation to do what we know is right. And, it is able to provide us with a sense of peace and contentment when doing what we know is right. It is important to keep our conscience in good working order. Like a muscle, we can render it useless through misuse, weaken it through lack of use, or strengthen it by acting in accordance to what it says. 

God Gave Us a Will

Because mutual love and trust between two people is dependent on the ability and freedom to choose, God created us with a will. The will is that part of our being which makes decisions – deciding what we will or will not do. The will is aided by our intellect, conscience, and feelings, but it alone holds final authority over each decision we make. Everything we do or say, spend time thinking about, genuinely believe, give attention to, or establish as a goal is the result of our will choosing to do so. It seems there is nothing done on the conscious level which is not an act of the will – whether it be right or wrong, active or passive, selfless or selfish, humble or prideful, patient or impatient, kind or unkind, loving or unloving.

        The will not only holds sway over our active choices and behavior, it directs our inactive ones, too. When we refuse, neglect, or ignore doing what we know is right, it is our will which has made the choice to do so. When thoughtless, careless, or lackadaisical, it is our will which has decided we should be this way. Therefore, we are as responsible for what we do as we are for what we do not do.

        But doesn’t everyone make mistakes? Yes. Hasn’t everyone been careless or thoughtless at least once in their life when they didn’t really intend to be? Not really. It may seem that way from one perspective, but we do know the difference between an accident and carelessness. To make this clear, start with the obvious.

        Refusal to do what we know is right is an obvious choice – an indisputable act of our will. If something bad happens as a result, it’s no accident. We made a conscious choice, and the results can only be our responsibility.

       Neglect is the result of carelessly or intentionally disregarding that which has a rightful claim on our attention. Ignoring the obvious or something that we are responsible for is the result of refusing to give the attention required to fulfill our responsibilities. If something bad happens as a result, it’s not that we didn’t know better or couldn’t have done better. We slacked off, or let down our guard, or gave attention to something less important, or allowed ourselves to take a casual approach to something we knew required greater attention. What has happened is no accident. It’s the result of an irresponsible choice – the kind we would hold others responsible for if their inattention adversely affected us.

        Therefore, whether we are ignoring, neglecting, or refusing to do what we know to do, it is an act of our will. And since what we are doing is an act of our will, we are rightly held responsible for what we have done.

        No one can force us to do or say anything against our will. If we, through an act of our will, do not agree to it, we will not do it. Alcohol or drugs may dull our senses, pervert our feelings, muffle our conscience, and limit our ability to reason, but our will is still intact making choices as always. People may try to control us by making threats, inflicting pain, or causing us injury. Or, they may try to control us by giving us special privileges, acceptance, pleasure, fame, power, or riches. Yet we, through the activity of our will, are still the ones deciding how we will interpret and respond to any given person, group, or situation.

        If we give into the wishes or demands of others, we do so because we will to do so. Submission to the will of others is not caused by the lack of choice or the inability to choose. It is the result of choosing what we believe is better in comparison to what we think might or actually would happen if we resisted. The reality is, we can resist anyone or anything so long as we are willing to pay the price of resistance – be it severe punishment, great loss, excessive pain, imprisonment, or even death.

        Though God created us with the ability and freedom to control our choices and behavior by the instrument of the will, our will does not work alone. It works in conjunction with our intellect, conscience, and feelings.

    On one side of our will is our intellect and our conscience. They work together to influence our will toward the choice they believe is best. On the other side is our feelings. 

    It is through our intellect and conscience that God instructs us, leads us, gives us wisdom, disciplines us, and builds an intimate relationship with us. Only our intellect and conscience can be tutored by God’s Word, enlightened by His Holy Spirit, and matured through the experiences of life. Only our intellect can discern God’s presence, His comfort, and the security of His love. Only our intellect and conscience can accurately and dependably determine right from wrong, and reality from make-believe.

    Though our feelings can be powerful and as such seek to exert significant influence over our will, they are not equipped to promote right or wise or realistic choices over wrong, foolish, and irrational ones. Feelings can just as easily influence us to choose what is wrong as what is right. Why? Feelings are just that – feelings. They cannot think, reason, remember, or conceptualize. They have no stability. They change with the circumstances or the direction of our thoughts because they respond to what is going on around us and in us.

    This does not mean feelings are less important to our well-being than our intellect and conscience. Feelings add a dimension to life which we could never experience through our intellect and conscience alone. Just as the beauty of our world is enriched through the addition of color, so feelings enrich relationships and experiences by adding the various colors of emotion. In this way feelings are a wonderful part of living a satisfying, full life. Yet feelings are not designed to choose between right and wrong, good and bad, fact and fiction, real and imaginary, rational and irrational, or even acceptable and best.

What Feelings Cannot Do

        Feelings cannot tell if our fears are rational or irrational. They cannot tell if our fears are based on reality or what we imagine is reality.

        The child who is afraid of the dark fears what might be when he is in the darkness. His fear is an irrational response to what he imagines is in the darkness. But try to convince him of that. No amount of reasoning will remove his fear until he is old enough to reason it out. Until then, he is ruled by his feelings of fear, and the only solution that calms his fear is to turn a light on.

        The child who has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused by a close relative develops the fear of being taken advantage of by adults in a position of trust. This becomes a fear of what might be. This fear is directed toward people in authority, primary care-givers, and those who are being depended on for love and acceptance. Without question, this fear is based on a real and tragic experience. Yet it is irrational to transfer distrust of the person who has taken advantage of us to others who hold a similar position of importance and trust. Misplaced fears of this kind promote automatic and excessive distrust of people who have not shown themselves to be untrustworthy. Because this fear is based on excessive distrust, it makes it nearly impossible to build intimate and durable relationships with those who are nearest and dearest, including God.

        These two examples demonstrate how feelings do not know the difference between rational and irrational fears. Feelings only know fear as fear. God gave us an intellect to determine what kind of fear we are experiencing and what we should do to face, calm it, or reject it. In other words, our feelings tell us we are fearful and our intellect tells us what kind of fear it is and what action we need to take.

        Feelings cannot tell the difference between the sensations of pleasure which result from doing something we know is right, and those which come from doing something we know is wrong. In fact, we seem to feel pleasurable sensations more quickly and intensely when doing something we know is wrong. The drug addict, the alcoholic, the sexually promiscuous, and the overeater could each attest to this fact. If we give our feelings authority over our will in regard to pleasure, then the degree of pleasure experienced or expected becomes the deciding factor over our choices rather than our knowledge of right and wrong.

        Feelings of sexual passion know nothing about morality or what is required to build good, enduring relationships. They know nothing of the difference between sex for the sake of personal pleasure and sex as an expression of love between a husband and wife. They take no interest in values which seek the good of the individual, the good of the family, and the good of the community. They are not concerned with the sanctity of marriage or the preservation of the family. They only know they want to be gratified.

        Therefore, if we follow our feelings, we will live like so many in our society who overspend because of impulse buying, overeat because of taste cravings, smoke because it calms their nerves, drive too fast for the thrill of speed, build financial nest eggs to feel secure, and who are sexually active outside marriage for the pleasure of sex.

        It is with our intellect that we can see the folly of living according to our feelings. And it is through the use of our intellect that we subdue our passions so they follow us in doing what is right, rather than leading us into doing what is wrong.

        Feelings cannot distinguish the difference between the leading of God and the leading of our selfish desires, impulses, and passions. Only our intellect and conscience have the ability to evaluate urges, promptings, impressions, intuitions, and premonitions in order to discern if they are leading us into doing what is right and God-pleasing or what is wrong.

        One of my earliest experiences with this had to do with gossip about a member of our family who, indeed, did an evil thing. Two ladies from our church, who had every right to know of the sinful situation, passed the story on to a married couple in another church. The married couple passed it around their church, and from there it spread to other churches. In time, we discovered what these two ladies had done and how far the story had traveled – a story which should have stayed within the confines of our church. Truly, the couple they told had no need to know, and those whom the couple told were not helped by what they heard. So why did these two ladies pass the story on? They said they felt, deep inside, the leading of the Lord to tell the married couple this story. They justified gossip on the basis of feelings – feelings attributed to the influence of God in their lives. They were convinced that what they had done was an act of obedience to God because of the way they felt at the time they did it. They did think about God’s written word which exhorts Christians to avoid gossip or being a busybody by talking about things not proper to pass on (1 Timothy 5:13). In other words, they did not consider the appropriateness or the consequences of their action, because they were using their feelings to decide what action they should take.

        If we allow our feelings to be the supreme influence over our will, we will become slaves to our feelings. We will increase self-centeredness, promote irrational and foolish behavior, become self-destructive, exploit others, distrust God, and reject portions of His word. Our feelings will drive us to make foolish assumptions, wrongly criticize, say malicious things, gossip, become bitter, hate, take joy in getting even, give in to hopelessness and depression, act greedy, steal, lie, be jealous, and many other selfishly sinful behaviors.

        To keep us from being enslaved and destroyed by our feelings, God has given us the power to rule over them. This power is in our intellect and conscience. They have the power to rule over and overrule any feelings in any situation at any time. When we allow our feelings to be the primary influence, it is the result of a voluntary choice to move from doing what we know or can discern is right to doing what feels right or feels best or gratifies the most.

Intellect, Conscience, and Our Relationship to God

At best, feelings can sometimes give us a sense of what is right, but our intellect and conscience are the only parts of our being that have the ability to consistently and accurately determine what is right. This is why God communicates to us and appeals to us through our intellect (the combined work of our memory, thinking ability, reasoning ability, and conceptual ability).

Through the use of our intellect we are able to comprehend God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature as revealed in creation. It is our intellect which enables us to read and understand God’s Word. Through our intellect the Holy Spirit clarifies and increases our understanding of God’s character and Word. Through our intellect we are able to discover, consider, and decide the most practical, loving ways to apply what we know about God and His Word to our everyday choices, behaviors, relationships, and circumstances. 

        Down through the centuries, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers have spoken on God’s behalf. Our intellect enables us to comprehend what they are saying. Our intellect enables us to discern their credibility, and weigh their words against the way they live. Our intellect enables us to search the written word of God to see if what they are teaching is true. And with our intellect we can figure out how to apply their message to our own life.

        It is our intellect that makes it possible for us to know when God is speaking to us. Whether He speaks in the burning bush or through the handwriting on the wall, by means of His ‘still small voice’, through angels, or in dreams and visions, according to the scripture accounts of God speaking, His message always comes in a form which is received and understood by our intellect.

        God communicates to us through our intellect because that is the part of our being that can understand His message. Only our intellect has the ability to think, reason, conceptualize, and remember. Only our intellect can grapple with what He has said so we can realistically and accurately apply His words to how we live. Only as we listen to our conscience and call to remembrance what He has said will we live by His truths for years to come. 

Uncontrolled Feelings Lead Us Into Sin

        Satan, and the sinful forces in our society, appeal to us through our intellect, too. They appeal to our intellect in an effort to stir up distrust of God, prompting us to believe that God is not completely good and His Word is not completely reliable. They encourage us to use our intellect to invent elaborate excuses and seemingly logical justifications for doing what we know is wrong. They prod us to use our intellect to seek new, more exciting, more gratifying ways to satisfy our passions, impulses, and desires. They want to get us so involved in thinking about the beneficial side of sin and the defective side of God that we are distracted from thinking about how sin destroys us and unnecessarily harms everyone affected by our sin. However, their greatest influence and strongest appeals are directed toward our feelings.
       
        We are tempted to sin when our fears, desires, impulses, and passions are excited by something that either threatens us or promises to gratify us. If we respond to the temptation in a self-centered, self-serving manner, we sin. If we repeatedly respond to the same temptation in a self-centered, self-serving way, we have entered into the practice of sin. The practice of any particular sin quickly becomes a habit. A habit easily turns into an addiction. And when we are addicted to a particular sin it means we have become enslaved by the feelings which trigger that sin. 

        At this point, we neglect to use our intellect and conscience as God intended them to be used. We are not interested in clear, rational thinking. We have gotten so engrossed in the pursuit of self-protection or self-gratification that there is hardly time or interest to sensibly think about what is right. And we certainly don’t want to be told by our conscience what is right. Rather, we want to enjoy our sin. So we dull our conscience, confine our thinking to selfish interests, and focus our attention on the gratification of self.

        Consider this list of sins compiled from Mark 7:21-22, Romans 1 and 2, I Corinthians 6:9-10, and Galatians 5:19-21. 
"Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, orgies, sexual impurity (such as pornography), sensuality, lovers of pleasure, greed, idolatry, malice, hatred, jealousy, envy, outbursts of anger, creating discord, dissension, factions, strife, deceit, swindling, stealing, slander, gossip, arrogance, boastful pride, insolence, murder, drunkenness, and witchcraft."

        All these sins are the result of giving feelings primary influence over the intellect and will. In every case, the sinner has stopped listening to his conscience and quit thinking rationally, that is, in a godly, sensible way about right and wrong. Instead, he is willfully and selfishly acting on the feelings aroused by his fears, desires, impulses, and/or passions.

        Therefore, each one of us is tempted when out of fear, desire, impulse, or passion we seek gratification in some ungodly, excessive, unnatural, or forbidden way. If we allow our thoughts to dwell on the object of gratification (be it a person or thing), and on how good we will feel when we get what we want, we will further stimulate our feelings until they seemingly overwhelm us and convince us do their bidding. In this frame of mind we are not thinking about right and wrong. Our focus is on obtaining that which will soothe or gratify our aroused feelings. Driven by our feelings, we give in to temptation and foolishly choose what we know is wrong. In doing or obtaining whatever it was we wanted to do to satisfy ourselves, we sin.

        Sin almost always gratifies our feelings for the moment. It pays its debt of promised pleasure, profit, power, possessions, fame, or security. But it also produces long-lasting destruction in our life and unnecessary suffering in the lives of everyone affected by our selfishly sinful choices. God has lovingly and wisely given us an intellect and a conscience to resist temptation and do what is right. (Note: James 1:13-15)

Getting Feelings Under Control

What is the source of quarrels, conflicts, and hostility? Where do you suppose these things come from? If you look carefully, you will see they come from our irrational fears and selfish desires, our impulses, and our passions. Our craving for what we do not have is fed by our jealousy and envy of what others have. Consequently, in our frustrated condition we feel angry toward anyone who keeps us from getting what we want. In our anger we pull out our big guns, be they strong words or emotional outbursts or pouting or temporary alienation or physical abuse to get our way. The truth is, we resort to selfish means of getting what we want because we do not ask God for it. And when we do ask God, most of the time we do not get the answer we want because our requests are essentially selfish. We rarely ask for things that will help us die to self, grow into mature Christians, and be more Christ-like. We seldom ask for things that will help us love God with all our being and love those around us as we ought. Most often we ask God for things that will gratify our own selfish, excessive, or unnatural desires, impulses, and passions. Too often we ask God for things that will protect our irrational and exaggerated fears. What folly to live as slaves of our feelings.

        If we would, we could control them through the proper use of our intellect and conscience, the empowering and enabling provisions of God for godly living, and the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit – which in turn would lead to asking for good things from God, and He would give them to us. (Note: James 4:1-4)

        The truth is, we do not have to live under the tyranny of our feelings. God, through Christ, has given us His greatest and most precious promises to overcome the powerful influence that our feelings exert on our will. He has given us His Holy Spirit, prayer, the Bible, the local church, and a number of other things necessary for living a sensible, rational, godly life. He made these wonderful gifts available to us so we can break the enslaving power of our feelings and become partakers of His divine nature. If we will make use of all that God has provided for godly living, and use our intellect and conscience as God intended, we will become the loving people He created us to be – people who thoughtfully and persistently promote and protect the good of everyone affected by our choices and behavior.

        Yet at the same time, do not ignore your feelings. God has given them to us to make life more enjoyable, and to enrich our relationships. However, keep your feelings in subjection to what you know is right through the proper use of your intellect and conscience. In doing this, you will avoid many temptations to sin, and then the way into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ will be wide open to you. (Note: II Peter 1:4-11)

        Therefore, prepare yourself – through wise praying, honest self-examination, the study and application of God’s Word, along with the encouragement and help of other believers – to flee from irrational fears, youthful passions, false beliefs, distrust of God, and daily temptations. Make a plan, work your plan, and invite one or more other believers to support you in working your plan in order to persistently and progressively pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who trust God and pursue godliness from a sincere and pure heart. (Note: II Timothy 2:22)


A Word About Intuition

        The primary emphasis of this chapter has been the ease with which our feelings become instruments of sin. There is another side to this issue which, if ignored, could render this chapter useless in some readers’ minds. Without a doubt, many women and some men depend on their feelings as a form of intuition. They use their feelings, separate from their intellect or conscience, to provide vital information about a person or situation. Many times their intuition is right, and that to the benefit of all who are well-served by the information their feelings/intuition have provided. And of course, being right serves to reinforce the credibility of the method.

        I do not wish to discredit intuition or the use of feelings as a form of intuition. My purpose is to reinforce that even here, the person relying on feelings/intuition uses his or her intellect to determine if the feelings/intuition are credible, and if they fit within their value system. If these feelings/intuition are deemed credible and fit within their value system, then they decide what action, if any, they will take. In other words, they give their intellect (and hopefully their conscience, too) authority over their feelings/intuition. They decide which intuitions are rational, reasonable, and worthy of their attention. If they don’t, they leave themselves open to times of irrational or inappropriate or even ungodly behavior.

In Summary

        The fact that feelings and sin are so easily united does not diminish or remove distrust of God and self-centeredness as the primary drivers behind sin. However, because feelings are a powerful force, they too must be reckoned with if we are to maintain a godly mindset in the face of temptation. Therefore, God directs us to set our mind on God’s interests (Matthew 16:23), to set our mind on the things above (Colossians 3:2), to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), to be sensible (Titus 1,2), and to think on right things (Philippians 4:8). It is in the proper use of our mind (as described in the aforementioned scriptures) that we able to distinguish between feelings which are directing us toward God and those which are feeding our desire for self-interest. For this reason, the best protection against temptation and sin is the proper use of our Biblically aligned, God enlightened, Spirit led intellect and conscience.

        Once again, God created feelings and emotions for our good and the advancement of His purposes. Let us not despise them, but neither let us misuse them.

        What are you doing with your feelings? Are you pretending they do not exist? Are you giving them free reign over your will? Are you controlling them through the use of your intellect and conscience?

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