February 29, 2008

Never say Never

Missionaries sometimes tell how they gave their life to God with a condition; they would go anywhere He wanted except such and such a place, yet that was the very place they wound up going, and gladly. I've had that happen to me too, on a smaller scale. God isn’t mean. The issue here is how my feelings about what I want can run in strong contrast to what God wants for me.

The author of God is Enough says Christians should ignore their feelings. She says that the will rules, and if we determine to obey God apart from what we feel like, we will be successful.

My understanding is that the will, our intellect, and all emotions are to be subject to the Holy Spirit. If that is so, He will use these three faculties of the human soul to express Himself and we will be God-centered. If not, whatever we do will be an expression of the flesh and self-centered.

In other words, my decision to obey God cannot be based on reasoning or emotions, because those things may be simply an expression of my sinful flesh. 1 Corinthians 1 contrasts that which is “foolishness” to the ordinary mind with the wisdom of God. What I think is smart might be really dumb in the mind of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it like this: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

While the spiritual man “judges all things” I cannot do it without the “mind of Christ” who interprets the words of God to me. My reasoning and intellect are insufficient and unable to know what God wants, so I cannot consider my own mind as reliable in making godly decisions.

My emotions are not reliable either. I’ve been upset about things that later proved to be untrue or hadn’t happened. I’ve been blasé about issues that I later realized should have raised my hackles. And who hasn’t ‘fallen in love’ only to realize later the blindness of that emotion?

However, and this is a big however, God gave me a brain and gave me emotions. If they were entirely useless, why have them?

Intellect has value in that by it I learn to read. Without it I could not open my Bible and grasp what it says. Life is filled with many decisions based on knowledge, but the key is not merely knowing stuff but whose knowledge am I following? Where do I go for the data that I put in my head? I might use an Oxford Dictionary to look up the meaning of a word, but God wants me to use the Bible to know how to wisely use the data that I gather.

Emotions have value too. Like pain that shows me something is wrong in my body, emotions can show me something is wrong in my spirit. Guilt, conviction, shame, remorse, are emotional responses to sin, and without them I may not go to God for forgiveness and cleansing. In fact, without these feelings, I might not even know that I’ve sinned.

God also uses emotions to show me that I’m on the right track. While this isn’t entirely reliable (I need to compare them with the roadmap of His Word), obedience usually results in joy. Making decisions that fit the will of the Holy Spirit usually produce peace. Seeing the will of God violated usually brings indignation and anger. Seeing a person in pain or distress usually produces compassion.

These are examples of the Holy Spirit using a yielded soul as a vehicle for His expression. He cannot do it in someone who is wilful and stubborn, or self-focused, or full of unconfessed sin. If I want my soul to follow God, my heart needs to be yielded to Him.

Yet God can still bring change in me when I have those attitudes. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

God can soften a hard and self-centered “I will do my own thing” attitude. I can change “I won’t” to “I will.” Not only that, He can work in me so that I actually do the very things that I’d once set my will not to do, if these things are part of His will for me.

When I gave my life to Christ, I didn’t realize at the time that He won’t let me take it back. I’m now His, and He is at work in me. My intellect, emotions, and will are not my own. He claims them for His purposes. When I resist, He might let me go my own way for a little while, but only long enough to learn that my will is foolish, painful, and selfish. However, His will is wise and joyful—and when I follow it I experience His good pleasure.

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