There are numerous catchy self-help phrases and popular inspirational quotes circulating in our American culture today that go something along these lines: “Listen to yourself, not the noise of the world. Only you know what is right for you… Listen to your heart, follow your feelings. Nobody else can tell you how to feel.”
The Scriptures (and history too for that matter) explicitly tell us how much we are to trust our gut and rely on our own feelings though. Just taking a glance through the Proverbs, we read in 3:5, “Do not lean on your own understanding.” Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 14:12 teaches us, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” And then Proverbs 28:26 tells us, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus came so that those who live would no longer “live for themselves.” Paul is arguing something significant here, something that every Christian should remember. He is arguing that the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin inserts me into the middle of my universe; the one place reserved for God and God alone. Sin reduces my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin really does make it all about me.
Because the inertia of sin leads away from God’s purpose and glory toward my purpose and glory, as long as sin is inside me there will be temptation in life to exchange God’s glory for my own. In ways that are subtle and not so subtle, I begin to pursue the alternative of human glory. Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control all become way too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about everything in life, the things I want out of my life, and all of the things I do in my life.
“The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of grace and salvation is God substituting Himself for us. We put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God puts Himself where we deserve to be.” – John Stott
We would do well to remember also, that no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one else talks to you more. The things you say to yourself about God, you, and others are profoundly important, shaping your participation in things and experiences in life. So many of us just sadly function in a regular state of gospel amnesia. We forget to preach privately to ourselves the gospel that we declare publicly to others.
“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller
Some of us today seem to believe that what we feel has greater value or holds a greater element of truth than what we would reason through by thought and logic. Too many of us still operate as if we don’t have any major blind-spots in our life. C.S. Lewis addressed this very craziness years ago in his book The Abolition of Man, “No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
“Our feelings are an essential part of our right response to reality, but they should never in themselves be the determiner of reality.”
Even if we don’t acknowledge, believe in, or accept the reality of something, it does not change the reality itself. So we must consider that if sin blinds (and it does) then as long as sin remains in our heart, there will be pockets of spiritual blindness. And the really scary thing with spiritually blind people is that they’re blind to their blindness. This means that we all need “instruments of seeing” in our lives as much as any of the people around us (Hebrews 3:12-13).
Henry David Thoreau famously said, “It takes two to speak truth – one to speak, and another to hear.”
We need to understand and realize that our relationship with God, our spirituality, although immensely personal, was not designed to be exclusively private. The more you make your struggles and your victories private, the more you turn sanctification into a crawl and the less you’re able to know God relationally. Our faith has never been meant to be private. You weren’t created to hide or keep your feelings, your love, your mind, to yourself. We were designed to have spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers, spiritual brothers and spiritual sisters, spiritual sons and spiritual daughters. We were designed to live in community; to have men and women above us who speak life and encouragement into us and walk with us, and men and women underneath us whom we can serve, help to guide, and mentor.
“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden
And in regards to communal sanctification, C.S. Lewis eloquently put it this way, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” To live life well, it requires real relationships, and authentic community. In order for there to be genuine, real, deep relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you and then you have to submit to it. Like there are things that I do that my wife doesn’t like. I know… I can’t believe it either… Anyhow, there have been times where she’s engaged me on those things and she was like, “Look, this is not ok, I don’t like this.”
So what makes my relationship with my wife life-giving and intimate is that I can hear that and respond. I can humbly submit, apologize, and work to better love and serve her… or more realistically I will argue and be stubborn for a little bit first, before the Holy Spirit (often times through prayer, a friend, or a book) blows me up and opens my eyes to the unbelievable amount of selfishness that still resides in my heart. But in our relationship, my wife can contradict me and I can contradict her. And it’s a faulty illustration at some levels because you never really get to contradict God or motivate Him to change, but do you see what happens if you make God, or truth whatever you want it to be? You have no God or objective truth at all. You have a robot or something made by your own hands, imagination, something that our own ignorant minds created that has existed for a mere fraction of a fraction in the scope of history.
“A long life will eventually beat the pride out of you, and if it somehow doesn’t, death will provide more than enough proof of your weakness.”
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us. At the same time, the Gospel solution when a person is blind to some serious issues in their life (or even when they become aware and are paralyzed by a sense of guilt or unworthiness or uselessness) is not to increase self-esteem; the Biblical answer to a paralysis of low self-esteem is not cultivating a high self-esteem. It’s sovereign grace. (“Fear not you worm…” – Isaiah 41:14).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and those around us. We are to love God above all, and love our neighbors as ourselves. And that is the core of true salvation and freedom, that is the greatest reality.