The way we react or respond to the gospel is not the gospel. My feelings and emotions about Christ are not good news. The empty tomb does not depend upon how much I treasure Jesus. My delighting in Christ is not at the heart of the apostolic preaching of the cross. The level of my satisfaction in Jesus doesn’t affect the historical facts that he died and was raised.
Why are these things worth mentioning? Well, for one thing, they have to do with assurance of salvation. If a Christian thinks his response to the gospel is part of the gospel, his assurance will be like a roller coaster that rises and falls with his feelings. If a believer thinks her delighting in Christ or finding satisfaction in Christ is part of the good news, her assurance will ebb and flow with her emotional state. In other words, if I think my feelings and emotions are part of the gospel, my assurance will quickly decline on days I’m not treasuring Christ above all.
I appreciate how Thomas Brooks discussed this in his book The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. When talking to Christians about growing in grace, one bit of counsel he gives is this: “Take heed of making sense and feeling a judge of your condition.”
Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. Ah, poor souls, this is dishonorable to God and very disadvantageous to yourselves. Sense is sometimes opposite to reason, but always to faith. Therefore do as those worthies did, ‘We walk by faith, and not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5.8-9).
Brooks then lists many emotional worries a Christian may have, like not feeling God’s “enlivening presence” or not being “melted” or “enlarged” as earlier in his Christian life. A Christian might not feel God’s nearness or perhaps not find prayer as sweet as before. Brooks writes,
If you will make sense and feeling the judge of your state and condition, you will never have peace or comfort all your days. Your state, O Christian, may be very good, when sense and feeling says it is very bad. …The best of Christian men have at times lost that quickening, ravishing, and comforting presence of God that once they have enjoyed. And verily, he that makes sense and carnal reason a judge of his condition, shall be happy and miserable, blessed and cursed, saved and lost, many times in a day, yes, in an hour.
The counsel that I would give to such a soul that is apt to set up reason [or feeling] in the place of faith is this: Whatsoever your state and condition is, never makes sense and feeling the judge of it, but only the word of God. …It will never be well with you as long as you are swayed by carnal reason, and rely more on your five senses than the four evangelists. Remember Job was famous for his confidence as for his patience: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).
I don’t always feel like a good Christian. I sometimes don’t think about satisfaction in Christ. Other times I feel quite close to the Lord and am abundantly thankful for his blessings. However, no matter how I feel, no matter what emotional state I’m in, I know that the gospel is still true. The blood of Jesus that he shed on the cross still cleanses me from all my sin. The tomb is still empty even if at the moment I’m not emotionally moved by that awesome truth. My assurance stands firm because my faith rests in facts, not feelings. Feelings come and go, but facts stay put. As the old hymn says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace.”
The above quote by Brooks is found on pages 94-95 of his Works, Volume III.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015