Emotions drive most of what goes on in this world. Whether it’s the desire of a man to win the heart of a special young lady, the sacrificial love of a parent for a child, the bitterness that corrodes a friendship, or the anger that fragments a family or church, emotions play a powerful role in every aspect of life.
And yet most of us know almost nothing about the origins and dynamics of our emotions. We seldom hear practical sermons about emotions, and when we do, we usually walk away with the sense that emotions are generally untrustworthy and sinful.
This shallow understanding cripples our ability to enjoy life, resist sin, and enjoy deep and authentic relationships.
Let’s begin to deepen our understanding by taking a quick look at seven basic facts about emotions.
First, emotions are built into all people in all cultures by God’s design. They are hardwired into our brains and bodies through the neurological and hormonal systems that he designed at creation and weaves into every baby as he forms it in the womb (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 139:13-14).
Second, emotions are physiological experiences that involve measurable neural, muscular, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular changes that impact our thoughts and move us to action (Exod. 32:19; 2Sam. 18:33; Mark 1:41). In fact, the word “emotion” comes from a French word that means “to move.”
Third, emotions provide some of our greatest pleasures in life, such as love, joy, delight, acceptance, compassion, belonging, and peace, to name just a few. These emotions are found in both saved and unsaved people, and drive some of our most noble and constructive behavior (Exod. 2:5-6; Dan. 1:9).
Fourth, emotions are also tied to our greatest struggles and agonies in life, which often involve negative feelings such as sadness, embarrassment, anger, bitterness, jealousy, self-pity, and regret (Gen. 37:11; Matt. 27:3-5).
Fifth, emotions are not inherently sinful. Jesus felt a wide range of emotions, including love, compassion, joy, pity, anger, sorrow, and agony (John 11:5; Matt. 14:14; Heb. 12:2; Mark 1:41; Mark 3:5; Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44). Yet he never sinned (1 Pet. 2:22). His emotions never surprised or overwhelmed him or moved him to act contrary to his Father’s perfect will (John 8:29).
Sixth, human emotions are often twisted by sin. Because of the fall, sin has corrupted our whole being, including our thoughts, emotions, and will. Therefore, like a computer with a defective motherboard, we are unable to consistently understand and control the emotions that are triggered by people and events in our lives (Gen. 3:6-13; Jer. 17:9; Eph. 4:22). Therefore, while positive emotions usually move us to do good things, negative emotions often move us to sin against God and one another (Gen. 37:11; 2Sam. 11:2-4; Ps. 73:21-22).
Seventh, through the gospel, God has redeemed us from the curse of sin, made us new creations (which impacts our thoughts, emotions, and will), and is now pouring his grace into us, giving us the ability to understand our emotions and progressively bring them under the Lordship of Christ (Ezek. 36:25-27; 2Cor. 5:17; Titus 2:14; Rom. 12:2; 2Cor. 3:17-18).
In the weeks to come, I will be sharing other basic facts about emotions, including insights into the neurology of our emotions and the principles God has given to us through Scripture to help us understand and master our emotions.
Until then, I encourage you to read this more detailed article, Emotion in Christian Anthropology, and then work through the following discussion questions with a friend to strengthen your ability to harness the power of emotions in your life.
— Ken Sande
- Read each of the Scripture passages cited in this post (they will show up on your screen if you simply place your cursor over each citation). There are hundreds more like them. Did you realize that the Bible talks so much about emotions? Why do you think God caused the prophets and apostles to write so much about emotion?
- What has been your understanding of and attitude about emotions? Did you realize that they were designed by God as an inherent part of our neurological system and woven by his hand into every human being on the face of the earth? Have you thought that all emotions are inherently sinful? Should we try to simply stifle them and be governed by thought and will power, or can emotions provide something positive that can actually enrich and empower our lives in positive ways?
- Watch the video clip again. Write down the emotions that fragment this family, as well as the emotions that pull it back together. Note what emotions you feel as you watch the film. This is a way to improve your ability to empathize with and feel compassion toward other people (something Jesus modeled throughout his ministry, Matt. 14:14; Matt. 15:32).
- Read Emotion in Christian Anthropology. What surprised you as you read this article? What practical insights did you gain? How will you view emotions differently in the future? What do you want to do with your emotions from now on?
Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like. If you wish to adapt the questions to better suit your group, please include a parenthetical note (Questions adapted with permission of RW360) and send a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2014 Ken Sande
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