I recently heard someone justify a conclusion (an unbiblical one, by the way) by saying, “I just felt that God was giving me a peaceful feeling and that He wanted me to do this.” Perhaps you’ve heard similar statements, or even said something like that yourself. It seems very common to me for people to reason this way today, perhaps in part because of the emphasis on relative truth, i.e. what’s true for you may not be true for me. Most often we hear this when matters of religious doctrine are discussed. There are even religious groups that teach that if you pray hard enough about their doctrines, God will give you a warm feeling to confirm its truth so you can believe it. Because this is at the heart of much error in serving God today, however sincere and zealous, we must examine it in light of the Bible’s teaching. Does God confirm truth by giving us certain feelings?
Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows us how to know the truth. When challenged by the religious elite He often pointed directly to the written Scriptures. In Matthew 19:4 Jesus addressed the Pharisees’ question about divorce by saying, “Have you not read…?” then teaching straight from Genesis 2. In Luke 10:25-26, when the lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus directed his attention back to the Scriptures:
“What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” Although Jesus Himself—being the Son of God—was “full of truth” (John 1:14), He didn’t defeat His critics’ attacks by saying, “I know in My heart this is true.” Instead, He showed them what the Bible said.
Jesus also taught His disciples to base their faith on the written Word. Jesus repeatedly asserted to His followers that He must suffer rejection and death (Luke 9:22; Mark 8:31); the necessity of these events was written in the Scriptures. After the resurrection, to give them further evidence that what they witnessed was true Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Jesus saw the written Word as having God’s divine authority, such that the truth was found in them. You don’t see Jesus teaching His disciples to trust their feelings, but rather to look to God’s word.
Apparently the apostles learned the lesson. When teaching in the Thessalonian synagogue, for instance, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:3). Paul found the truth in the Bible, just like his Master.
More examples could be multiplied, but these ought to be sufficient for the point: we know what’s right by looking at what God has written, not by what we feel. To put it another way, Jesus never taught that we will know what’s right when we feel it’s right. In fact, plenty of times God told people to do things they didn’t want to do, like when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22). On the flip side, Saul persecuted Christians with a “perfectly good conscience” but he was entirely wrong (Acts 23:1).
God does promise us a peace that surpasses all comprehension when we pray and make our requests known to God (Phil. 4:6-7). This is not, however, the kind of peace that governs our decisions or guides our footsteps. Peace is a result of bowing ourselves in submission to God’s will, even when we do not like what He says. That’s what we’re doing when we pray “Your will be done.” This quietly trusting peace is much different than the one that reasons, “I feel good about such-and-such, so it must be right.” The former peace rests upon doing God’s revealed will, whereas the latter deceives itself into thinking that what I want is what God wants. Let us not be led astray with faulty thinking!
I must admit that it certainly is appealing to follow my feelings; in fact, that’s what I would rather do! But the Bible warns us to not trust ourselves for a reason. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart; I test the mind, even to give each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Those who follow their hearts can be led to do anything because there is nothing to check their impulses. This results in nothing good and every evil. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
Ultimately, when Jesus points us to the Scriptures He teaches us that crucial lesson from Proverbs: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6). Let us be warned. Trust God, not yourself. Truth is found in Him, not you.
By Emerson Brown