What about Feelings and Emotions in the Christian Life?

A brother emailed me the following important questions and here is my reply to him–

1. Do peace and joy accompany when a person is first saved (regenerated)?

Often peace and joy are present in varying degrees when a person comes to Christ in conversion, but sometimes the first real emotions a person feels is grief over their sin, or perhaps a sense of release and freedom, or a sense of the love of God overwhelms them. They might feel any number of different emotions to a greater or lesser degree. There are no one or two emotions or subjective experiences that a newly-saved person will necessarily have. Notice I use the word “subjective experiences.” Peace, joy, or sensing assurance or divine love are subjective and experiential realities–we feel or experience such things in our minds and emotions; any of them can accompany true salvation, but none of them will necessarily be experienced in any certain order and neither will they be uniform in their degree–in other words, one convert may have great peace and assurance, while another mainly feels brokenness and grief over their sin and great wonder that God could ever love them. There is no single experience or feeling in conversion that necessarily always accompanies true salvation.
That being said, it would seem that there are some standard things that normally accompany conversion:

1. The peace of God Romans 5:1–“being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1); this, of course, is primarily speaking of our objective possession of a peaceful with God for the first time ever–we are placed in a right standing with God that is now a relationship of peace. But subjective peace that fills our minds and consciences is also experienced in the heart of many persons when they are converted. People are often filled with peace of mind and heart and find rest in their souls.

2. The love of God (Romans 5:8)–“the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit”–this is experiential in nature; new believers experience God’s love for them–they feel loved, washed, cleansed, and forgiven, and accepted. They know experientially for the first time that God really is their Father and loves them. But this can be to much less or much greater degrees in different people. It can and often does vary from person to person. One believer may be deeply filled with the love of God and another senses only a small portion of that love, yet it is the same love from the same Father.

It is important to realize that experiencing peace, love, joy, or any other fruit of the Spirit is not a required or essential part of saving faith. A person can come to Christ truly and not necessarily have the same experience that someone else has had. Feelings may or may not be there in varying degrees when a person is saved. But I do think it is safe to say that what you see in the New Testament, as to examples and testimony about conversion, is that there was normally an experience of God’s presence that brought relief, joy, peace, and a freedom that is real.

2. What is your opinion about A. W. Tozer saying that genuine worship involves feelings?

As to Tozer saying that genuine worship involves feelings, I would agree, but that is completely different than the question of what feelings or emotions always accompanies true conversion. I believe genuine worship will involve our affections, emotions, and often feelings. But feelings cannot be the rule, because Christians at times do not “feel” anything during worship necessarily. They will at times, but not always. So this cannot be the standard by which we judge if we are truly worshipping or not. True worship involves the mind, will, affections, and emotions–the totality of our life.

3.  What about feeling the presence of God  during worship?  Is it wrong?

The answer is, “No, it is certainly not wrong.” We should, at times, feel God’s presence drawing near to us. At times, we will sense the manifest presence of God but at other times, we will not feel anything. If we do feel His presence, we ought to rejoice and enjoy Him. But when we do not feel God’s presence, it does not necessarily mean that we have sinned or that something is wrong. Worship is not based upon feelings, but on faith. Experiencing God’s special presence can and does accompany faith at times, but does not always automatically do so. In fact, the sense of God’s presence is often a sudden surprise–Christ is manifested to us when we are least expecting Him to draw near to us. We live, worship, and walk by faith, not by feelings or by sight.

I hope these thoughts are somewhat of a help to you. May the Lord bless and keep you.

– Mack Tomlinson

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