“Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
— Ephesians 2:3
One of the issues that comes from our fallen nature is a belief and trust in our desires. This is often confusing for us as we begin walking in obedience to the Word of God, because we, by nature, depend upon and trust our desires to lead us.
But what God’s Word teaches us is that we are meant to be led by Him alone. For all of us, this means a transition out of trusting in our desires to guide us, and into trusting God alone to lead us. Part of our newness of life is turning away from being led by our desires and submitting to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the Word of Truth.
Sadly, we easily dismiss this important command (Gal 5:16) in favor of our desires, continuing to allow them to be what guides us. It is also common for us to not realize the need for this transition. As Christians, we need to respond to this important command of God to no longer live by “the desires of the body and the mind”, but to rather be led only by godliness, devotion to Christ, obedience to the Word, and for God’s glory. It is our failure to realize the importance of this, or our refusal to obey this, that is a great weakness to many of us.
Emotions in Submission to Christ
Godliness is a life in which the heart, mind, soul, and body of a person are fully occupied with love and faithfulness to God. This is a life of fearing the Lord, obeying God, being devoted to His Word, and living to please God alone.
We easily believe the lie that unless our desires align first, our obedience is disingenuous.
But often when our desires are not aligned with godliness, we think the way we should try to fix this is by seeking to always align our desire first. We easily believe the lie that unless our desires align first, our obedience is disingenuous. In reality, this is us allowing our desires to control and dictate our lives. While true devotion to Christ does indeed fill our emotions and desires, these are often a product or fruit that grows after obedience, and not before it.
Farmers in the Field
Walking with God is a cycle. There are three elements to it: God’s grace and power, our obedience, and the fruit that is produced. Fruit only comes when we move in obedience to God where He has determined to work. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6) This cycle is much like the cycle of growing crops: there is the seed, working the seed, and the fruit that comes. And then from this crop comes more seeds, through which the process is then repeated.
Our walk with God is this same process. God gives the grace and the power, we work by obeying and believing, and the “peaceful fruits of righteousness” are produced (Hosea 10:12). This fruit deepens our walk with God and yields to us character as we then continue this process with God.
This is not to say that growth is produced by us, but merely that our participation in the work is absolutely necessary. There are many dualities in the Christian faith that can appear to be contradictions and this is one of them: that everything is done by God and yet we work.
It is still God who “[gives] the growth”, yet we actively must work with Him if we are going to produce fruit.
There are many dualities in the Christian faith that can appear to be contradictions and this is one of them: that everything is done by God and yet we work.
What we must understand about this process is that while often the peaceful fruits of righteousness are felt and enjoyed, our obedience is not always the same experience. The farmer plants seeds into the ground and works them in order to produce the crop, but the seeds and his work are not the crop itself. In a similar way, the fruits of righteousness always aid us in our obedience, much the same as a farmer is sustained in his work by eating the crops of the last harvest. But these crops from the last harvest don’t take away the sweat from his brow, or keep him from doing hard work in order to produce the next harvest. In this way, the fruits of righteousness sustain us in our next work, but they are not a replacement for it nor deliver us from the call to “strive to enter [in]” (Luke 13:24).
We often break this cycle of faith and obedience to God because we fail to walk in the part that God has assigned to us. We expect there to be only two elements to the cycle, and not three. We think that God plants, waters, and gives the growth, and we sit back just enjoying the fruit. Or, we work—but not at the level of diligence to which Christ calls. We fail to revere Christ and obey Him as He commands; we obey Him in part but not in the whole. This would be the same as a farmer planting seed and never watering them, or planting but never fertilizing: just as all elements are necessary in order to produce a crop, we must understand that all elements are necessary in our obedience in order to produce true righteousness. Picking and choosing is just as foolish and incomplete as a farmer picking and choosing. The farmer may work in part, but his selective work would be so destructive that it will either kill the crop or cause it to never produce in the first place.
These attitudes most often form in us because we expect the experience of obedience to be the same as the experience of the harvest.
These attitudes most often form in us because we expect the experience of obedience to be the same as the experience of the harvest. We resent the call to work, to strive, to walk by faith even when we cannot see, and because of this we fail to water and work the ground in order to produce the fruit we desire.
The fruits of righteousness gives us sight, God’s presence, revelations of the truth, character, a deeper love for God, and the death of self. But the process of growing this fruit is the same as the farmers. We have to work the land, we have to be diligent, we have to be attentive, we have to be discerning, and we have to be willing to work as long and hard as is necessary to ensure the harvest.
“The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” (Prov 20:4) We often “seek at harvest”—we desire to enjoy the fruits of righteousness—but in the same way, if we are not faithful to plow at the time for plowing, then the fruits of righteousness that we desire will not be produced. If the farmer did not get up early in the summer, plow in season, plant in season, water, and discern the crop’s needs, it would be foolish for him to expect a good harvest. If we are not faithful to maintain Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance, to work to discern the will of God, work to die to ourselves, and to seek to live in true submission to Christ, we will not yield the fruit of righteousness.
If we think obeying God is just the happy part of enjoying the crop, we are deceived and will continue to break the cycle of obedience and faith.
This matters in regards to our feelings because this is the place we most often give in to the flesh and fail to do our part and obey God; it is most often our feelings and desires that we listen to rather than the command of God. Obeying God is often the same as the farmer’s work. If we think obeying God is just the happy part of enjoying the crop, we are deceived and will continue to break the cycle of obedience and faith. Our obedience is the work we put into this cycle. This obedience is often believing when we cannot see, and obeying when we do not feel like it. Godliness is doing what God tells us to do in spite of all else. Doing this while depending upon God completely is what yields the fruits of righteousness.
Having discussed how our feelings can guide us away from obedience, we will go on to discuss how to be led by obedience and why this is far better than being led by our feelings.
Faith in Obedience
Up until now, we discussed how we are prone to trust in our feelings to be the guide of our lives and how this is a wrong attitude. In this section, we will discuss how true godliness is meant to guide us through obedience. If we are honest, many of us today sit idle, waiting for our emotions and desires to be changed in order to walk in obedience and faith. While we of course need our hearts to be filled with love for God and we depend upon this, we truly misunderstand how godliness is meant to be the guide of our lives if we are continuously waiting and depending upon our desires to lead us and not obedience.
Obedience is very often done not because of desires or because we are filled with emotions to do so, but because we trust God’s Word to be true even when we do not feel it. We understand that it is essential that our hearts are genuine in our love for God, but we very often place this as first priority, allowing our feelings, moods, and desires to dictate our obedience. We do not recognize the authority of God—that He is to be obeyed with reverence—nor that sin is still sin, so if we choose it, regardless of how we are feeling, we are still walking in wickedness. Therefore in the name of honoring God and in hating sin, it is godly to choose to walk in obedience (faith) even when we do not feel like it (sight).
We understand that it is essential that our hearts are genuine in our love for God, but we very often place this as first priority, allowing our feelings, moods, and desires to dictate our obedience.
What we must understand about the Christian walk is that godliness is meant to be the rule of our lives, and no longer our feelings and desires. Only when we truly realize this will we be able to overcome even our feelings, and live our lives truly guided by a single principle: godliness.
Godliness is to be the ruling principle of our lives, and this is done through faith and obedience, not by exciting our emotions. This means that we singularly live by these things, even (when necessary) in spite of our feelings or desires.
Keeping Godliness Above Emotion
Another danger with this emotionalism in place of obedience is that we easily think too much of our feelings. We may not be like others lacking in emotions, sitting around idly waiting for them, but rather we permit ourselves whatever disobedience we like because we have believed the lie that our feelings for God are enough. We are easily blinded by our feelings and believe they are a full devotion. We settle down in whatever emotions we have about God, being wise in our eyes, satisfied in ourselves, believing that we are pleasing to God, failing to reconcile with the truth that those who are pleasing to God are not just those who are enthusiastic about Him but also those who are obedient! Regardless of how we might feel, it is only the person who obeys Christ who truly honors Him as Lord (Luke 6:46) and loves Him (John 14:15, 15:10).
We settle down in whatever emotions we have about God, failing to reconcile with the truth that those who are pleasing to God are not just those who are enthusiastic about Him but also those who are obedient!
Godliness brings everything in our lives into subjection to Christ. This means that when we don’t feel like reading our Bibles, godliness steps beyond these feelings and brings our lives continuously into what is of God and His ways. Or when we feel resentful towards God, godliness means we silence the sin within us and redirect our hearts to walk by faith and to remain in submission to God. Godliness will not be overruled by our feelings, but will continue to rule us into the truth, even when our feelings oppose us.
There is great joy to be had in this. To the natural eye this can look burdensome, but in reality this is deliverance from all sin. No longer will our bodies, sinful thoughts, desires, or feelings be the guide of our lives, leading us wherever they will, but we will be guided in holiness alone. This is the deliverance that Christ purchased for us, and it is very precious. If we truly love righteousness then this is a great joy to us.
When we are filled with joy and love for Christ, we rejoice with the truth. Godliness relishes when we are filled with these wonderful things. But when these joys and experiences are hidden from us, our life still maintains an even path because we are ruled by godliness and not every wind or wave of circumstances or sinful hearts.
The Holiness and Freedom of Godliness
Finally, we have the victory of holiness. It is this that Christ unveils and avails to us. It is this freedom that Christ bought for us. A freedom to holiness (1 Thess 4:7). The worldly mind understands “freedom” to mean a freedom to permit the body to do whatever it wishes. To gratify whatever desire we have. So of course self-control looks like bondage to our worldly minds and not freedom. But when we think this way we fail to perceive what Christ has meant in His purchase of freedom. He purchased us for holiness and not “freedom” as we might imagine it—being free to live for our sin-polluted desires. As we were originally created for God, and then taken captive by sin, God declares that this alone is true freedom: to be set free from sin so that we might live for God and holiness (Colossians 1:16, Rom 6:22, 2 Cor 5:15). “And, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Rom 6:18) Only in true slavery to holiness is there any real freedom.
This means that at times our path is easier and at times it is harder. But what we must understand about the Christian faith is that we must always be controlled by one thing—godliness. If we allow even our feelings that are filled with joy at Christ’s presence to be what rules us, then when our feelings change, so will our devotion. This is how we are driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6). We must shake off being ruled by our own feelings and desires in order to maintain being ruled by God alone. Only when we do this can we truly live the life of faith, devotion, and obedience that we are called to in Christ.