The entire Christian life can be summed up in three important words: faith, hope, and love. Both new believers in Jesus and veterans in the faith know from experience how difficult it can be to practice these in our daily life. One reason for this difficulty, even when we want to please the Lord, is due to the confusion that occurs between our inner feelings and our outer actions. Once we have an understanding of this confusion and how to evaluate our inner experience, then it is a whole lot easier to make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love – decisions that are vitally essential to the successful Christian life.
The confusion starts with the creation and fall of humanity. In the beginning God created humans as persons with our relationship to Him as central to daily life (Genesis 1:26; 2:16-25). What is more, God created us with the capacity to receive His revelation through our ability to think and reason (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). Before disobedience entered the world, in the original state before the fall, all human functions were under complete control with an inner experience of unity and harmony with one another and God (Genesis 1:31; 2:7, 16-25). It is critical for us to recognize the distinction between our being persons and the functions that we do (Romans 1:21-32; 6:16-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Ephesians 4:21-32).
If we do not grasp how cataclysmic the fall of humanity was, we are going to have big struggles with living the Christian life. With Adam and Eve’s original disobedience to God, the authority for life was transferred from God to ourselves so that our sinful bent is to call our own shots without God. The source of authority was also transferred from our ability to think and reason to our emotions so that our feelings rule how we think and act. As church leaders, if we do not understand this dynamic we will be forever frustrated with people because they do irrational things. We are flabbergasted that parishioners do not simply take what we teach them and go and do it. If it were that simple there would be no place for the Holy Spirit!
There is more. In the fall, we lost control of our capacity to function well. We are all now vulnerable to manipulation from our inherited sinful natures, from the surrounding culture, from sinful people, and, of course, from Satan (Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 5:16-21). As a result, our inner consciences have become confused. We are not always certain of right and wrong. We misunderstand what life is really supposed to be all about. We become obsessed with feeling comfortable and secure and pursue false gods. And those false gods disappoint us and leave us with a lack of fulfillment in life.
But the good news is that through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and a new birth, the bondage of sin was broken in our lives are we were legally reinstated in a relationship with God where He is central in our daily life and the final authority. In this new relationship we can again receive truth through the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. We regain control of our functions. However, unless we learn the Scriptures and grow in a daily walk with Jesus, the practical experience of this relationship with all its freedom, joy, assurance, power, and fruitfulness may be greatly limited (Romans 7:14-25; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4).
Even though we may have been redeemed by Jesus Christ and have believed in Him, it is still possible to regress to giving our functions and our emotions a place of authority in our daily life. This is why Christians can experience conflict, doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and confusion.
To live correctly means to grow in the experience and application of what it means to have Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. We must, therefore, make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love based in who we are in Christ and recognizes His authority over us. The following seven suggestions may be helpful:
1. Recognize that you are a person with the ability to function in faith, hope, and love as God’s beloved child in Christ (2 Corinthians 7:1; Romans 8:14-17).
2. Recognize the difference between yourself and your functions. Evil thoughts and emotions do not make you evil. What you do with your feelings is what is vital. (Check out how Jesus handled this in Matthew 4:1-11).
3. Recognize that you can take charge of your functions and your life (Galatians 5:22-23).
4. Recognize that the key in all of this is your use of the will in living in harmony with revealed biblical truth. In other words, you really can make choices of faith, hope, and love that seem to contradict your feelings (Romans 4:17-21; Psalm 56:3; Psalm 43:5-11).
5. Recognize the absolute necessity of rejecting whatever is contradictory to the Bible – in your thinking, emotions, and bodily desires. All non-biblical patterns of action must be broken in Jesus’ name (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:5-9; Titus 2:11-12).
6. Recognize the absolute necessity of choosing to respond to God and His Word by daily obedience. Learn to think and act on the basis of truth and in spite of how you think, feel, or desire (Acts 27:25).
7. Recognize that practicing the truth will result in freedom, a re-patterning of thinking and functions, as well as the fruit of the Spirit (John 8:32; Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 2:12-16).
Part of the reason the church exists is to provide a supportive community of fellow redeemed people who worship and love Jesus together. Just showing up at a church building without sharing our collective learning of the Scriptures and daily struggles of faith, hope, and love will inevitably result in a spiritual immaturity over the long haul. Rather, seek to become part of a small group or bible study which will help to reinforce godly decisions and spiritual growth. Talk about your shared experience of worship and the preaching of the Word. In doing so, God is glorified and the church is strengthened.