And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Your soul’s emotions aren’t merely feelings. In their fullest sense, human emotions have to do with our feelings, sentiments, affections, attitudes, beliefs, and convictions. Feelings are fleeting and should be limited in their influence on our lives and decisions. Emotions are broader and are instrumental in our lives. Feelings can develop into beliefs and convictions and so influence our soul and our faith, but our emotions are more than feelings.
Before your emotions can help you express Biblical faith, each area must be Spirit-controlled. The Holy Spirit should lead and direct your decisions and your emotions. Take time now to think about how the Spirit can influence and control your feelings, your sentiments, your affections, your attitudes, your beliefs, and your convictions. Think about the role of each of these in your faith. How has or how can the Spirit direct your affections? Do your attitudes come from your flesh or does the Spirit control them? What are your strongest convictions and do they come from God?
As such, what happens in our emotions in the moment of truth dictates whether or not we please God, because feelings and convictions are critical elements of a Biblical psychology of faith. Our faith is firmly rooted in our emotions, in our belief, but faith isn’t only belief alone. Faith has to do with the object of belief or it is merely faith in faith. You must have faith in something. To believe in something, you must understand it. If you really believe something, you will act on that belief. We should seek to increase the degree of our faith, to have enough to step out of a boat and in to the waves.
Our choice: CONVICTION – strong, unshakable belief in God or INDIFFERENCE, APATHY, AND FEAR
Your cry should be the same as the father with a demon-possessed son in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine [think], according to His power that is at work within us
What happens in your mind is one of the most important factors in your faith capacity. Rational study and understanding is sometimes forgotten in Christianity today. Our focus has been more on connecting our beliefs with the heart and less on discipline and conscientiously studying God’s Word or logically understanding our faith and beliefs.
An important foundation to understanding the role of faith in the mind is realizing the difference between the brain and the mind. The brain is a part of the body. It is physical, material, and visible. It can be seen and touched (although you probably wouldn’t want to!). The brain works through electrical and chemical means, through interactions of chemicals and synapses. It receives information from the physical senses and from your self-embedded memory. The mind, however, is a part of the soul, as we discussed last week. It is immaterial and invisible; it cannot be seen or touched. The mind, contrary to the brain, works through psychic and spiritual means. It receives information from the brain, as well as from the emotions and Spirit.
Faith works in and with the mind and the brain. When you disbelieve or doubt that something is possible, the brain immediately slows its workload and reduces its “firing capacity,” which short-circuits faith. As a result, the mind’s ability to believe is immediately reduced, resulting in unfaithfulness. When your mind is not being controlled by the Spirit, it stops thinking supernaturally and downsizes what God can do. As a result, it begins to be “pressed into the mold” of thinking, which shrinks your capacity to believe God (Romans 12:2).
Our choice: To BELIEVE God – to trust fully in Him, His promises, His ways, and His purposes or DISBELIEF – our refusal to accept something as true.
WHAT WILL YOU CHOOSE TO THINK?
This week we’ll begin the main discussion on the psychology of faith, the interaction of our faith with our minds and emotions. In discussing this, it’s important to consider three key truths first.
First, faith doesn’t work how we think it works or how we would like it to work. Faith doesn’t work perfectly, as God originally intended, but it does work. It is to have a significant role in our lives. Secondly, faith only works as God ordained it to work. We cannot manipulate how faith works; we cannot manipulate how God works and make things work how we want them to. We must seek to discover how it works. Understanding faith and understanding God are vitally important in our Christian lives. Thirdly, our ignorance of Biblical faith greatly minimizes God’s work in and through our lives. A lack of understanding may limit how God can work in us, to transform us, and through us, to carry out His will in the world.
Forming a psychology of faith first requires that we understand the field of psychology. ‘Psychology’ comes from the Greek word psyche, which means soul. In our Biblical understanding of personhood, the soul is the center of each human being. A person is made up of a body, a spirit, and a soul. The soul itself is then made up of the mind, the will, and emotions. Psychology seeks to study the soul of a person, to understand how the mind, will, and emotions interact and make a person into who they are.
Much psychology is fundamentally flawed and ungodly because it miscalculates human nature and, as a result, the human condition. Those who seek the services of such well-intentioned people tend to fall deeper into the morass of hopelessness and addiction because they are being treated in ways inconsistent with how God made us.
What happens in the soul tells us whether or not faith is Biblical. Biblical faith involves the whole soul and is played out through the mind, will and emotions. Faith must be logically understood, connect with your feelings and your heart, and it must be lived out in your actions. ‘Feeling’ spiritual or connected to God matters little if you do not truly and deeply understand God and faith. Logical study and understanding is insignificant if you don’t connect with your emotional, affective side or show through your actions. In the same way, the right behaviors show nothing without the beliefs and convictions to back them up.
In the next four weeks, we’ll look at how faith plays out in our mind, emotions, and will as well as practical ideas to put together this knowledge with our lives.
Five Facts About Faith
In seeking to understand faith, which is vital as we discussed last week, there are some foundational ideas to understand and apply. I’m going to introduce and explain five realities of faith which must be understood.
1. Your belief that God will act does not obligate Him to do so. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul describes his affliction, his “thorn in the flesh.” He writes that he asked God three times to remove this hardship, but that God told him instead that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God does hear your prayers and requests, but even a firm belief that God can and does heal, does not mean that He has to because you ask Him to. God’s purposes are not our own and His will may differ from ours.
2. God sometimes acts apart from your exercise of faith. God may act and heal those who do not have faith in Him. As stated in the past point, God’s ways of acting and His purposes may be different than what we expect and different than what we want. In Matthew 8:16 and in many other instances, Jesus healed many who were brought to Him, without considering the faith of those whom He was healing. God can have compassion on those who don’t have faith in Him as well as those who do.
3. Sometimes God does require us to exercise faith before He acts. In other stories in the Gospels, Jesus heals people because of their faith. For example, He heals the woman in Matthew 9:21-22 because she had enough faith to reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak. She believed that touching His cloak would heal her and it did; His power ‘went out’ without Him being aware of it. He knows, of course, but it was her strong faith in the power of Christ that healed her.
4. Sometimes God wants to act, but our lack of faith keeps it from happening. When teaching in His hometown, many people doubted Jesus’ power and saw Him only as a carpenter’s son. Matthew 13:58 says that “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” While God can act apart from faith, sometimes He does not act because we lack faith.
5. Whether or not God requires us to exercise faith before He acts is His business. How God chooses to act is an essential part of His divine prerogative as God. If God was dependent upon us to have faith, He would not be an omnipotent sovereign God. If He needed us for anything, He would not be our divine Creator. God needs humans for nothing; it is up to Him to choose to act or to choose not to act. We can be sure that His ways and His purposes are above ours, that they are for our best, but we do not dictate the plans of God. Our faith can change God’s mind, as Moses’ plea for the Israelites did in Exodus 3211ff, or allow Him to act in our lives differently than if we did not have faith, but we are not in charge.
Human faith plays a central role in our Christian lives. Understanding these five realities of faith is also vital to a correct understanding of the role of faith. God can act in spite of our lack of faith or He may require our faith in order to act. It’s up to God to act or nor; it’s up to us to have faith and to trust in His ways and His purposes.