Part of the uniqueness of the human experience is the wide range of emotions that God enabled us to feel. When there are small delights, we have pleasant responses. In great moments, we rejoice. When something goes wrong, we feel disappointment, but when tragedy strikes we grieve deeply. God even gave humanity empathy, the ability to feel with others and come alongside them in times of joy and times of pain.
Due to the influence of sin, sometimes people also feel rage, jealousy, or bitterness. Because of the instinctive nature of feelings and their power, it can be easy to give over to them and act on them. Many times this leads people to dishonor God through sin and by behaving in a manner unbecoming to someone who has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Through the influence of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of other believers, and through discipline paired with discernment, Christians can express their feelings in a way that is healthy and Christ-like.
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Are Emotions a Good Thing?
Emotions are a way of cueing people into what is going on in their spirit. God gave people emotions, in part because humans are made in His image, and He has emotions.
God displayed emotions many times in the Bible including but not limited to:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3b).
“Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord — that I have spoken in my jealousy — when I spend my fury upon them” (Ezekiel 5:13).
“Seeing the people, [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Emotions are so important that God even gave animals emotions. They love, mourn, and even care about one another.
While emotions do come from God, the influence of sin in the world means that people have sinful emotions, misplaced ones, or their emotions are appropriately placed but the way they act on them is ungodly.
In people, an emotion begins as an instinctive response to a situation. As people mature, they can cultivate their emotions, focus more on some than others, and understand the nuances between different kinds of feelings. For example, God expresses anger in the Bible. Instinctively, people read anger as a bad emotion. Over time, by understanding context and through maturity, the Holy Spirit can help people see that God has righteous anger, something people also experience. Anger is a powerful emotion that can help people identify when a wrong has occurred. Righteous anger, or righteous indignation, is when anger is kindled against injustice, unfairness, or evil.
Just like feeling anger in certain contexts can be appropriate, happiness or joy can be misplaced. If someone is jealous, and then takes pleasure in the downfall of the person they were jealous of, that is a sinful positive emotion.
The prophet Jeremiah recorded, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). While the heart of God is always good, aligned with righteousness, and is the source of all right emotions, the heart of man without the influence of God is always bent toward evil.
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How Can My Emotions Affect My Relationship with God?
For the unbeliever, their emotions can be one of the biggest obstacles to approaching the throne of God in repentance and beginning a saving relationship with Him. Whether that is pride, believing their sins should not be seen as wrong, misplaced anger at God for bad things happening in the world, or through excessive pleasure in sinful acts, emotions are a barrier. They prevent people from seeing God’s goodness, the evil of their own sin, or both.
Christians have the benefit of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who indwells and seals those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is responsible for conviction of sin and sanctification, the process of transforming someone to be less worldly and more like Jesus over time.
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).
Just because someone has the Holy Spirit does not mean they always cede to His influence.
When Christians decide their feelings and emotions – or the actions they want to take in response to those feelings and emotions – are more important than being in right accord with God, it can lead them to not want to pray, to read the Bible, or to go to church to avoid conviction.
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How Can My Emotions Affect My Relationships with Others?
One of the most crucial ways that emotions influence people is within their personal relationships. Healthy emotions expressed appropriately can bring people closer together; sinful emotions or right emotions expressed in a sinful or unproductive way, can create divides between people. In the church, it can be particularly dangerous because it can lead to splits and fracturing between believers.
Some examples of when emotions impacted relationships in the Bible include:
Genesis 16: Sara was so insecure about her ability to have children she encouraged Abram to have a child out of wedlock, and then persecuted her servant Hagar out of jealousy because she bore Abram a child.
Genesis 20: Abram was fearful for his life and lied to a ruler who had allowed him to stay in his land safely, saying that Sara was only his sister, not his wife.
Genesis 39: Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph and when he refused to engage with her, she lied out of anger, ruining the relationship Joseph had with Potiphar and sending the young man to jail for years.
1 Samuel 19-22: King Saul was so jealous of David he tried to have the young man killed.
John 18:1-11: Peter was so wrathful and inappropriately protective of Jesus that he cut off a servant’s ear.
Acts 7:54-60: The people in Jerusalem were so enraged when Stephen gave a sermon, they killed him.
Sometimes unhealthy expressions of emotions lead to petty disagreements, and sometimes to violent sin. Focusing on handling emotions in a manner that is Christ-like and influenced by the Holy Spirit is the best place to start.
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What Are Biblical Ways to Express Our Emotions?
The word Christian means “little Christ.” When a powerful emotion hits a believer, the first thing they should do is see if there is an example of Jesus experiencing that same emotion, and how He handled it. The caveat to that idea is that Jesus is God, and He had authority to act in ways that we do not. When Jesus was rightly angered by the selling of animals in the temple, as Lord of the Sabbath, He had the right to drive them out the way He did.
Some examples of times when Jesus expressed emotions in a healthy way included:
Matthew 26:36-46: He was upset at the difficulty of the crucifixion.
Luke 17:1-3: He was angered at the thought of children being led to sin.
John 7:12-15: He rejoiced at the idea of the Holy Spirit being with the disciples.
John 11: He wept when Lazarus died.
Jesus modelled responding to emotions through tears, speaking with those with whom he had conflict, giving glory to God for good things, and praying through difficult and painful emotions. Another behavior Jesus demonstrated was expressing His private emotions to the 12 apostles, as opposed to large audiences. He kept private feelings more private. For Christians who make mistakes, keeping strong emotions more private can be a way to get wise advice about what to do next.
Other things the Bible says about managing emotions include:
Keep your mind focused on God and He will give you peace to manage your emotions.
Isaiah 26:3 - “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Do not act on anger, especially out of revenge, because retribution against those who have done wrong is a right only God has.
Romans 12:12-19 - “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”
Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit through prayer, Bible reading, and intentionality, which will help you control sinful passions and express emotions in a healthy way.
Galatians 5:22-24 - “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Do not be afraid, and do not let the emotion of fear control your behavior, because it leads to a lack of self-control.
1 Timothy 1:6-7 - “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Go to the Bible for guidance in all things. Pray when a powerful emotion begins to take over, and have select people you trust to go to for advice. Let the Holy Spirit guide. When emotions are powerful, it is important first and foremost to get right with the Lord before acting out. Speak and behave in love, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus as the model. More often than not, a Christian will express their feelings in a God-honoring way. Put Him first, and He will guide.
Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
Spencer, F. Scott. Passions of the Christ: The Emotional Life of Jesus in the Gospels. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2021.
Voorwinde, Stephen. Jesus’ Emotions in the Fourth Gospel. London: T&T Clark International, 2005.
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Originally published Sunday, 12 March 2023.