A Religion of Feelings
Organized religion can be characterized in many ways. There is the religion of materialism; traditionalism; and mysticism. Materialism interprets subjects after a material fashion. Hence, heaven is on earth, Jesus will have a physical reign on earth, and bliss will consist of political privileges in an earthly kingdom. Traditionalism is the authority used by the religion of tradition. Catholicism is a prime example of such a religion. The religion of mysticism assigns a mystical meaning to every verse and rejects obvious literal meanings. There is also the religion of feeling. This religion looks to subjective feelings or emotions as its authority and criterion. "I know I am saved because I feel saved," sort of thinking and rationale. The religion of feelings is very common and has pervaded the religious world.
To avoid being misunderstood, allow me to emphasize at the outset that religion without feeling and emotion is empty. However, there must be a coupling of feelings and recognition of the authority of God's word. Please consider the plain teaching of the apostle Paul as he wrote to the Christians in Rome:
"17: But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.18: Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6).
First of all, consider that Paul used "obeyed" in the same sentence with "heart," "ye have obeyed from the heart." Hence, obedience and the heart are not mutually exclusive. The "form of doctrine" that they obeyed from the heart is explained in the context (being buried with Christ in baptism, etc.). The importance of obeying from the heart that form of doctrine is seen in the fact that it was when they obeyed from the heart that they were made free of the bondage of sin and became the "servants of righteousness."
Beloved, feelings or the heart alone are not a reliable guide. Paul said, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26: 9). Paul or Saul imprisoned Christians and participated in their death because he felt he should (vs. 10 ff.). Thus, one can feel that what one is doing is right, but one's deeds can be wrong (see Acts 23: 1). The truth of the matter is man must have an eternal standard to determine right and wrong, what to believe, and how to live. Hear God's prophet of old: "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jere. 10: 23). God's word is the standard to determine God's will for us (2 Jn. 9-11; Jn. 12: 48). Hence, Peter wrote, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God " (I Pet. 4: 11). Let us now focus on some particulars relative to the religion of feelings.
"I feel God unconditionally forgives." Many believe that "conditional" and "forgiveness" are absolutely incongruous when used together. However, God's standard says forgiveness is conditional. This is true in the case of God's forgiveness of man's sins and also man's forgiveness of man's sins (Acts 2: 38; Lk. 17: 3, 4). God has a forgiving spirit and so must man, but certain conditions must be met before actual forgiveness can be experienced. Besides, if forgiveness is unconditional, all men would be saved and this is not the case (Matt. 7: 13, 14).
"I feel all men will be saved by faith only." Throughout the religious world, the tenet of salvation by faith only is heard. When asked for the authority for believing that salvation is by faith only, we often hear, "I feel man is saved by faith only." The scriptures are plain relative to the salvation or justification of man. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only," wrote the inspired James (Jas. 2: 24). James is not teaching that man earns salvation, but works are an indispensable part of salvation.
"I feel all religions are equal." In the first place, while people often feel this way, most do not really believe all religions are equal. How about the Unification Church, Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and Church of Satan? These are all religions. God's objective standard shows that all religions are not equal (Matt. 5: 20). There is such a thing as "vain religion" (Jas. 1: 26). Jesus built his church and salvation is in Christ or his spiritual body, the church (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Eph. 1: 3-6; 2 Tim. 2: 10).
"I feel truth is relative." One may feel truth is relative, but that does not make it so. Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8: 31, 32). No, just because one believes a certain thing does not mean what one believes is necessarily the truth.
"I feel that just as long as one is sincere, one will be saved, regardless of what they believe." Believing that sincerity alone will save even when damnable error is believed, keeps many people from studying and learning the truth. Remember, Saul sincerely believed he should persecute Christians, but he was wrong (Acts 26: 9). Not only was he sincerely wrong, but Saul was held accountable for his actions (Acts 22: 3-16).
"I feel that demanding authority is legalism." Book, chapter, and verse teaching is a source of repulsion to many. They have no appreciation for the command to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5: 21). To them, anyone who presents God's word as authoritative and definitive, is a legalist. "I feel baptism is unrelated to forgiveness" (no scripture) appeals to them rather than, "baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38)."
"I feel feelings are the ultimate guide." The religion of feelings is a religion that recognizes the supreme role of human subjective feelings as the sole standard in religious matters. "You must not deny your feelings," "let your feelings be your guide," and "listen to your heart" all express the philosophy of the religion of feelings. It is no wonder, then, that many in the world have embraced the philosophy of, "if it feels good, do it."
Concerned reader, the Bible explicitly and emphatically warns against allowing our feelings or heart to be our sole guide. God's external standard says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14: 12). "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise," wrote the wise man (Prov. 12: 15). Again, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts" (Prov. 21: 2).
In most areas of life man realizes that feelings are not reliable and a proper criterion. What would the traffic officer think when he pulls over a motorist for running a stop sign only to hear, "Officer, I felt I should run the stop sign"? Do you think such an appeal would influence the officer? Do you view the statement, "I felt I did not need to file my tax return" as valid? There are laws to govern the motorist and the citizen; hence, feelings do not serve as the standard. So it is regarding man and his God, there are laws to govern how to become and live as a Christian (see Eph. 4: 20, cp. vs. 17-23). Therefore, the Bible says, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered" (Prov. 28: 26).
In closing, may I kindly say that the religion of feelings is a religion of selfishness that especially appeals to the "me generation." Jesus said we must deny ourselves and follow him (Lk. 9: 23). It really does not matter what you and I feel in the context of plain revelation. One reason for the thousands of different denominations is because people are going by their feelings instead of the word of God (see Eph. 4: 3-6). After studying this material, which do you believe is the right way to be: "I believe thus and so because God's word says so!" or "I feel thus and so, it matters not what God's word says!"?