Theology 101

An Integrated Faith Part III: Knowing, Feeling & Doing

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Last week I explored the connection between belief and emotion and its importance to having a vibrant faith. This week, I want to tie these two concepts to action. 

There is a sense in which we can say that knowing leads to feeling, which leads to doing:

  • We know what is true.
  • We feel passionately about this truth.
  • Our passion for our belief motivates us to act.

The poet Philip James Bailey once wrote,

We live in deeds, not in years; in thoughts, not breaths/In feelings, not in figures on a dial…/He lives most who thinks most, feels the noblest, and acts the best. 

This is true especially when we know the one who is most worthy, feel consumed by worship for him, and act according to his will.

We see knowing, feeling, and doing mentioned together in John 13:17 (emphasis added):

If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.

Romans 6:17 mentions knowing, feeling, and doing in reverse order:

But God be thanked that you have obeyed from the heart the form of sound doctrine delivered to you.

In Romans 12:1, Paul presents a summary of Romans up to chapter twelve and the foundation on which later ethical sections are laid:

Therefore my brothers, by the mercies of God, offer up your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service.  

The ethics of the latter chapters of Romans, chapters 12-16, are based on the doctrines outlined in Romans 1-11. Notice the progression of Romans: knowing doctrine provides a basis for doing – the offering up our bodies as living sacrifices.

Knowing leads to feeling. Feeling leads to doing. There is also a reciprocal relationship between knowing and doing. John 8:32 says,

If you abide in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Doing (abiding) leads to knowing (the truth), which leads to feeling (freedom). In John 7:17 we read,

If any man is willing to do [God’s] will, he shall know of the teacher whether it is of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues in The Cost of Discipleship that those who believe obey. He also maintains the reverse: those who obey do so because they believe. When you do God’s will, and abide in his word, you discover how true it is. You experience in practice how God’s truth adequately fits in your personal and public life. G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:

[A man] is partially convinced because he has found this or that specific proof of the thing, and he can eloquently expound on that one point. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophical theory when he finds that only one thing proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds everything that proves it. 

Reason only takes us so far. It is Christ’s capacity to shed his light on all of life that makes Him ultimately persuasive. C.S. Lewis maintains:

I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

You could illustrate the relationship between knowing, feeling, and doing through the following diagram:

If you eliminate or diminish the power of any one aspect,  you deprive all three.

  • If you eliminate or minimize knowing, you lessen feeling and lose strong motivation for doing.
  • A loss of doing leads to a corresponding loss of knowing and feeling.
  • A diminishing of feeling means a lack of motivation for doing and lessened knowledge.

Rather than a strong grasp of the truth of Christ leading to passionate love of Christ that motivates you to act on behalf of his kingdom in this world, there is a loss of knowing, feeling, and doing. If you leave out any one element, you will lose all three.

What does this mean for the church today? I’ll tackle that question in next week’s post.

Until then, tell me what you think. How do you think about knowing, feeling, and doing? How is it leading you to a deeper, more integrated faith? Leave your comments here

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  • Steve Wishart

    Respectfully, this seems to reflect more of an Enlightenment approach than one of historic Orthodoxy–which is embodied. It also reveals that Victoria’s in on a “Secret” that the church has forgotten. They’re lighting a fire in the belly (or lower) and the church is continually trucking water to the head.

    People mostly do not do what they know, they do what they desire. And knowledge doesn’t shape desire…habit does. I would contend that every smoker KNOWS smoking is bad for them. Every morbidly obese person KNOWS they should eat less. And every adulterer KNOWS it’s wrong to cheat on their spouse. This may help explain why the modern Evangelical church largely reflects the surrounding culture in spite of the fact that most American Christians consume more “Christian” resources that any time in history. Heads are full of “knowledge.”

    Adam KNEW Eve in Genesis 4, but what he knew he didn’t learn in a book (wink, wink). It was hands on. There’s a reason why Paul told his protege Timothy literally to “naked yourself unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). We only truly “know” what we put our hands to. No one learned to ride a bike by memorizing the laws of circular motion and centripetal force then applying them. They skinned their knees.

    This is not to say that acquiring “formal” knowledge isn’t important–it is. It’s just not what drives “doing.”

    The inherent weakness of the Enlightenment way of knowing is that it rubs against the grain of reality. And C. S. Lewis said when we do that we get splinters.

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