Theology 101

Is Your Faith More Intellectual, Emotional, or Practical?

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Some of us may be guilty of knowing a lot about God and even having moments of intense emotion in our faith, but ultimately failing to put what we know into practice.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, one problem in the modern and post-modern world, including the church, is the failure to see the connection between what we do, what we think, and what we feel. In other words, we don’t understand the relationship between knowing, feeling, and doing. Thus, we fail to manifest wise, passionate practice that would demonstrate to the world the truth we profess.

After focusing on the importance of knowing (study) and feeling (piety), I’d like to turn today to focus on doing (ministry).

How Knowing and Feeling Should Lead to Doing

There is a sense in which we can say that knowing leads to feeling, which leads to doing. We know what is true, feel passionate about it, and thus are motivated to act. An old poem by Philip James Bailey says:

We live in deeds, not 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 think most about the One who is most worthy, feel consumed by worship for him, and act according to his will.

In John 13:17, we see the three mentioned together: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Romans 6:17 mentions them in reverse order: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.”

In Romans 12:1, you have a summary of Romans up to that point and the foundation on which later ethical sections are laid: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

The doctrines developed in the first eleven chapters of Romans (the mercies of God) ought necessarily to lead you to the conclusion (therefore) of wholesale commitment to our Lord. In fact, it is the only logical conclusion, the only adequate response (your reasonable service). The ethics of the latter chapters of Romans (12ff) are based on the doctrines of the former chapters (1-11). Knowing provides a basis for doing.

How Doing Can Lead to Knowing and Feeling, Too

Not only does knowing lead to feeling, which leads to doing, but there is a reciprocal relationship between doing and knowing.

In John 8:31-2 it says, “…Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” So doing (abiding) leads to knowing (the truth), which leads to feeling (freedom).

And in John 7:17 we read, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues in The Cost of Discipleship that those who believe obey. We have seen how knowing and consequent faith leads to doing. However, Bonhoeffer also maintained that those who obey believe. When you do his will, or abide in his word, you find out how true it is. You find out in experience and practice just how adequately God’s truth “fits” in our personal and public life.

G.K. Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy:

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

Reason can only take you so far. It is Christ’s capacity to shed his light on all of life that makes Him ultimately persuasive. C.S. Lewis similarly 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.”

Knowing, Feeling, and Doing: All Three Are Integral

You could illustrate the relationship through the following diagram:

If you eliminate or diminish the power of any one, you deprive all three. If you eliminate (or minimize) knowing, you lessen feeling and lose a 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. Ultimately, there is a loss of all three—knowing, feeling, and doing—when one is left out.

While it’s important to understand the connection of knowing, feeling, and doing, it’s harder to put it into practice because of the Fall. You will naturally drift to what is most natural to you of the three.

With the help and grace of God, understand that a balance is important and urge yourself to cultivate all three areas of your faith.

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