The Dangers of Emotionalism
I spent the first 16 years of being a Christian an emotional mess. You might think I am being a bit dramatic, but it was dramatic at times with all the highs and lows of my spiritual state of mind.
Emotionalism controlled me. I based my salvation on if I felt saved. I woke up daily wondering how close I would feel to God that day. If my emotions were not stirred during worship service or if I wasn’t emotionally affected by a sermon, I questioned my own validity as a child of God. Personal experience measured my relationship with Christ. I felt my faith was either weak or strong based on how I felt most days. It fluctuated, of course. There were days of emotional highs where I knew the Lord was with me and then lows where I felt abandoned by God and most likely not saved. I am not saying the Lord was not actually with me, but if I didn’t emotionally feel Him, I questioned if He was there at all. I spent most of those years attending charismatic churches, some having more emphasis on emotionalism than others, but all in some way teetering on the emotionalism seesaw.
I believe this is the biggest danger of emotionalism: having a fluctuating faith based on our own personal experience, feelings, and emotions. Emotionalism is, to be honest, a false teaching that elevates or even glorifies our emotions instead of the steady truth of Christ and His Word as our rock to stand on.
I also believe emotionalism is man-glorified instead of Christ-glorified. It causes us to continually look inward to determine our standing with Christ. The focus of worship is almost sensual, creating a high emotional experience. In emotionalism, when speaking of our state while in His presence, one might hear phrases like “I am on fire for God”, “I am feeling holy fire”, “I am drunk in the spirit”, “I was slayed in the spirit”, or “I experienced holy laughter”. On the extreme side of emotionalism there are churches that are so steeped in it they falsely claim gold dust falls from the ceiling while claiming it’s a manifestation of God, at the same time the congregation goes wild with excitement–they are having an extreme high of emotions.
Emotionalism runs rampant in churches where the whole building is laughing uncontrollably, or one touch from the pastor sends people into almost nightmarish convulsions and their bodies flipping on the floors like a fish out of water. I believe it’s all dangerous. From something we think simple by allowing our emotions to decide the presence or absence of God, to our emotions so elevated and heightened we can’t even control our own bodies.
John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." We are to worship God consistent to what has been revealed in Scripture and with the correct heart attitude. I am by no means suggesting emotions have no place in our walk with Christ–of course they do. We can have too little emotion and seem distant and cold–not only towards God, but towards other brothers and sisters in Christ–but then we can have too much emotion which pulls us away from the truth we need to keep our feet on solid, stable ground.
We must have balance. We must practice self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Don’t use your feelings to determine where you are spiritually or how you respond to worship. Not only should we not let our emotions have supremacy, but those feelings stem from a heart that the Bible describes as deceitful.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We can’t trust our hearts; therefore, we should not be trusting our emotions as a basis for truth in our spiritual walk. We are to walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Our focus should not be whether we can sense God’s presence or love and then base His presence or love on that sense.
If you are born-again, if Christ has saved you, then He promises to never leave or forsake you. He will never abandon you. There are times where we won’t feel Him, there are times where we might feel utterly alone, but let’s not take that as truth, because it’s our own feelings and emotions that are presenting that lie to us.
God’s Word is true, and He is always with His children. I don’t have decide every day if I feel saved like I used to, because my salvation is based on His truth. I am saved. The Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I belong to God (Romans 8:16). There is evidence of conversion in my life. He has called me and justified me. Romans 8:29-30 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
Though I do believe I was still saved during all those previously mentioned years despite the seesaw I was on, it was a couple of years ago God used His Word to open my eyes to the truth of His sovereignty through the Doctrines of Grace, specifically, the Doctrine of Election. I went from highs and lows on the roller coaster of emotionalism to standing on solid ground of correct doctrine that changed the way I see God, the way I see Christ, the way I see the Spirit, and where I stand with Him.
Sound, biblical doctrine and theology will do that. My spiritual life is no longer equal to my personal emotions. I am no longer going up and down on the emotional yo-yo. I no longer have fluctuating faith based on my emotions. It’s freedom, sisters. It is true freedom to know where we are in our spiritual walk is not dependent on false emotionalism but on the powerful, steady, never-waving foundation of His Word and Truth. Let’s use God’s Word as our final authority and determinant of truth.
About the Author
Kelly Smith is one of our devotional writers and also a writer for Women’s Hope Project. Kelly is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She works full time as a virtual business manager. Her hobbies include writing and baking. Kelly has a passion for studying the Word of God, doctrine, theology, and sharing what she learns with women around her. Kelly lives in Florence, Alabama, with her husband of 15 years and her rescued fur babies!