The growing danger in the church today is the wide-held idea that feelings and experiences in themselves are the end goal of spiritual life. Too many think that they must get themselves to a self-defined point or feeling in order to consider themselves to having worshipped God. To strive so much after experiential stimulus has itself become the new object of worship, rather than the living God whom we must approach and worship in reverence and awe.
Far from seeking God as the object of our devotion, we have instead, in many cases, been guilty of seeking our own positive experience, deceiving ourselves into thinking that if we can get it, then we must have felt the Spirit moving. Rather than defining our emotions in light of the truth of God’s Word, we have instead leaned too hard on our own understanding and have trusted in subjective feelings to define for us what worship is and who God is.
Not only is this a gross and perverted view of worshipping God—by elevating man’s opinion above God’s decree—this has enormous implications and potentially dangerous consequences if left unchecked.
Man, in all of his earthly wonder, seeming wisdom, intellect, emotional complexities, and vast experiential repertoire, will always be subjected to his own inconsistent and fickle, sin-bent tendencies. Thus, all of the aforementioned niceties are not to be relied upon as final arbitration, especially in matters that pertain to the eternal, living God of Heaven and earth.
Indeed, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Apostles all had this to say about the self-sufficiency of man: they are as powerful as the grass of the field and the flowers of the grassy field in the scorching heat of the sun—they wither and fall away (Ps 103:15; Is 40:6–8; Js 1:10–11; 1 Pet 1:24). It is in contrast to this weak and pathetic picture of mankind that the writers uphold the eternal and immutable—unchangeable—nature of the Word of God that can be counted on forever.
Only from the Word of God—and that being faithfully and diligently meted out in practice (Heb 5:14)—can one have a chance of discerning their own emotions and intentions correctly. Ultimately, it will be with the help of other godly men and women in our lives who can help us in our weaknesses and “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). We must look at our life and our experiences through the discerning lens of the Holy Scriptures. We must not apply to Scripture any definition, or interpretation, based on our perspectives that have been molded by all sorts of temporal experiences.
Jeremiah states clearly it is because the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (17:9)?
Our desires, perspectives, and biases are warped and depraved by nature. To use that as a tool for defining right and wrong or to interpret spiritual realities is a magnanimous error. Isaiah even pronounced a woe upon those who would call “evil good and good evil,” (5:20) thus making it clear that men and women can and do wrongly discern and define.
The major threat that we face, then, when we do not love the truth and do not seek for righteousness and, rather, seek selfish, personal religious fetishes and shibboleths, is that we train ourselves to believe that the legitimacy, truthfulness, and genuineness of any preacher, teacher, or “worship musician” as being firmly established so long as they can deliver that particular experience we are so desperately trying to conjure. We esteem them to be unquestionably orthodox and spiritual.
Yet, it is precisely at this point that the Apostle's Paul & John warn their readers since the Antichrist, or lawless one, by the power of Satan, will have the ability to replicate many of the same signs and wonders that former prophets like Elijah had done when he called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel.
For instance, in Revelation 13, John says that the "second beast" will be able to call down fire from heaven in front of people, that "by the signs . . . it deceives those who dwell on earth" (v. 13).
Will he be able to deceive true Christians? The answer is an emphatic “no!” The Lord Jesus says it will be impossible to deceive the elect: “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24) (emphasis mine).
Paul writes to the Thessalonians and includes a warning about “The coming of the lawless one” saying that it is “by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception” that he will deceive many (2 Thess 2:9–10).
The takeaway is clear: We cannot count on external experiences alone to guide our understanding of truth. Rather, it is the truth that guides our understanding of experiences and it is the truth that discerns for us whether signs and wonders are true or false.
Experiences can be created. Emotions can be manipulated. Only those who "love the truth" will not be deluded, Paul says (2 Thess 2:10).
True repentance, regeneration, and sanctification will bring forth the most genuine forms of humble emotion you will ever experience, even a peace so unusual that it "surpasses understanding" (Phil 4:7). This will naturally result—supernaturally, rather!—when the living God abides in you.
Considering His mercy and forgiveness will bring forth praise as you remember that you should be punished in hell but were instead reconciled to Him in Christ.
Considering His justice will bring forth profound worship as you think and ponder on the fact that He has so condescended Himself to save someone like you or I.
Considering His holiness will bring forth more cries for help and grace to sustain us in a dark world where our flesh is still yet to be fully tamed, knowing that the true result of true conversion is a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, no longer living according to the flesh, which is at odds with God, but living and walking according to the Spirit.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember the words of the Lord Himself as He taught the crowds on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6).
Make that your goal. Make that your aim. Then let the Lord work out in your life the experience that can never be replicated anywhere else: godliness with contentment, which is great gain (1 Tim 6:6).
In Christ Alone,