This post is a continuation of the discussion on the previous post, “If Mormonism is a lie, what should people do about it?” The discussion evolved onto the topic of the role of feelings in discerning truth.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians, as some of you know, is centrally about living a Spirit-led life, particularly built upon the crucial foundation of justification by faith apart from works of the law. Gathering what we know on Paul’s view of the Law, “works of the law” included both distinctive works of Judaism (like circumcision and Sabbath laws) and the ten commandments. For Paul, love is the summary and fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-10). Paul writes that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them'” (Galatians 3:10). For Paul, the Mosaic Law not only excludes Gentiles, but it also brings a knowledge of the sin of both Jews and Gentiles. If anyone is going to even partially use a law of works to seek justification and the Spirit, there is only curse and condemnation. Just as Paul wrote elsewhere:
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20, emphasis added)
There is no real salvation or forgiveness or freedom in religions of merit-earning and worthiness-proving. To receive the Spirit and free justification we are told to, like Abraham, receive these things “by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5-6). After laboring over the topic of justification by faith apart from works and the implications of the freedom it provides, Paul encourages his Christian readers to walk by the Spirit which they have so freely received:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (5:16-26)
In the context of Galatians, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” are fruits of a Spirit-led life which has as its foundation justification by faith apart from works (both the worst of bad works and the best of good works). It is sad that Mormonism attempts to separate a Spirit-led life from free justification by faith apart from all works. In fact, Mormonism seems to teach that a person won’t live a Spirit-led life if they embrace justification by faith apart from works. Sadly, this is severing the fruit of love from the root of gospel-truth. For Paul, the only way to walk by the Spirit is to first receive justification and the Spirit “by hearing with faith”, not by works.
In context, the list of fruits in chapter 5 is not of impressions or sensations used to examine the truthfulness of God or the gospel or apostolic authority (cf. Paul’s defense of his own apostolic authority in chapters 1 and 2). Instead they are given to help examine a person’s new life in Christ and to speak of the attributes which a Christian spiritually grows in. It would be imposing an extra-Biblical framework onto the passage to assume that things like “faith” and “longsuffering” can be summarized as feelings. Nor can such a notion stand up to the realities of life. Longsuffering can involve quite the gut-wrenching kind of bite-your-lip-for-the-sake-of-love kind of patience. Love can mean spanking a child who is unruly, something no parent should take an immediate joy in. Gentleness is a disposition towards people, not a buzz or an impression or a sensation. Self-control often involves restraining desires that are influenced by very, very strong feelings toward something inappropriate. Joy can mean directing our hearts to the blessings of the next life while experiencing the most horrific feelings of suffering in this life. To summarize all these fruits of the Spirit as “good feelings” is not only inadequate but also oversimplistic and misleading. No matter how good it feels, a feeling it not pleasing to God if it does not correspond to objective, Biblical truth and does not come to fruition in the overflow of the worship of the only true God (for all worlds and universes and realities).
But let us not overreact to the excesses of Mormonism (or “charismania”). To completely divorce the fruits of the Spirit from the feelings of the heart would be misleading too. The “fruits of the Spirit” are contrasted in Galatians with the “works of the flesh” (5:19) which come from “desires of the flesh” (5:16,17). Rather than mere emotions, fruits of the Spirit therefore would better be described as the budding of a spiritual flower, deeply rooted in the soil of truth-based desires, watered by faith in the actual promises of God concerning free justification and free eternal life—all of which is put into effect by the personal work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. This budding flower makes a person’s life spiritually beautiful and sweet to God and the angels and the saints. Elsewhere Paul indicates that the aroma of Christ in Christians is sweet to those being saved but is a stench of death to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
The fruits of the Spirit are demonstrated over time. Feelings can come and go within minutes or even seconds. To examine someone’s life (firstly and primarily our own!) to see if they are exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, you should look at their words and actions and dispositions, particularly in relation to the gospel about Jesus Christ, consider their pre-conversion life, notice the change, and compare them in a measure with the person of Jesus Christ. Examining any person’s fruits by simply gauging what emotional impression they personally have or give is not only unwise but also shallow, dishonorable, unloving, and disrepectful. When the sheep and goats are identified at the final judgment by their fruits they won’t be identified by their feelings but by their heart’s deepest desires and beliefs which overflowed into their actions.
That common Mormon phraseology like “feeling the Spirit” is conspicuously missing from the Bible should be disconcerting to some of you. Potential converts in Acts are never told to pray for an emotional epiphany or euphoria but rather are directed to look at the public evidence of Old Testament scripture pointing to the Messiah, eye-witness testimony of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and publicly manifested signs and wonders wrought by the Spirit, etc. The Bereans were commended not for seeking private emotional epiphanies but for examining Paul’s new message with what the Old Testament said. Luke writes, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
To those who have oversimplified the “fruits of the Spirit” as feelings and wrested them out of the context of a Biblical worldview, this might come as a surprise to you: I think Mormons are in urgent need of evangelism precisely because they do not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. They characteristically do not “love” those who bring the truth about the gospel and the nature of God. They call what Christians believe an “abomination” and characterize most of the under-shepherds of authentic Christianity as “corrupt”. They revile God’s beloved bride, the church, as being apostate. They do not exhibit “peace” about those who denounce error and herald truth. They do not exhibit “faithfulness” to the gospel as communicated by the apostolic writings. They do not often practice “self-control” when encountering what is so viciously and hatefully called “anti-Mormon” material. And they spurn the one who supplies the Spirit and free justification and free eternal life, for instead of immediately and permanently receiving these gifts “by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2,5), Mormons are taught to merit and prove themselves morally worthy of them. Most tragically and disconcerting though, is that Mormons exhibit a “work of the flesh” which is most shocking to God and the angels: They exhibit “idolatry” (5:20) by expressing indifference and apathy toward traditional Lorenzo Snow couplet theology, and by teaching that Jesus Christ had to become a God in the pre-earth life. Instead of worshiping the God who was always fully God “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2), who authoritatively said of himself, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (Isaiah 43:10), they worship the God of Joseph Smith, who we have allegedly only “imagined and supposed… was God from all eternity“.
This is why I preach and teach and correct, hopefully with mingled kindness and concern and love and passion (trust me, I know I need a lot of help and growth in these areas). Satan has tricked Mormons into believing that their heart is not deceitful, but rather that it is the most reliable medium of truth. He has deceived people into thinking that he has no power to mislead with positive feelings. But Satan is powerful, and is even called the “god of this world” who has the ability to blind the mind:
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
If he can blind the mind, tempt us to sin, send demons to inhabit a person, and is called, in a sense, a god, he is not so weak as to not be able to put deceitful feelings in what the Bible calls a “desperately sick” and incomprehensible heart, which is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Let that sink in. There is nothing more deceitful to humans than the human heart. While Mormonism teaches that the Bible is fundamentally corrupt, Christianity teaches that the human heart is fundamentally corrupt. While Mormonism teaches that the heart is spiritually alive and that the Bible is a dead book, in reality it is the “the living and abiding word of God” by which the Spirit brings a dead heart to life. Christians “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). May God guard us from belittling the Spirit by treating him as a personified feeling or sensation. He is a real person who does powerful work through the living and abiding word of God.
You must be born again, my friends. And this is not something you can control with a ceremony like baptism.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)
Consider the fruits of the Spirit in the larger context of Paul’s incredibly passionate letter, full of what one pastor calls a “compassionate rage“. Receive the word of Christ and the permanent indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit “by hearing with faith”. He promises eternal life and free forgiveness and a secure future for those who would trust him for it. Only then can you truly live a Spirit-led life rooted in truth that is pleasing to God. If you believe the promises of Christ, then you will stop working for justification, stop trying to “pay” the “price” to “merit” the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and start trusting the God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:4-6) and gives the Spirit freely (Galatians 3:5-6). Then you can join us in singing:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:7-8)
Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me,
PS I’ll be on my way to an airport when this post is scheduled to be published. I hope you all have a great discussion. It seems some of you have become very frustrated with your conversation partners. I recommend that everyone pray for the people you are trying to communicate with before writing your comments.