A common experience among Christians is that we know things intellectually but often don’t feel them emotionally. Two such examples are Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11, often quoted verses that most Christians and even non-Christians know.
We may believe the Bible when it says that “God works all things for the good of those who love him,” but when a loved one is suffering through a life-threatening disease or another thing has occurred to make our financial situation that much more dire, that belief doesn’t immediately translate into emotional peace.
We may believe that God “knows the plans he has for us, plans to give us hope and a future,” but when our job application is turned down for the tenth time or the pregnancy test comes back negative again, that truth we profess is hardly felt.
How is it that Paul could say he was content in every circumstance (Phil 4:12)? How is it that Habakkuk could rejoice in the Lord even when everything else fell apart (Habakkuk 3:17-19)?
Ultimately, our salvation is the answer. If God has secured eternal life, any temporal suffering experienced now is put in proper perspective.
You may say, “I know that. I know that God provides salvation, but I’m still intimidated. I still shrink back from these enemies that I have; I still feel no peace whatsoever; so, what solution is there for me? How is it that God is going to move me from spiritual depression to joy? Habakkuk said, ‘God is my savior; I will rejoice.’ How is God going to move me that way?”
He does it by convincing you that he loves you. You’ve heard me say on numerous occasions that every problem in my life would be solved or put in proper perspective if I really believed that God loved me completely in Jesus Christ. Every problem in your life would be solved or put in its proper perspective if you really believed that, because of your union with Christ, God could not love you any more than he already he does.
So, we’ve stirred up three things now: we’ve talked about salvation and we’ve talked about joy. And now we’re asking, how is it that those two are bridged? How is it that God gets me from the knowledge of my salvation to the expression of joy? He bridges it with love. Five times in the Bible God puts these three – salvation, love, and joy – together:
- Psalm 13:5 – “I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation.”
- Psalm 69:13 – “But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.”
- Psalm 85:7 – “Show us your unfailing love, Lord,and grant us your salvation.”
- Psalm 98:3 – “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as our help.”
In effect, God says, “you know in your mind that I save. You know that you are supposed to rejoice in that salvation, but you can’t get there, and you’re not going to get there until you are assured that I love you.” It’s love that bridges the gap between the knowledge of your salvation and the ability to rejoice in it.
You may say, “okay, now I know those three things: I know that God saves me; I know that God wants me to rejoice; and I know that God loves me…but I still don’t feel it.”
The Bible says that God wants us not just to think truth, he wants us to live truth and he wants us to experience truth at a visceral level. Therefore, he has dedicated one person of the trinity to accomplish that in us and he’s named the Holy Spirit.
You don’t have to go any further than the book of Romans, which Paul wrote to assure believers in Rome that their salvation was certain and secure. Paul acknowledges that they’re experiencing suffering and that they’re tempted to give up, so he says, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Perseverance comes by the Holy Spirit pouring out the love of the father into your heart. He didn’t say you’re going to persevere by thinking harder; he didn’t say you’re going to persevere by knowing more doctrine – those things don’t hurt, but it’s not what makes the real difference – it’s by the Spirit pouring out the love of the father in our hearts.
In chapter 8, Paul tells us how it’s going to happen: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). As he bears witness with your spirit that you are the beloved child of God, he drives out a spirit of slavery and replaces it with a spirit of adoption by which we cry out “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). It’s something your father not only invites you to, he commands you to. Therefore, we ought to pray for what the Puritans call “the sealing work of the Spirit.” It’s the idea not just that you are saved, believe, and know the truth, but also that at a visceral, emotional level, the Holy Spirit convinces you that you are a beloved child of God.
Some of you are living in constant discouragement and anger, demoralized because you just don’t believe in your heart of hearts that God loves like he has said he does in Jesus Christ. What do you do? You pray for God to seal it to you through the Holy Spirit. It may not come immediately. It won’t come constantly. But it will come.
It’s like the feeling a parent has when their child doesn’t believe that they love him or her; that parent wants to do anything in the world to convince them that they do. Likewise, your heavenly father wants you to know that he loves you. That’s why he’s given the Spirit. Pray to the Spirit to bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
Thomas Goodwin, an old Puritan who preached on this theme a lot, urged his people to pray like the psalmists do. So, he’d say, “now when you go to God, you should take his promise with you and remind him of his promise. But also give this bargain to God: tell him it will make you more holy.” Now, God isn’t manipulated by us; that’s not the point. It’s just our way of saying, “Oh, Lord I want to know that I know that I am a beloved child of God in Jesus Christ, so that I can live more faithfully, more exuberantly, more liberated for you.”
As Christians, we’re not to live as emotionally blank people, heaping guilt on ourselves because we don’t feel emotionally what we believe intellectually. Instead, take those doubts, those fears, and that depression and ask the Holy Spirit to seal to your heart what you already claim to believe. It’s our only hope when we just don’t feel it.