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Another book I read this past week on vacation was Feelings and Faith by Brian Borgman (You can read an interview with Brian on the book here). I have read a few books on how the emotions play a large part in the Christian life, such as the Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It is not up for debate in my mind that the emotions play a larger role in our spiritual growth than many churches and pastors seem to acknowledge. And while the other books on this topic were helpful, this book is far and away the best book I have read on this subject, which I readily admit is not many. However, I am glad that this book came to me early in my life rather than later.
The book aims to help its readers cultivate godly emotions through laying a biblical-theological foundation and putting forth specific applications of the theology in four sections. In the first part, Borgman lays a foundation through exposing “the most common misconceptions about the emotions, the cultural clutter of unbiblical thinking” and “provides a working definition of the emotions.” Borgman accomplishes his mission in Part 1. He begins by laying a biblical-theological foundation for understanding emotions by discussing the character of God, Jesus, and the Bible. He closes this section with a biblical theology of humanity (anthropology) that seeks to prepare us to receive the grace of God to conform our emotions to the Bible and the image of Jesus Christ. One subject that is touched upon here is the impassibility of God, which is a doctrine that takes up the discussion of whether God has passions (emotions) or not. While he only briefly writes about this doctrine here, the first appendix takes up the subject with help from Bruce Ware, DA Carson, Charles Hodge and JI Packer. While some have commented that he does not understand this doctrine, I believe his appendix proves he does and provides a helpful balance to what divine impassibility means and how it is a glorious doctrine.
Part 2 focuses on how our emotions and the process of sanctification. Borgman challenges the common assumption that the emotions cannot be changed or governed, so God cannot tell us how we feel. However, he exegetes the many Scriptures that show us that God does care about our emotions and even commands us how to feel. He goes on to talk about how the theology of Part 1, namely “the sovereignty, faithfulness, love and goodness of God not only bolsters our faith, but it gives us emotional equilibrium and joy, peace, and a whole host of other godly emotions that can sustain us.” This section ends with a quick overview of how the biblical writers handled their emotions in the Psalms, Lamentations and in the New Testament.
The second half of the book looks at mortifying ungodly emotions (Part 3) and cultivating godly emotions (Part 4). The first half of the book was well worth the price of the book, and the second half was just as excellent, if not more so. In fact, I believe Borgman wrote the first half of the book so well, that the second half just fell into place and was easy to read, meditate on, convicting and helpful. So many books start well, finish well or don’t do too much well at all, but this book was biblically solid, theologically sound, and pastorally practical through and through. Ungodly emotions such as anger and anxiety, unforgiveness and fear are taken up in Part 3 with a view towards killing these ungodly emotions in the life of the believer. Part 4 includes two chapters on how Jesus is our pattern for cultivating godly emotions because he perfectly possessed and displayed “the full spectrum of human emotions, without any darkness” and we see in Him “the goodness of emotions and the godly pattern of emotions.” Part 4 is an extremely helpful section to close the book because it is thorougly Christ-centered in its focus and practical in its application. I especially benefited from chapters 17 and 18, The Emotions & Worship and The Emotions & Preaching.
This is a book deeply rooted in the pages of Scripture that works itself out in practical theology and incisive application. The emotions are a very personal subject and they play a large role in our lives, so it is crucial to understand what the Bible teaches about the emotions and the Christian life. Borgman helps us understand the emotions, carefully provides help in mortifying ungodly emotions and gracefully encourages the cultivation of godly emotions. I recommend this as a great resource for the church and its families.
One of the books I read while on vacation here in Florida is A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to you as an encouragement for your prayer life. One thought that I particularly thought was striking was his belief that people struggle with prayer because they are pursuing prayer rather than God. This book helps rightly refocus the pursuit! Tim Challies has posted a great review and talks about one area of caution in the book. If you are looking for a new book on prayer, I echo David Powlison: “A Praying Life will bring a living, vibrant reality to your prayers. Take it to heart.”
“Love begets a likeness between the mind loving and the object beloved….. A mind filled with a love of Christ crucified … will be changed into his image and likeness.”
~ John Owen, The Holy Spirit
In conclusion of the series (and hopefully not the fighting of sin!), we have heard a call from our guides to deepen our knowledge of what Christ accomplished in salvation, that true repentance is turning from sin and to Christ, that fighting sin is a continual necessity and that there is a mean streak to the Christian life that focuses on the sinful deeds of our own flesh. However, Owen reminds us that all is for naught in the fight against sin if there is no love for Christ. Ultimately, loving Christ will help us fight sin on a daily basis, not because it will simply help us defeat temptation, but because it will actually change us more and more into Christ’s “image and likeness”… an image and likeness that was holy, sinless and one that glorified and still glorifies God every single moment. Owen leaves us to think about the question Pastor Dan Cummings used to ask, “What do you love?”
“There is a mean streak in the Christian life. There is a violence. There is a militancy. But it is exactly the opposite of selfish violence against people. It is a violence against the “flesh” or against “the deeds of the body” – our flesh and our body. The Christian is not mean to others. He is mean to his own sinfulness – his own flesh… So to put to death the deeds of the body (as Romans 8:13 says) “by the Spirit” we must set our minds on “the things of the Spirit,” which we now see means: set your mind on the word of God in scripture. What makes this ring so true is the connection with Ephesians 6:17 where Paul says in our battle against evil we must “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
~ John Piper, How To Kill Sin-Part 3
The great thing that Piper leads us to see is that the glory of God in Jesus Christ is at stake in our daily, necessary and continual action of fighting and “killing sin”. He says, “Jesus is glorified when we kill sin by the Spirit”. Now, we hear that we live to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but sometimes putting the ‘how’ into words is difficult. The fighting of sin on a daily basis, and not only fighting but also killing it, is not just a little triumph in a Christian’s life, but one that glorifies Jesus. This is a way we can daily live for His glory, not through our own will power, but by setting our minds on the Word of God and weilding The Sword against our flesh!
“Be always at it, cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. He who ceases from this duty lets go all endeavors after holiness… Sin will not die, unless it be constantly weakened. Spare it, and it will heal its wounds and recover its strength. We must continually watch against the operation of this principle of sin; in our duties, in our calling, in conversation, in retirement, in our straits, in our enjoyments and in all that we do. If we are negligent on any occasion, we shall suffer by it; every mistake, every neglect is perilous.”
~ John Owen, Works, Vol. 3
In our fighting of sin, we not only need to grow in the knowledge of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ and to know that repetance requires both a turning away and a turning to, but also that the fight against sin is a continuous activity. Most people know it is a necessity, but we must also realize it is a continual necessity… “cease not a day from this work.” Our culture and the busyness of our lives seem to choke out any striving towards the constant killing of sin. It is not that we don’t ever kill sin, but that we don’t do it unceasingly. So how does Owen encourage us instead of shaming us? He says neglecting to kill sin is disastrous… it is no small matter! He holds out two options: kill sin or be killed. And I do not believe he overstates the matter one iota.
“Remember that the man who truly repents is never satisfied with his own repentance. We can no more repent perfectly than we can live perfectly. However pure our tears, there will always be some dirt in them; there will be something to be repented of even in our best repentance. But listen! To repent is to change your mind about sin, and Christ, and all the great things of God. There is sorrow implied in this; but the main point is the turning of the heart from sin to Christ. If there be this turning, you have the essence of true repentance, even though no alarm and no despair should ever cast their shadow upon your mind.”
Charles Spurgeon, All Of Grace
Fighting sin requires repentance, but Spurgeon rightly reminds that repentance requires turning… and turning not just from sin, but to Christ. Being sorry for sin and wanting to not do it anymore is not true repentance until you also turn to Christ and look to His cross.