The Dangerous Duty of Delight, chapter 3

AFFECTIONS ARE NOT OPTIONAL

Perhaps you can see why it is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation. Mere decisions are no sure evidence of a true work of grace in the heart. People can make “decisions” about the truth of God while their hearts are far from Him.

We have moved far away from the biblical Christianity of Jonathan Edwards. He pointed to 1 Peter 1:8 and argued that “true religion, in great part, consists in the affections.”

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

1 Peter 1:8

Throughout Scripture we are commanded to feel, not just to think or decide. We are commanded to experience dozens of emotions, not just to perform acts of willpower.

For example, God commands us not to covet (Exodus 20:17), and it is obvious that every commandment not to have a certain feeling is also a commandment to have a certain feeling. The opposite of covetousness is contentment, and this is exactly what we are commanded to experience in Hebrews 13:5: “Be content with what you have” (RSV).

God commands us to bear no grudge (Leviticus 19:18). The positive side of not bearing a grudge is forgiving “from the heart.” This is what Jesus commands us to do in Matthew 18:35: “Forgive [your] brother from your heart.” The Bible does not say, Make a mere decision to drop the grievance. It says, Experience a change in the heart. The Bible goes even further and commands a certain intensity. For example, 1 Peter 1:22 commands “Love one another earnestly from the heart” (RSV). And Romans 12:10 commands “Love one another with brotherly affection” (RSV).

People are often troubled by the teaching of Christian Hedonism that emotions are part of our duty—that they are commanded. This seems strange partly because emotions are not under our immediate control like acts of willpower seem to be. But Christian Hedonism says, “Consider the Scriptures.” Emotions are commanded throughout the Bible.

The Scriptures command joy, hope, fear, peace, grief, desire, tenderheartedness, brokenness and contrition, gratitude, lowliness, etc. Therefore Christian Hedonism is not making too much of emotion when it says that being satisfied in God is our calling and duty.

It is true that our hearts are often sluggish. We do not feel the depth or intensity of affections that are appropriate for God or His cause. It is true that at those times we must exert our wills and make decisions that we hope will rekindle our joy. Even though joyless love is not our aim (“God loves a cheerful giver!” 2 Corinthians 9:7; “[Show] mercy with cheerfulness,” Romans 12:8), nevertheless it is better to do a joyless duty than not to do it, provided that there is a spirit of repentance that we have not done all of our duty because of the sluggishness of our hearts.

I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience is not there. It’s a good question. My answer is not to simply get on with your duty because feelings don’t matter. They do! My answer has three steps. First, confess the sin of joylessness. (“My heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” Psalm 61:2.) Acknowledge the coldness of your heart. Don’t say that it doesn’t matter how you feel. Second, pray earnestly that God would restore the joy of obedience. (“I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart,” Psalm 40:8.) Third, go ahead and do the outward dimension of your duty in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

This is very different from saying: “Do your duty because feelings don’t count.” These steps assume that there is such a thing as hypocrisy. They are based on the belief that our goal is the reunion of pleasure and duty and that a justification of their separation is a justification of sin.”

Yes, it becomes increasingly evident that the experience of joy in God is beyond what the sinful heart can do. It goes against our nature. We are enslaved to pleasure in other things (Romans 6:17). We can’t just decide to be glad about something we find boring or uninteresting or offensive—like God. The making of a Christian Hedonist is a miracle of sovereign grace. This is why Paul said that becoming a Christian is the same as being raised from the dead (“even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ,” Ephesians 2:5). It’s why Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to stop loving his money and start loving God (Mark 10:25). Camels can’t go through needles’ eyes—just as dead men can’t wake themselves from the dead. So Jesus adds, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). So Christian Hedonism breeds an utter dependence on the sovereignty of God. It teaches us to hear the command, “Delight yourself in the LORD and then to pray with Saint Augustine, “Command what you wish, but give what you command.”