It is God’s greatest desire that, as believers, you and I progressively learn how to be led by His Spirit. However, there is a powerful enemy that stands in the way: our emotions. Satan is the most powerful enemy we face externally, but internally, it’s our emotions that give us some of the biggest problems.
Emotions are strong, complex internal responses that result in bodily changes. They are sometimes helpful and at other times hurtful. They come in positives and negatives. They are not evil, but they also are not holy.
Emotions can make you laugh one hour and cry the next. Not wanting them doesn’t stop them from coming, and wanting them doesn’t make them come. They are apt to quit on us when we need them most and flare up when we wish they would go away.
The truth is, we are always going to have emotions, and it’s not a sin to have them. It’s when we follow them that we often get into trouble.
But I believe through the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I can learn how to recognize our feelings and realize where they are trying to take us. Then by His grace, we can learn how to manage our emotions instead of letting them manage us.
UNDERSTANDING OUR EMOTIONS Emotions, or feelings, are part of our soulish realm. We are a spirit, we have a soul, and we live in a body. Our soul is the intangible area between our spirit–the place where God lives–and our physical body. It is made up of our mind, will and emotions–it tells us what we think, what we want and how we feel. Of these three areas of the soul, it’s our feelings that get stirred up the fastest and can lead us into temptation the quickest.
Once our emotions get stirred up, they can quickly deceive our mind. After this happens, the voice of our conscience, which operates out of our spirit, is denied its normal standard of judgment. In other words, our God-given inner voice of insight and understanding becomes drowned out by the cries of our emotions.
In this unstable state, we don’t know God’s will for our lives. We become confused about what we should and shouldn’t do. As a result, we commit to things that God doesn’t want us to commit to, we quit doing things that God wants us to remain a part of, and we say things that damage our relationships.
When we follow our feelings instead of following God’s Spirit, we are living the life of the flesh, and it keeps us out of God’s will. Romans 8:8 says that “those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him” (The Amplified Bible). This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. What it does mean is that He is not satisfied with nor will He accept fleshly behavior.
It is imperative that we learn how to walk in the Spirit. When we “walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then [we] will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh (of human nature without God)” (Gal. 5:16).
How do we learn to walk in the Spirit? I believe one of the best ways is to understand the differences between the natural man, the carnal man and the spiritual man.
THE NATURAL MAN AND THE CARNAL MAN In 1 Corinthians 2 and 3, the apostle Paul talks about two types of people that are led by their fleshly desires–the natural man and the carnal man. The natural man is the person who is not saved–his spirit is dead and totally devoid of God’s Spirit. He “does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them (of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them) because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Since God is a Spirit and the things about Him are spiritually discerned, the natural man cannot understand anything about God. Why? Because his spirit is dead in sin (see Eph. 2:1).
The carnal man, on the other hand, has experienced new birth in Christ. But although his spirit has been made alive through his faith in Jesus, his life is dominated by the desires of the flesh–the combined cravings of his body and soul. He does what he wants and is aimlessly led around by his feelings.
The carnal man is a people-pleaser who cares more about what people think than about obeying God. This was the case with many of the Corinthians. It is also the way many Christians are living today.
Look at what Paul says: “For you are still [unspiritual, having the nature] of the flesh [under the control of ordinary impulses]. For as long as [there are] envying and jealousy and wrangling and factions among you, are you not unspiritual and of the flesh, behaving yourselves after a human standard and like mere (unchanged) men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). In other words, Paul is saying that these carnal Christians were immature and operating out of their emotions–whatever they felt like saying and whatever they felt like doing, they did.