Does it matter how I feel if I don’t act on those feelings? Is it ok to hate if I don’t act on that hate? Is it ok to covet if I don’t steal? Is it ok to lust if I don’t fornicate? This question is important today because some are now saying that it is ok to be attracted to minors as long as you don’t act on those feelings. This Is now referred to as being “virtuous paedophiles’, ‘ethical paedophiles’ or “gold star paedophiles.” Are those feelings ok as long as we don’t act on them?
Do feelings matter? The Old Testament emphasizes laws for the restraint of sinful desires. The New Testament focused on reshaping desires. God promised a new heart as part of Christianity (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26) God said, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul“ (Jer. 32:39-40). Ezekiel 30:18-22 commanded the people to create a new heart. God said, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
Jesus commanded his disciples to have righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. How were they to be so excellent? By the new heart rather than simple restraint. That is why the rest of the Sermon on the Mount and so much of Jesus’ teaching focused on the heart rather than on simple restraint. Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matt. 15:16-20).
It matters how how you feel. Your feelings lead to your actions. You are your feelings, as much or more so, than you are your actions. So how are we to live holy lives? Relying on personal restraint will not be enough. We need a new heart. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”(Rom. 12:1). We can fulfill this command by looking to Jesus. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Feelings matter. Regulations are necessary. Loving Jesus is our only hope. Holy desires and holy feelings are the goal. Looking to Jesus will change our feelings. Feelings, changed by love for Jesus, will change our actions.