Audio Worship, 10/1/2023 "Spiritual Formation: Transforming Our Feelings" Galatians 5.13-26

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1607

October 1, 2023

Galatians 5.13-26                      Click here for Audio Worship

Dr. Ed Pettus


"Spiritual Formation: Transforming Our Feelings"


13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.


  • Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings!


Those of us old enough will remember the song played to death on the radio back in the 70’s, Feelings, and the opening lyric was “Feelings, nothing more than feelings.” The song is basically about lost love and struggling to get rid of feelings of love.

Feelings are known to us and yet difficult to describe what a feeling is. Not in the sense of “I feel sad” or “I feel happy”, but in defining the term feeling. It is something like the tone of the self. Feelings turn us away from some things or draw us to others. One of the over used lines in the Star Wars universe is, “I have a bad feeling about this.” That line gives us a sense of something is not quite right or something is sensed in what may or may not happen. We heard about transforming our thoughts last Sunday and today we turn to the topic of transforming our feelings. These two topics are intertwined. Thoughts bring up feelings and feelings are connected to thoughts. A bad memory (thought) brings forth fear or sadness (feelings). Sometimes a memory may bring back a feeling as in hearing a song that sparks a feeling that evoked by an image or memory.

Another song I remembered was More Than a Feeling by Boston, from 1976. This too is a song about lost love and yet the sentiment is a bit different in that the memory brings back more than a feeling. It may speak of something deeper behind a feeling.


When I'm tired and thinking cold, I hide in my music, forget the day
And dream of a girl I used to know, I closed my eyes and she slipped away, She slipped away


It's more than a feeling, (More than a feeling), When I hear that old song they used to play
(More than a feeling), I begin dreaming, (More than a feeling), 'Til I see Marianne walk away
I see my Marianne walkin' away


I spoke, jokingly, last Sunday about men not having many thoughts when asked about what we are thinking and women having many thoughts simultaneously. It is very similar in pointing out our feelings – men tend to struggle with what that even means while women have very little trouble describing how they feel. I remember being tested on certain things for professional assessment and they gave us a list of feeling words to choose from with any questions that asked about how we feel. I suspect only the men needed that list.

But, we all have feelings. Sometimes something feels right and we know we should move forward. Sometimes there is a bad feeling and we pause to examine why we might feel that way. Feelings can be elusive and yet we tend to trust in our feelings in a way that could even become problematic, enslaved to feelings. One of the catch phrases of the 1960’s was “if it feels good, do it!” Well, that did not work out so well for a lot of people.

We will sometimes wonder at criminal activity because there is the appearance that the perpetrator has no feelings. We fear the rise of Artificial Intelligence because it has no feelings. We say things like “you hurt my feelings” because something occurs within our being that feels harmed or abused. Of course, that has taken a severe turn to the left these days as we now have people who need safe spaces and some who cannot be spoken to at all without their feelings being hurt. I would describe such people as being enslaved by their feelings because they have not been transformed in Christ. This is very close to John 8.34, Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. That is not to say that feelings are sinful or that having our feelings hurt is necessarily sinful, but it is to observe that those who are constantly offended and are seeking safe spaces are not normally people of faith in Jesus Christ.

The trouble with feelings is that they can be a blessing or a curse. We struggle to live with them but cannot live without them. Just like thoughts, they are simply a part of who we are. But what we are seeking to do is to identify our feelings in order that we might rid ourselves of the feelings from the old nature and bring in feelings of the new creation in us.


  • Transforming Our Feelings


Is there a way to set ourselves free from our feelings, not that we cannot have them, but that the feelings are not the determining drive in our lives? One might interpret, for instance, that when Peter told Jesus that Jesus would not be crucified, Peter was acting on thoughts driven by his feelings,

21From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16.21-23)

The argument could be made that the devil was influencing Peter’s feelings at that point, and maybe so, but either way, Peter was trusting not in what Jesus was saying, but in something else, and I would suspect his feelings played a huge role in his rebuke.

By that story we might conclude that the antidote for enslavement to feelings is trusting God. It is not that we should not or even could not have feelings, we will have feelings, but feelings cannot be the leading factor in our lives. What we seek in transformation is a new creation within us by the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit so that our feelings never lead us into sin. We seek the transformation that frees us from vanity and desires for worldly things. We seek the things of God that will transform our feelings into godly actions. Our feelings begin this transformation when we come to see our identity completely and totally formed as a student of Jesus Christ, a disciple, apprentice, or padawan (in Star Wars lingo). Transformation takes time and plenty of God’s grace. Transformation also requires self-control toward the kingdom of God, to become a kingdom person by the means given us by God. He has given us His Word and His Spirit to bring about the transformation of our thoughts and feelings. Our goal is to be transformed in our personhood, our character, in such a way that our feelings are based on the condition of our being and that being, the essence of who we are in Christ by the Holy Spirit is known by the fruit of the Spirit. So that love, joy, peace, and so on become the base line of our feelings. Instead of feelings coming out of envy or jealousy or pride, they come from love and joy and peace. These in turn feed all the others as well: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t think it is by accident that Paul lists these three first – love, joy, peace because they are closely related to another set of words, faith, hope, and love. The greatest being love.

Love is at the top of the list because it permeates everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ. God so loved the world, He gave His Son. God commands us to love Him with all our being and to love our neighbor. God commands that we love one another, fellow lovers of God. Love is the foundation of the church, the community of faith. All of this comes because God first loved us (1 John 4.19)!


  • Self-Control


I want to also point out the last word, or hyphenated word, in the list of Galatians 3.23, self-control. One reason is because this term comes up against or right next to verses 24-25 where self-control might be most needed, that is, in being crucified in the flesh with our passions and desires and in living by the Spirit. Those things – passions and desires are often fueled by feelings. We sometimes let our feelings rule by our passions and desires. And, keeping in step with the Holy Spirit is fueled by self-control.

Let me confess, my lack of self-control in this area of feelings is doing too many things only when I feel like it. In that sense, feelings control us rather than the self-controlled life as we see it in Scripture. I don’t feel like cutting the grass right now, don’t feel like taking out the trash, don’t feel like...fill in your favorite chore! In essence, we become slaves to our feelings rather than to the disciplined devotion to the Lord to do all things to His glory. One of the biblical mandates listed in Galatians 3, which is also a fruit of the Spirit, is self-control.

Dallas Willard writes this about self-control, “Self-control is the steady capacity to direct yourself to accomplish what you have chosen or decided to do and be, even though you ‘don’t feel like it.’ Self-control means that you, with steady hand, do what you don’t want to do (or what you want not to) when that is needed and do not do what you want to do (what you ‘feel like’ doing) when that is needed. In people without rock-solid character, feeling is a deadly enemy of self-control and will always subvert it”. (Pg 127)


  • Love, Joy, Peace...


Let us consider that list of characteristics in Galatians 3.22-23. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the work of the Holy Spirit, the fruit that grows from seeds planted, the attributes of Christian character that crowd out those feelings that lead to sin and death. It is through the power of God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit that these things are fostered in our lives. It is through the disciplines of faith, the commitment and devotion to God, the discipleship in following Jesus Christ that we cultivate love, joy, peace, and so forth, into our lives and also receiving love, joy, and peace from other believers. We must be honest about our feelings. Are they in step with the Spirit? Have we truly sought to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires?

God can and will transform our feelings when we are willing to give ourselves over to His Lordship and receive the fruit of the Spirit and all the blessings of right feelings that come with the love of God and the love for God. In the end I think it is important that we not allow ourselves to be ruled by our feelings, but fill ourselves with love, joy, peace, self-control, until we can only feel that which is pleasing to God. It may take us a week to overcome bad feelings or it may take years, but we are to be about that work of abandoning any feelings that lead to harm, and foster those that lead to goodness and gentleness and patience.

God will transform us, in thought, in feelings, in deeds, in words, all our being, crucified to our passions and desires and alive to walking with the Spirit of God. This is our hope, our joy, our peace, our love, all our life, defined as a people who belong to God, alive in Christ, filled with love to foster all the fruit God has given. Amen.

* Sermon series based on readings from Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard.