19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:19-20
There is a great section in the book of Hebrews that lists how the Christian knows things. In chapter 11 it repeats “by faith” many times in relation to the Old Testament heroes of faith and stories of God’s actions to save His people. This is very important for us as we constantly have other things trying to determine our truth than the Word of God and our faith in it.
Sometimes those other things are the people around us or our culture. We have seen its great attempts to influence how we think and know truth around us. We can sense the pressure to conform. But God’s Word doesn’t allow us the luxury to be both of the kingdom of God and to let the world around us determine truth.
Sometimes the source of truth tries to come from within us. It used to be that people primarily talked about “thinking” a certain way. That has in the last decade changed to “feeling” a certain way. Emotions have become a vessel used to promote error and for people to give in to lies and falsehoods in the same way that vain philosophies used to affect people.
This is where the verse quoted above comes into play. Sometimes our emotions can get into us and condemn us for believing the way we do, or the emotions can lead us to think or believe things that are simply untrue. Emotions may get us to trust ourselves rather than God’s Word on matters. They may mislead us into thinking that things are just not right, when according to God’s Word, everything is in order. One example of this comes when we like to talk about being “spiritually fed”. This is a rather subjective matter, but one which should be analyzed according to God’s own Word. We know that the Word of God does what it needs to do (Isaiah 55) and is the Voice of our Shepherd that us sheep want to hear (John 10). We know the Word has great power (Romans 1 and 10). We know the Word is what is undergirding the Sacraments as well, for without the Word baptism is just plain water and the Supper is nothing more than bread and wine. But with the Word, these things take on the quality that Jesus says about them. Baptism becomes our regeneration and renewal (Titus 3). The Supper becomes a meal which Christ sets before us to eat and drink (Matthew 26). These things all brings us spiritual food, Jesus, the Bread of Life, and whoever has Jesus will never hunger or thirst – this truth is not based upon thoughts, feelings, or anything other than the simple Word of God (John 6) which is received by faith.
So when your heart seeks to condemn you, accusing you of spiritually not being fed, place that same set of emotions under the truth of God’s Word and His promises about how He is feeding you through the Word and Sacraments. Trust that even if the feeling isn’t there, God’s Word is, and your faith trusts God’s promises, no matter what the world, your thoughts, or even your feelings want to say about it – God’s Word is more true than these things. Our hearts are not God. God is greater than our hearts.
The Formula of Concord deals with this also when it confesses what we believe from the Word of God: “For we should not and cannot always judge from feeling about the presence, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as to how and when they are experienced in the heart. They are often covered and happen in great weakness. Therefore, we should be certain about and agree with the promise that God’s Word preached and heard is truly an office and work of the Holy Spirit. He is certainly effective and works in our hearts by them.” (FC, SD, II, 56).
So it is by faith that we know that we are being spiritually fed every time the Word of God is read, preached, and taught. It is by faith that we recall the great benefit and blessing bestowed on us by being baptized. It is by faith that we know that this is Christ body and blood in the Supper, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. These blessings come to us through God’s Word (which undergirds the Sacraments) and are received by faith in that same Word. Neither our hearts nor our minds can overrule that truth (or condemn us), and as Christians we live by faith in Christ Jesus. That faith grabs onto the Word of God and trusts all that God says there is happening now, even if we don’t feel it.