“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .” (Galatians 5:22). We all crave peace of heart and conscience. Unrest, anxiety, guilt, anger, and a host of other unseemly feelings and emotions often consume us. The deeds of the flesh include strife, jealousy, envy, anger and such things as these (Galatians 5:19-21). Peace of heart and peace within the heart often evade us.
Jay Adams reminds us of an important biblical principle. “Feelings flow from actions” (Competent to Counsel, 97). See also The Christian Counselor’s Manual, 130-136. Simply put, feelings follow. When you do something bad, your conscience hurts and you feel bad. When you do something right, you feel good about it.
We see this principle at work in several places in Scripture. Philippians 4:6-7 links practice and peace, what we do and how we feel. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” If you love God and seek His face in the midst of anxiety by pouring out your needs to God, the promise is the peace of God will overtake you. A sense of inner peace comes after we take appropriate action to seek God in our troubles.
So also, Philippians 4:9, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” If you expect to experience peace which comes from God (He is the God of peace), then you must practice the Christian life. You must practice what Scripture teaches about the church, the family, interpersonal relations, employments, and other issues. Good feelings follow proper practice.
When children need to get up and get dressed, and get ready for school, it is inappropriate for them to refuse by saying, “I don’t feel like it.” Parents do not take kindly to this response. God does not take kindly to this response from His children either. When He calls us to repent of our sins and turn to Christ for forgiveness, He does not ask if we feel like it. When He issues the Ten Commandments as a way of life for His people, He does not consult us and ask us how we feel about it. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Once God cleanses our consciences and reorients our hearts, we feel bad when we lie, cheat or, steal. Guilt replaces peace. On the other hand, we have feelings of peace in our hearts when we tell others the truth, make sure we return the property of others, and keep our eyes on our own papers when taking exams. As in conversion itself, feelings follow.
Ultimately, peace of heart and feelings of peace are the work of the Spirit. God uses our actions as part of the means to bring about His ends. He enjoins, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). God gives you both the will and the ability to follow His commandments, albeit imperfectly. By God’s grace you work out the implications of your salvation by following God’s word. As you do so, the God of peace is with you and you experience peace of heart. The fruit of the Spirit, peace, blossoms and becomes a visible and attractive part of your life.