The Bible portrays both God and humans as having feelings. God created people with emotions and affection. Feelings play a significant role in our lives and relationships, including our relationship with God. Traditionally, Christians are cautioned not to trust their feelings. But when submitted to the Holy Spirit’s dominion, human emotions and sentiments, both positive and negative, can serve a purposeful function in our lives.
Since humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6), it is reasonable to assume that our feelings reflect His character. God loves (Deuteronomy 7:7–8; Isaiah 43:4; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1; Mark 10:21; John 13:1; 1 John 4:8, 10), feels compassion (Psalm 103:13), expresses joy and delight (Jeremiah 32:41; Isaiah 62:4; Luke 15:32), and experiences anger (Exodus 22:24; Joshua 7:1; Matthew 21:12–13), grief (Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:30), and distress (Luke 12:50). Because of the fall, human feelings have been damaged at least to some degree by sin. But Christ has redeemed and restored the believer’s emotional life (Romans 8:31–39; Colossians 1:13; Titus 2:14; Revelation 1:5–6).
While often misleading (Jeremiah 17:9) and subject to change (Proverbs 14:13), human feelings can reveal spiritual truths and help us grow toward Christian maturity. Our emotions can expose our need for God, our dependency on Him, and the frailty of our human existence (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). Sorrow, anxiety, and fear can work as catalysts to drive us toward God (Deuteronomy 31:6; 1 Samuel 1:7–8; Psalm 6:6–7; 42:11; 56:11; 1 Peter 5:7).
Our feelings often uncover sin in our hearts (James 1:14, 20; Matthew 5:21–26). Guilt is an emotion that believers must contend with because all people are guilty of sin before God (Psalm 51:3–5; Romans 3:23). We can only be free of sin’s guilt by accepting God’s forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:10–12; Hebrews 9:14; Romans 5:9). When we realize our guilt and acknowledge our sin before God, we experience “godly sorrow” that “leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NLT; see also Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:8–9). Jesus Christ gave His life to free us from sin and remove our guilt and shame (Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:11–14; 1 John 1:7).
The Bible teaches that some feelings, if left unchecked, can be sinful. Christians must be careful to develop self-control to counteract sinful emotions (Colossians 3:8). Anger is a feeling that can easily cause us to sin, especially when we hang on to it and allow it to fester. The apostle Paul said, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26–27, NLT). Scripture encourages us not to fear (Luke 12:32; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18) or be anxious (Matthew 6:24–34). Feelings of pride, jealousy, and envy all must be resisted (Galatians 5:19–21; James 4:6).
In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11, Paul explained that the emotional trials we experience as believers train and prepare us to minister to others in their pain and suffering. Paul instructs, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT). Believers are called to have deep empathy for one another (Philippians 1:7–8; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 12:25–26; 2 Corinthians 6:11–13) and compassion for the needy (Exodus 22:21; Matthew 25:35–40; James 1:27). In our relationship with God, we are to “always be full of joy” and peace (Philippians 4:4, NLT; see also John 16:33; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 1:2–3; Galatians 5:22). Faith and hope are Christian virtues characterized by feelings of confidence, assurance, and trust in God (Psalm 71:5 Hebrews 6:19; 11:1; Romans 8:24).
Feelings are part of our human makeup, so we don’t have to deny or reject them. Instead, as believers, we ought to observe the emotional life of Jesus Christ, who illustrated how to navigate our feelings. In ministry, Jesus was motivated by compassion (Matthew 9:36; 15:32) and moved by grief (John 11:33). He carried heavy burdens (Luke 12:50; Isaiah 53:4–5) and even experienced times of emotional agony (Luke 22:41–44). Through it all, Jesus taught us to take every feeling of inner turmoil and submit it to God in prayer (Matthew 6:9–13; 14:23; 26:41; John 6:15; see also Philippians 4:6; Romans 8:26).