Can One Feel Good While Disobeying God?

Ajith Fernando

Two people who were having an adulterous affair were confronted by a pastor friend of mine about the wrongness of what they were doing. Their response was, “How could something that feels so good, be so wrong?” My friend responded, “How could something that is so wrong, feel so good.” I am sure you have encountered situations where Christians are testifying to feeling good and being blessed by God while going along a path that was clearly contrary to the Word of God.
These attitudes are typical of many present-day Christians who have been more influenced than they would like to admit by the postmodern emphasis on subjectivity. Rather than the teachings of the Bible (objective truth: truth from outside of us), our experiences (subjective feelings: ideas from inside of us) are often determining what we consider to be right and wrong.
Today a lot of Christian programming is based on giving people a good “spiritual experience.” The goodness of the experience is gauged by how good it makes you feel. Singing feel-good tunes with shallow lyrics are hailed as wonderful worship experiences. Without us realising it, right and wrong are being determined by how one feels. “If it feels good, then it must be God’s will because God wants to bless us, and this good experience is a sign of God’s blessing.”

Though we give lip service to our allegiance to scripture, in practice the scriptures do not do to us what the Bible says it should do: help us develop a fear of God (Deut. 4:10). The fear of God causes us to be committed to obedience (Deut. 17:19; 31:12). An important motivation to obedience, of course, is the fear of displeasing God by disobedience. God says, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). That attitude of humble submission to the awesome of the word of God is something that clashes with postmodern ideas about freedom from the bondage to objective truth.

Let us look at some ways this lax attitude towards objective truth is affecting our lives.

We are sometimes greatly impressed when we hear some prophecies. We sense the presence of God in the prophecy. But if those specific prophecies are not fulfilled, we conveniently ignore the fact. Biblically prophecies are supposed to give absolute truth directly from the mind of God. But absolute truth is no longer a key factor determining our actions. So the non-fulfilment of a prophecy is not a big deal. 

A politician or businessman who claims to be a born-again Christian has succeeded immensely and come to the top of his profession. He testifies that God is responsible for his success. But he makes a lot of money through corrupt deals, he tells blatant lies when explaining his actions to the press, and he allows systems which exploit the poor to go on. Corruption, lying and the exploitation of the poor are consistently condemned in the scriptures. But this person is presented as an example of a Christian whom God has blessed and he seems to be a very contented person.

A pastor is having a powerful ministry and influencing a wide range of people. There are rumours that he is having adulterous encounters with women in his congregation, or that he is being very unkind to his wife. The leaders of his church choose the ignore these stories without inquiring into them conscientiously. They say that so many people are being blessed by his ministry (a subjective experience), and because of that an inquiry would be too costly for the work. Besides, they ask, “Who are we to stop what God is blessing?”

Sometimes, we see people quietly ignoring the implications of some of the commitments they made in obedience to the Scriptures. “Yes, I did make a vow to stick to this person for better, for worse. But this marriage is now very troublesome. Surely, it cannot be God’s will.” She does not feel obligated to submit to the vow she made. She says that divorce must be God’s will because she feels so much better after separating from her husband. A famous Christian testified when revealing her extra marital affair, “I have found my soul-mate; and he is not my husband!”

Our values are a major trigger for our feeling good. If avoiding suffering is a value that we hold dear, then we would feel good about avoiding suffering, even though it may involve defaulting on a commitment we made before God. Experience (subjective) has overtaken scripture (objective) as the key factor determining right and wrong. In Christianity suffering is a basic essential to discipleship. When we take a vow to be faithful to our spouse amid suffering, there is no question about giving up on the marriage (unless, of course, there is serious abuse or adultery). But those values no longer control our life. Therefore, there is no reluctance to break a covenant made before God. Instead there is relief that the suffering is over. So they testify to feeling better than they have felt in a long time.

There are many heroes of church history who laboured for many years with no visible fruit. Then after many years of lonely suffering and sometimes after they died, their labours bore fruit and a huge harvest resulted. That is why we look at them as heroes. I can mention names of famous missionaries like William Carey, Adonirum Judson, and James O. Fraser. Sri Lanka also has many unnamed heroes who went into unreached areas and laboured long years before the harvest came. What if, after seven years of frustration, disappointment, and loneliness, they gave up and left the places God called them to. They would have avoided a lot of suffering, but their disobedience would have disqualified them from being considered heroes.

Because the values of some people are so lop-sided, they can feel really good while doing something that is terrible. Their consciences should make them feel bad. But the Bible says that some people can come to the point of having their conscience “seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). The conscience has lost its sensitivity as if it has been burned. It should make them feel bad about sin, but it has lost its ability to do so.

Jesus said that on the day he returns, people will be enjoying themselves like in the days before Noah’s flood. They will be partying and having a jolly time (Matt. 24:37-38). But when he comes, he will come to judge sin. Those who felt good while disobeying God are going to recoil in horror when they realise that they have deceived themselves. After saying, “The Lord will judge his people,” the writer of Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31). This passage is talking about people recognised as Christians.

Let us do all we can to help people recover the extreme seriousness of objective truth—the absolute God has spoken, and we must listen to his voice with trembling. We would be wise to submit to the words of the Creator, Lord, and judge of the universe. 

One more thought. If we have close friends or spiritual elders who monitor our lives and with whom we are honest, our problems would be surface and could be addressed before they become seriously damaging. All of us are engaged in an intense battle for holiness. God did not intend for us to wage this war alone. This is why Paul told Timothy: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). We pursue holiness along with sincere friends. We all have weaknesses which could easily destroy our ministries. Our friends and mentors help us to prevent such destruction. Early confession helps Christians avert serious falls and God-dishonouring scandals.

We would not have the anomalous situations described above if all Christian leaders had people whom they were accountable to regarding their personal lives and ministry. I do not know where I would be today without my wife and a few accountability partners that I have. They have helped me immensely in my struggle with my many personal weaknesses.