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10. The Holy Spirit and Our Emotions

Emotions are an ignored reality in much of the Evangelical Church, but it is not so in the Bible. Within the Bible’s pages the Trinity manifests a rich emotionality. Within the New Testament the Person of the Spirit not only manifests rich emotions Himself, but is given to the believer to profoundly influence her or his emotional life. As we cooperate with the Spirit and sound spiritual principles, we shall experience an increasingly rich emotional life. The health of our emotions is a critical category of our spiritual life. The why and how of that is explored.

The Significance of Emotions

Why spend our time on the Holy Spirit and emotions? First, emotions are closer to us than air. They are the ever present current within us: they define the inner world and give us continual commentary on the outer world. Awareness of life even starts with emotions. Life demands an understanding of emotions. Setting aside the biblical realities and the evangelical scene, simple existence demands an understanding of the place of emotions. They are closer to us than our skin, than the air we breathe. Emotions are as constant and present as the weather surrounding us. We need to understand and manage them.

Second, emotions come with great intensity. Most of us struggle with our emotions. A thought may be put out of the mind; it is not necessarily so with a fearful emotion. When a person is filled with dread, the source may be a fearful thought or situation, yet the force of the emotions is what makes the individual preoccupied. We cannot flee from our feelings; therefore, we must deal with them.

Third, the evangelical’s approach to emotions may be the weakest part of our “system” of spirituality. Note just the differences between charismatics and the Bible movement with reference to emotions. Time after time all of us have heard the biblically-oriented evangelical question the validity of emotions. At the same time the charismatic often elevates emotional experiences to the level of definitive spiritual reality. We desperately need clarity in the area.

Fourth, not only is the place of emotions a significant issue in the evangelical movement, but the place of the emotions is a significant issue within the pages of the Bible. For example, as we shall see, the management of the emotions is critical to the spiritual life. One of the ministries of the Spirit of God is to mold the human ability to have emotions into an instrument for the display of Christ’s character. A very practical understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role relative to our emotions will lead to a deeper understanding of the spiritual life.

Fifth, with the counseling revolution going on in our circles, clarity is needed concerning the place of emotions. The doorway to the inner life is not the world of dreams as it was with Freud, but among contemporary counselors it is the experience of emotions. Since emotions are where the counselor begins, a proper understanding of them will help define the relationship between the pastor and counselor.

Sixth, whether the counseling revolution occurred or not, pastors in their teaching and leading need to understand the function of emotions. Many view pastors as having nothing to say about the world of emotions. We will see that pastors of all people in the helping professions should have the most to say. The pastor is not playing a pivotal role, however, in the church’s understanding of emotions. Many believe that more evangelicals with significant emotional problems are going to Christian and non-Christian counselors rather than their pastors.

According to researchers about one out of twenty pastors still counsels and another one out of twenty trains disciples. Every pastor does counsel in preaching—often very directly—and therefore, also should counsel and disciple individually. In fulfilling these roles he should know intimately the biblical role of emotions. No reason exists that the professional counselor should have a monopoly on the understanding of the world of emotions. The concepts and the material regarding the place of emotions are not that difficult to understand. Freud himself believed that no need existed for the psychiatrist to have a medical degree. In fact, he suggested that the intelligent and insightful lay person could do as well as the medically trained. In the same way pastors can just as easily master the world of emotions. This is especially true because the contents of the Bible constantly address the world of emotions and sometimes address the world of the unconscious.

Seventh, effective preaching demands a clear understanding of emotions. A misconception exists in many places that a deeply emotional sermon striking the congregation with power is, on the face of it, suspect because “it is emotional.” That may be a mistaken understanding. Deeply emotional sermons and a strongly felt response may just mean that the preacher has communicated clearly. The emotions exist because both the preacher and the congregation apprehended the perceived existential greatness of what was being taught.

Finally, emotions do not authenticate truth; emotions cannot verify the historicity of the resurrection of Christ or other historical and theological realities. Emotions, however, do authenticate our understanding of the truth. A happy heart is the greatest evidence of the apprehension of spiritual truth. In the Bible, truth is supposed to strike the life with positive emotional force. Truth without effect is an unknown within scripture.

Given the significance of emotions I contend that the Holy Spirit has a fundamental role to play in the emotional life of the Christian. To appreciate this role, three factors must be examined and understood. The first is that we as humans are an analogy of the divine. The reason that we have emotions is that God has emotions. We are made in the image of God, an image that includes a key component of emotions—in short, his emotional image. When we speak of God having emotions, this is not anthropopathic language. We are not saying we are making God in our image. Instead we are in his; therefore, we feel and want.

As we proceed, we will examine the source of our emotional life—God himself. Second, we will see that with the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, a richly emotional presence has entered our person. Finally we must learn how to cooperate with this person for our emotional well being.

The Trinity—The Source of Our Emotions

Where do these amazing things called emotions come from? Feelings are the bane and blessing of our existence: a blessing, for example, as they create a profound joy within us as we look upon our children; or a bane as we experience times of grief and loss. At those various times our emotions match the delights and disasters of life. The source of emotions is a surprising place. This ability to feel comes from our being made in the image of God.

A short while back I had a frighteningly interesting experience (more frightening than interesting) of having an ophthalmologist operate on my eye. The procedure was complicated so the operation was at a hospital in an operating room. Stretched out on a gurney I was waiting outside the operating room. Then, an anesthesiologist came over to check on me. We ended up in a conversation. I told him that having a series of eye problems had led me to appreciate how wonderfully our two eyes work together to create the sense of depth. I did not want to lose that, I said.

Then he replied, “Isn’t evolution fantastic because a million years ago we had one eye in the middle of our heads, and then it migrated down to our face, and on the way it split in half.” Gesturing he placed two hands together on his head and then he slid each hand down to each eye. “That’s how we got two eyes,” he stated.

Please understand I had been in pain for several weeks and had experienced high levels of stress. I am not as unsubtle as I will now appear.

“That is so stupid,” I replied, “that I’m almost forced into believing that God did it.” He got the best of the argument because shortly thereafter I was unconscious.

What is true of our bodies is true of our emotions: God did it! Our bodies are repositories of wonder. Within our frame is an unimaginably complex set of abilities. From whistling a tune, to thinking up the splitting of the atom, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet the greatest wonder of all is, all of this is expressed by a moving and flexible pile of chemical and electrical activity. Such is so wonderful that it makes the existence of God reasonable. Not only what we can bring forth is a marvel but what is within is also. Inside of us is a world of emotions, appetites, and imagination.

Our ability to do things without and sense things within exists because God molded clay into an electricochemical masterpiece that makes the complexity of the most advanced computer laughable. What was his model in doing so? The answer is himself. We are flesh and blood expressions of the divine; we are made in his image. If that is so, than the contemplation of ourselves is in some way a basic introduction to deity.

God does have the ability not only to think and to will, but also to feel. The language of the Bible expresses it this way. God is said to have two qualities: he is spirit and he has a soul. The classic statement is John 4:24, “God is spirit.” The Greek construction is anarthrous (without the definite article) and emphasizes spirit as a quality. A way of translating the phrase would be, “God as to quality is spirit.” Spirit implies self-awareness, reflection, and will. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit are commonly connected to terms of reflection, intellect, and intention.

God is also described as having a soul. Soul implies sensation, feelings, and appetites. Since he is a sensate being, God has what can be described as a soul. Some erroneously take the language revolving around the word soul and almost turn it into some substance within God or man. I am not suggesting that the soul is a “thing”; rather the soul is best understood as a category of language and psychological observation and not a substance.

Jer 15:1—“Then said Yahweh to me, ‘If Moses and Samuel were standing before me, my soul would not be with this people.’”

Isa 1:14—“Your New Moons and appointed Feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me. I am weary of putting up with them.” Note how the strong aversion or dislike is connected with the soul.

Isa 42:1—“Behold, my slave whom I am holding fast, my chosen one. My soul delights in him. I have placed my spirit upon him.” In this verse the soul senses delight.1

Notice the collocations or the terms that are found around the word “soul.” They are emotionally rich terms like delight, hate, burden, etc. The soul is connected to the experiencing of desiring and feeling.2

By its very nature language can generate confusion; this is one of those instances. It is easy to presume that soul and spirit imply substances, a spirit substance and a soul substance. Yet Christians generally understand that God is incorporeal, or is not a body. Instead of God having substance, soul and spirit, these terms may be describing processes within a person. Soul implies that the person has desires and emotions while spirit implies that the person can reflect and be self-observing.

God as the archetype of personhood is therefore the source of emotions. At the center of all reality is a being who feels and thinks. We are a reflection of that deep and wondrous reality. Since the Bible says that we are made in his image, we too feel and think.3

Being made in his image is the reason for our emotions and our thoughts. Men and women are similar to animals in having flesh and soul (man—1 Cor 2:11; animals—Gen 7:22; Eccl 3:21-22), but the critical difference is that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). The totality of our personhood including our psychological make-up has been molded to be a reflection of the divine. Animals are a whimsical poetic expression of God’s artistry; we are expressions of his nature.

Everything about us is a reflection of the deity: we are an analogy of the divine. Yes, we have a soul like God but that is only a part of it. And indeed we have a spirit like God, but it is more than that. Everything about us is an afterthought from and about deity.4

Since the Godhead possesses emotions and feels emotions, it is simple deductive logic that the Holy Spirit has emotions. In some senses the Holy Spirit is the emotionally rich member of the Trinity5 insofar as he is the primary agent of personal interaction with us as human beings. Since the Spirit of God has emotions and is said to interact with humans and be affected emotionally by human activity, that makes our emotional life even more significant.

Lastly the Spirit of God has a direct ministry to our emotional life. This ministry is critical to the quality of the spiritual life. Indeed the implications for the spiritual life and the practice of Christian counseling are endless.

The Emotional Life of the Spirit of God

The emotions that exist within us do follow the pattern of the emotions of God. But God is more than emotions: God is the infinitely deep love and relationships shared among the Three in One. In a number of ways the process of living a godly life is designed to make the believing heart aware of the Trinity. We are called to relate to God as a Father; the Son is the one who saves and protects us. The Father sent Jesus Christ from heaven to earth. After the departure of Jesus Christ to heaven, he sent another Comforter who would be in believers. Those first two persons, in a real sense, are external to the life and consciousness of the believer. It is to our advantage that the Christ outside of us left the disciples, so that the Holy Spirit would come to reside inside of us. Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you”(John 16:7). The third member of the Trinity is the one who emphasizes God’s ministry to our inner life. Far more so than any other member of the Trinity, the ministry of the Spirit of God is uniquely connected to the emotional life of the believer.6 Concerning this Jesus also said,

Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

It is the Spirit who directly influences our inner life. Jesus outside a believer is not as effective as the Spirit of God inside a believer. This one conforms those who have trusted Christ to the character of Christ. Such character has a richly emotional component.

It is fascinating that not only does the Spirit of God address our inner life with its never-ending stream of emotions, but the Holy Spirit’s experience within us is deeply emotional. Not only is the work of the Spirit emotional; the New Testament emphasizes his emotions. One can see by various portions in the New Testament that his existence among us involves deep responses. This is indicated by his personal reactions.

a. Deep pain. Ephesians 4:25-32 contains Paul’s admonitions about effective and godly communication, and the abandonment of poor patterns of communication. As he gave his advice, he taught how to deal with strong and powerful emotions. He gave a long list of things that should not be done and one of those is not “paining the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is pained when Christians negatively communicate with each other and when they refuse to forgive each other. Paul uses the term lupevw (lupeo„), defined by BDAG as “grieve, pain” and which in our popular parlance may be translated “deep pain” to describe the Spirit’s experience in response to our sinful behavior. It occurs in the description of Christ’s suffering in the Garden (Matt 26:37), “[he] became anguished [lupei'sqai, lupeisthai] and distressed.” In a sense, we can say that Jesus the Messiah had his passion in the Garden and on the cross, but the Holy Spirit has his continual passion within us.

b. Desire. In Jas 4 the author contrasted the life lived for the flesh and the life that was to be lived for God. In v. 4 James forcefully told believers that friendship with the world is a form of adultery. Then I would understand the next verse as a question and an observation: “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks for no purpose? The Spirit that he has made to dwell within us jealously desires us” (Jas 4:5). The Holy Spirit has a strong longingto control the believer’s life. The term is used often for the longing of one person for another who is absent (Rom 1:11; Phil 1:8; 2 Tim 1:4). Even though the Holy Spirit is present in our lives, we sometimes go into the dark world of the flesh far from his fellowship.

c. Jealousy. The Holy Spirit experiences jealousy as he sees how the believer is caught up with the world (Jas 4:5). Jealousy is an intensely painful and powerful emotion that the conduct of the believer elicits from the Spirit of God.

d. Unutterable Groaning. Chapter eight of Romans is Paul’s fullest development of the Trinity’s ministry within a believer. In this fascinating chapter, spiritual life is described as that which bears the believers through the weakness and sorrow of a fallen world. Romans 8:14 describes what it means to be a Spirit-led individual: the mature believer in Christ is identified by his or her ability to respond to the prompting of the Spirit. This prompting might be emotional inclinations and insights. Over time the believer learns the ability to surrender calmly and expectantly to these impressions. After describing that aspect of maturity, Paul goes on to describe how believers will have to endure sufferings in this life. A large part of maturity will be the challenge of going on in the face of the hurts, harms, and damage caused by others. In doing this Paul points out that a vast network of affliction is going on and the Spirit of God is involved in this symphony of expectant pain.

Romans 8:

8:22 “the whole creation groans” because it has been made pointless and ineffectual due to the rebellion of man.

8:23 “we ourselves groan” as we expectantly await the glorification of our bodies so that we indeed are liberated from the limitations and weaknesses of this life.

8:26 “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”

One of our weaknesses is that we do not know how to pray. So to help us out the Spirit of God intercedes for us. This intercession is unspoken because the Holy Spirit is in deep pain. The same term is used in Acts 7:34 for the children of Israel groaning under the oppression of the Egyptians. The word is the noun-form of the verb found in vv. 22 and 23. The groaning of the Spirit is voiceless so that the one who continually searches the hearts (God) has to know what is the perspective of the Spirit. Romans 8:28 gives the result of this process that all things are worked together for the benefit of the child of God who loves his Father.

As he listens to our prayers the pain is so intense for the Spirit of God that he is reduced to voiceless pain. This again is the passion of the Spirit of God. With great emotion, he who is among us suffers because of us.

The Spirit and Our Emotions

Since the presence of the Spirit is internal, the work of the Spirit of God is emotional. One example will illustrate the point. As the believer is involved in the exercise of faith, the Spirit of God, for example, will supply joy and peace. In the details of a particular text, Rom 15:13, the Spirit is not the only member of the Trinity relating to the Christian. Paul related the believer’s emotional life to two members of the Trinity, the Father and the Spirit. The God of hope is supposed to fill (the same word as used in Eph 5:18) the believer with every variety of joy and peace in the process of believing. All of this is to be done by the inherent power of the Holy Spirit. The process of generating these emotions is completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s work.

Galatians 5 is a longer example of the same reality that the Holy Spirit is involved in a ministry to our emotional life. In Gal 5 Paul has contrasted the dispensation of the Spirit with the law, or more exactly, a corrupted version of the law embraced by the Judaizers. In developing how the believer is to participate in the life of the Spirit, he stated that Christians must walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16). “Walking,” in this context, means to organize our existence around the qualities from the Spirit. This is opposed to making the flesh one’s life principle.7

As the life is organized around the Spirit, one will also be positively prompted by these qualities (Gal 5:18). These promptings should be followed. As they are followed they will produce wonderfully positive emotions and inner abilities in the life, as indicated by the accompanying vocabulary connected with the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control …” (Gal 5:22–23).

Spirituality is a life normally dominated by primary emotions—primary in the sense that these are what Christian existence is founded upon. Note how each term of the fruit of the Spirit carries an emotional connotation.

The work of the Spirit of God in the fruit that he produces is in stark contrast to the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21): “…hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, … and similar things. The contrast to the fruit of the Spirit may be negative and sinful but it is also deeply emotional. The result is that the fruit of the Spirit replaces an emotionally powerful set of opposites. The work of the Spirit is obviously in the arena of the emotions.

This evidence of the emotional impact of the Spirit of God is also found in Eph 5:18 where Paul tells the believers in Ephesus to not get drunk with wine resulting in dissipation and instead to allow the deficits to be filled up by spiritual qualities. These result in singing and gratitude and mutual submission. Both of those experiences have to be profoundly emotional.

Filling emphasizes applying the resources of the Spirit of God to our individual weaknesses. In Eph 5:18 the condition of drunkenness has to be changed to joy and a disciplined life through the filling of the Spirit.

How to Minister to our own Emotions

We now turn our attention to scripture to consider more specifically the outworking of this ministry of the Spirit looking generally at Pauline teaching and concluding with a more detailed examination of Col 3:1-12. This section is important because it underscores the reality that many factors within our lives and the entire Trinity is involved in the Spirit’s positive impact upon our emotions.

The management of our emotions involves our imagination (how we reckon; Rom 6:11), our mind (how we set our perspective; Rom 8:5-7), and our ego or self (how we relate to God and people). The terms fall naturally into that order because how we relate to people and to God is based on how we imagine the world to be and God to be, and how we analyze what life presents to us.

Management of our emotions is a by-product of a number of such factors. In New Testament terms the “by-product” nature of emotions is illuminated by the use of fruit and tree imagery. Matthew 7:15-20 and Gal 5:22 underscore the fact that character, the proper use of emotions and our inner life, is a product of a healthy set of spiritual processes or a healthy tree. Seemingly the healthy tree is the identity, perspective, and relationships of the righteous person. This makes the entire process more holistic and fits the biblical and psychological realities well.

What we have to do to gain and maintain spiritual health is as follows:

A. We have to recognize or differentiate what is going on within our emotional life and in the management of our appetites (Gal 5:16-24). This gives us information as to where we are starting from, either with spirituality or carnality.

B. We reckon on how God views us; we control our imagination. This reckoning becomes the basis of our relationship to God as a Father.

C. We have to set our minds on our relationships above; we control our thinking (Rom 8:1-6; Col 3:1-3). The terms used in both Rom 8 and Col 3 refer to perspective.

D. By reckoning we relate to God personally instead of to our appetites (Rom 6:11-12). The focus of a person’s inner life can either be the God on the outside or the appetites on the inside. Sadly our appetites many times have far more impact on many of us than God does. The focus of our inner person has to be on God the Father, and our identity before him as found in Christ, and not in our appetites. So no matter the level of pressure from our inward desires, we must freely approach and share ourselves with God.

E. By reckoning we control our memories (Phil 4:8-9). Believers are enjoined to take the positive blessings God brings into our lives and use them as our personal definition and assumption as to what reality is. Oftentimes the fearful and anxious person selectively takes from experience only those things that can be linked to the past trauma and dread. One can just as legitimately take the positive, noble, and happy experiences and have them as the definition of the core of reality.

F. As a result, we experience the primary emotions. Love, joy, and peace can appear and become the stabilizing force in our personality and relationships.

Probably the clearest example of the interplay between emotions and our ability to picture God’s view of our identity with Christ, manage a perspective, and relate to God and people is Col 3:1-12. What is of great importance is to notice the sequence of transitional words and phrases that show that the sections of the passage are interconnected and interdependent:

v. 5: “Therefore…”

v. 8: “But now [you also]…”

v. 12: “Therefore…”

Each new section’s application is dependent upon the practice of the preceding portion’s principles, with the result that the commands of the third and fourth sections are based upon the practice of all the preceding parts. Notice in the diagram that section D or the last verse is dependent upon the practice of what is in the preceding verses. So the cumulative effect of practicing verses 1-11 allows for the compassion of verse 12.

Colossians 3:1-12

A diagram of this text is as follows:







Allows us to become an other-centered individual that can start a life of ministry.


A+B+C = The Ability to Do D

We put off the qualities that negatively affect relationships.

Frees of the pain that keeps us from seeing the life and sufferings of others.


A+B = The Ability to Do C

Putting to death the inward negative moods and appetites that destroy inner peace and joy.

Undercuts the inward atmosphere that negatively affects our relationships.


A = Ability to Do B

Reckoning God’s picture of reality

Using a heavenly perspective and Pursuing the heavenly relationship.

Creates a proper foundation to manage moods and appetites.

The entire ethic starts with a picture of the believer’s identity with Christ. At the same time, we are to pursue a perspective that is built around heavenly realities and relationships.

Verses 1-4. The believer is encouraged to seek the things above; those things are peace (1:20), reconciliation (1:22), our completeness (2:10), our identification with Christ before God, and holding fast to the Head (2:19). This is very similar to the statement that every variety of spiritual blessings exists for the believer before the Father in heaven.8 We are to set our perspective around these realities because we have been identified with Christ.

This is an identity hidden from the world but the important reality is that the hiding is God’s choice. The all-important one, God, not only intimately knows this identity, he is also the one who has chosen to hide our identity in relationship to him. At the proper time when Christ is revealed to the world, so will our identification be revealed (v. 4). What should control our perspective is the picture that God has of us. In Greek the commands of this section are in the present active indicative. That means that these should be a continual part of the believer’s life. We should not allow this exercise to slack, but instead pursuing God as defined by these realities should be continual with us. As we do this, a door will be opened to the management of our inner life.

Verses 5-7. As the relationship to the Father is pursued, we can deal with the moods and desires that are an ever-present problem on this earth. We can actually put them to death as they course through our members. This can only be done though as the previous relationships are sustained and used. We do this by taking the mood or appetite into the Father’s presence, and relating the feelings within to him. In doing this we can transition from unbridled appetite to self-control. We can go from great anxiety to great peace. Our identity in Christ gives us permission to be richly personal concerning our internal struggle: seeking the things above deeply affects the way we perceive things and therefore changes the way we feel; setting our perspective properly also has a deeply emotional result.

Verses 8-11. As we deal with the compulsions within through a living relationship with God, we find the ability to deal with our relationships without. Many of our external relationships are simply lived in reaction to what is going on within. As the Proverb says, with all that we guard, we must guard the heart, for from it are the goings-forth of life (Prov 4:23). Jesus observed that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). All three passages—Proverbs, Matthew, and Colossians—are saying the same thing: address what is going on within and it will become the basis for changing how we are acting with people without.

Verse 12. As the three previous practices are learned, the heart finds peace, joy, and love more and more present. With those emotions becoming the environment of the heart, the believer is free to look at people in a new way, sympathetically, and relate to them in a new way as a servant for their good. Without addressing the maelstrom internally, the believer would never notice the needs and problems of the people we must live among. As we manage our inner lives, we are given the opportunity to become other-directed people.

Maturity and this Process






Pursuit of God

Nullifying Inner Moods

Changing Relational Reactions

Ministering to Other People

As a believer matures he or she will spend more and more time ministering to people (v. 12). But throughout the day and at any time, the believer may find himself or herself in need of addressing any of the first three. And the first one should be going on all the time. So it is true that each builds on the previous, but that does not mean that the believer cannot retrogress in this process. What is important to note is that each section is dependent upon the pursuit of God, the perspective set on heavenly values, and the recognition of one’s position in Christ. This interplay between our identity (our instinctive, unconscious picture of ourselves), our imagination (how we picture reality and ourselves), and our conscience (our instinctive sense of values) creates the picture and the perspective that we carry into life.

Implications. The preceding carries with it the following implications. Our emotions tell us of our spiritual state. The emotions, by whether they enhance our lives or else they afflict our lives, tell us where we are with God. Spirituality is a life normally dominated by primary emotions. These primary emotions are encapsulated in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Each term of the fruit of the Spirit carries an emotional connotation. If love for others is present, along with contentment with life, and a deep sense of well being, that implies that we are being ministered to by the Spirit of God.

Carnality is a life dominated by misused emotions and appetites (Gal 5:19-21). It is a choice for lustrather than God (Rom 6:11-12). If confusion, addictive feelings, and discontent are present, the person’s state may certainly be carnal or non-spiritual.

We cannot be spiritually mature without a ministry to our own emotional life. In this text, Col 3:1-12, setting one’s mind on things above (vv. 1-2) becomes the first step in the process of controlling one’s emotions.

Our emotions tell us about our thoughts and perspectives. Our emotions (Col 3:2, 8) may be present before our conscious thoughts. This may be due to the Fall or it may simply be the way we were created. The reason they may be a result of the Fall is that the level of confusion that occurs between the thoughts and emotions may reflect fallen realities (note Paul’s connection between confusion and the power of sin with regard to the law in Rom 7:11).

Our emotions are our true eyes into other people. Empathetic listening (Col 3:12-13) enables us to experience a similar set of emotions as the person we are listening to. This may lead to a far more profound understanding of the person.


If it is true that the work of the Holy Spirit is involved with our emotions, then the work of the Spirit of God is profoundly psychological. Moreover, even though the Holy Spirit is a divine, mysterious presence, he occupies a strategic place within us. He functions at the confluence of our imagination, perspective, ego, and emotions. At this confluence he works synergistically with us. As we relate to God as a Father through our identity in Christ, deep change takes place through the Spirit of God.

The preceding of course has direct implications concerning the nature of spirituality. Spiritual realities are emotional realities. One cannot say that counseling and psychology deal only with emotional issues. Emotional issues are inexorably intertwined with spiritual issues, for the nature of spirituality is relational and relationships are deeply emotional as even the most cursory examination of the fruit of the Spirit would show. This means that spiritual realities have psychological implications and vice versa.

Spirituality involves nearly everything. In much of evangelicalism, a false spirituality is placed in the space between the intellectual, psychological, physical aspects of humanity. No such space exists. Biblical spirituality is the management of all those aspects in relationship to the reign of the Trinity.

The nature of psychology is such that spiritual implications are everywhere within it. Psychology is filled with spiritual implications. It is not religiously neutral. Psychology addresses the emotional nature of humanity. This also has implications concerning the unitary nature of humanity. Biblically humans are not compartmentalized. Psychologically they are not compartmentalized.

The work of the Spirit is synergistic. It is more than just cooperation with the Spirit; it is cooperation with the Trinity. In prayer we relate to the Father. As we do so we remain confident and conformed to the life of the Son. We are empowered by the Spirit. This empowerment can be sovereign as in his flooding ministry (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 18:9; overwhelmingly filled) or we can cooperate as in his filling ministry (Acts 14:26; Eph 5:18; filled with character).

As evangelicals we cannot afford to downplay the importance of emotions. The work of the Spirit of God is deeply emotional. Since those realities are so, they carry weighty implications for how Christians should teach and preach and counsel and lead.

1 . The translation of these texts is my own from the Hebrew.

2 . When I had Professor James Barr as a supervisor at Oxford, in a private conversation with me he aptly pointed out that dictionaries do not give meanings to words, only contexts. It is in the contexts that soul is used that we see it is used to represent the process of feeling and wanting.

3 . Making God richly emotional does not negate his divine attributes; his omniscience, omnipotence, and sovereignty are intact but deeply enriched. He is not a desiccated philosopher, but a passionate lover and ruler.

4 . Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961-67) 2.122-130; J. Barton Payne, Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962) 226-227; Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) 159-162.

5 . “Karl Barth has called the expansion in [Genesis 1] v. 27b a ‘definitive explanation’ of the text of v. 27a. Men are to be allowed to complement themselves in love… They are the image of God in that together they are one … men can only fulfil the commission as the image of God given to them in their creation by turning towards one another and by complementing one another, like man and wife” (Wolff, Anthropology, 162). When Yahweh spoke to the other with him, he was communicating in relationship (Gen. 1:26). God intended to make mankind in “… image.” To do this adequately he had to make two (Gen. 1:27). So that two communicating Beings were “imaged” by two communicating human beings. Man—man and woman—made in the image of God and man as “soul” underscore twin truths. Individuals are created to be in relationships and the quality of those relationships will be felt in the soul.

6 . Paul begins his description of the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., the byproduct of his ministry in the heart of the believer, in Gal 5:22-23 in terms of emotions: love, joy, peace.

7 . “To walk” (peripatevw, peripateo„) is a most general term for the principles that should hold sway over our lives. Scripture teaches that the believer should walk or order the affairs of his or her life around love (Eph 5:2); we should live in a way worthy of the calling (Eph 4:1; Col 1:10), not the way the gentiles arrange their lives (Eph 4:17), as children of light (Eph 5:8), carefully (Eph 5:15), as [we] have received the Lord (Col 2:6), in a new kind of life (Rom 6:4), not according to the flesh (Rom 8:4), as called of God (1 Cor 7:17). What this means is that when this verb for walking is used, it indicates that the entirety of one’s life should be dominated by the characteristic cited. This is equivalent to the Hebrew termelh, halakh.

8 . Eph 1:3; this is noted in Cleon L. Rogers Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 434.

Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)

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