Years ago my interest in golf was much more than it is now. I watched tournaments, news, reality shows, instructionals, and pretty much anything golf-related. I recall one segment featuring a golf coach touting game-improving tips and advice. He said something much more meaningful than just shooting lower scores in golf. “Feel isn’t real,” he quipped while trouble-shooting a golf swing. Feel isn’t real! It seems there are quite a few golfers who feel like they’re doing it right. Closer inspection, though, reveals that things are not always as they feel.
As it turns out, we humans are pretty partial to ourselves. Just ask anyone you know if what he or she is doing makes sense and seems right. The answer will likely be a rousing “Yes, of course,” because we don’t normally do things that feel otherwise. Yet “feel isn’t real.” What if it were possible to do something wrong even though it seemed right? That question, of course, is not one to ponder too long. Obviously it’s possible to do bad things that seem good. This fact accounts for so much of what’s wrong with the world.
Even the religious world struggles in this way. Of far greater import than how one feels when he’s swinging a golf club, many Christians and churches are doing things which feel right to themselves without much inspection. The apostle Paul famously observed this: “For I am not aware of anything against myself…” (1 Cor. 4:4, ESV). Referring to his infamous years before Christ, Paul described feelings of being right. Everything seemed okay. Paul could likely deliver a long, eloquent justification for being against Christ. Paul was raised to be a Pharisee. His parents believed Christ was the enemy of Moses. Paul was taught at considerable expense how to attack the faith of Christians. Every bit of this training felt right to him. It seemed like he was doing what God wanted him to do. Even when Paul held the coats of the men who murdered Stephen (Acts 8:58), he believed he was doing the right thing. When he perpetrated his own persecution against the people of God, it seemed perfectly fine to him (Acts 9:3). “I have lived in all good conscience…” (Acts 23:1, KJV). That’s how this man described his feelings about his life and religion. He didn’t feel that he was doing anything wrong at all. Everything felt right. Yet “feel isn’t real.” The sad reality of Paul’s pre-Christian life was that he was far, far off course.
Paul felt that his life was all right when it was actually all wrong. As a man shaken to his very core, Paul didn’t eat for three days upon being told how wrong he was. He was also stricken blind, possibly to convey how his life was truly errant. Later in his Christian ministry, Paul would strike Elymas blind (Acts 13:9-11). While punitive, this blindness is possibly also a commentary on Elymas’ teachings. Jesus famously called the scribes and Pharisees blind leaders who should be left alone (Matt. 15:14). The amazing thing was that the Pharisees felt that they were right. So did the scribes. So did Elymas. Paul felt like he was right! This eventful episode in Paul’s life shows just how possible it is to be sincere and wrong. Sincerity is not enough to please God. We have to be right in the things we do. Thanks be to God that Paul changed his ways when he was taught the error of his ways.
In addition to Paul, consider another example of this principle: Nadab and Abihu. Nadab and Abihu share some points of similarity with Paul. They were Aaron’s sons, trained by devout religious teachers. Religion was a real part of their lives. They desired to please God, and they believed they were pleasing God. Leviticus 10 records the last time they ever worshipped God. The fact that they were worshipping God often gets overshadowed by their dire punishment. These boys were worshipping God, and presumably they were doing so because they wanted to honor him. Nadab and Abihu were not satanic or overtly rebellious toward God. If they hated God or wanted to rebel, why worship him? It seems most likely that Nadab and Abihu were sincere, devout, and well-intending in their worship to God. However, the text reports that they used an unauthorized element in their worship — something that must have seemed small and insignificant. Rather than use the fire which God said had to be used, the brothers made a substitution. Surely they did not get their censers and incense and do all that work just to fail in worshipping God. No, probably they felt fine in making this substitution. Surely they could justify their actions and make explanations that they found logical.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). In these immortal words, Solomon articulates the examples shown above and sounds a warning to us all. No one sets off to do something that will be self-destructive (or, thankfully, at least very few people do so). God indeed proclaims that there is generally a love and care that people have for themselves (Eph. 5:29), but it’s so easy to get off track while thinking nothing is wrong. Just about everyone who has done something wrong, destructive, or harmful is amazed as how easy it is. Most of the times, it even feels right! Yet, “feel isn’t real.”
While physical harm is something we would all like to see less of, the spiritual harm that can be done is far worse. Losing a limb, getting a scar, or damaging property is no one’s idea of a fun time, but what about losing your soul? Right now Christians and churches are doing what seems right to them. I did an online search of churches in my area and found hundreds of results. They’re all different. Some differences are minor while some are major. Yet one thing I know that’s true for each is that they all believe what they’re doing is right. Like Paul, Nadab and Abihu, they have their reasons. They’ve thought about it. Maybe they have even lived their whole life doing what they’re doing. Not only does it feel right, it feels normal. Anything else would feel foreign. Yet “feel isn’t real.” We all need the inspection of God’s Word. James tells us to look into it as one would a mirror (James 1:25) . People looking into a mirror make adjustments based on what they see. They fix their hair, trim their beards, and put on makeup based on what that mirror reveals. God wants us to use his Word that way. Look at it often. Some carry around small mirrors to check their appearance often. Imagine a world in which people cared that much about how their souls looked to God! What a place that would be.
We’re told not to walk by the sight of our eyes or by our own understanding, but by the faith-producing Word that comes from the Lord! He tells us what is right, and it’s our duty and honor to do what He says. In some cases, we may wish things could be different. We may find a teaching in the Bible that we would like to change. Paul momentarily imagined how things could be different and mused of giving himself for the salvation of his countrymen (Rom. 9:3). Yet what we think should be, would be, could be right doesn’t matter. “Feel isn’t real.” There is a way that seems right, but it’s not always right! God, however, is always right. Always. Your friends in churches of Christ do not think they’re any better than you or anyone else. Members of the church of Christ know that we’re all put here to please the Lord. He has told us how this must be done, and no one is able to change that plan.
When Paul was so far off course, God asked why he was “kicking against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). The dated reference is of an animal which was plowing. Some animals chose to fight the direction in which they were being steered. They would buck and kick and protest in every way possible. Nothing good ever came of this! The animal was stressed and unhappy. The rider was none too pleased either. Eventually the animal was still made to do the job. All the protest and kicking didn’t change a thing. One day every knee will bow (Rom. 14:11) and every tongue will confess (Phil. 2:11). All the kicking and protesting won’t change a thing. One day everyone will see the right way, love it, and want to follow it! Please make today the day that you commit to that plan. One day you will. One day everyone will. Will you do today what God says is right over what may seem right?
Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road congregation in Greenville, SC.