Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Biblical View of the Affections

In my Pastoral Counseling class, we answered the questions in the exam for the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors as a class assignment. The following is an adapted answer from that assignment, which asked us to define affections Biblically and how they are changed Biblically. Please do mouse over and read the Scripture references as they come up.

In the Scriptures, the God of the universe has revealed that His ultimate purpose in all that He does is to bring glory to Himself (Is 42:8; 43:7, 25; 48:11; Ezek 36:22-23; Eph 1:11-12). That is, God’s will is to be worshiped by all of His creation. To that end, He created human beings to be worshiping creatures so that they might “honor Him as God [and] give thanks” (Rom 1:21)
. Therefore, all of life – especially the Christian life – is about worship. Progress in sanctification comes when our worship of God increases and matures. Sin is made manifest when we worship anything other than God (cf. Rom 1:20-25).

Having understood that life is about worship, we begin to see the importance of affections in living the Christian life. As worship is at the heart of life, so the affections are at the heart of worship. We worship what we desire, what we love, what we delight in. And that worship shapes our actions. “Our words and actions are shaped by our pursuit of the things our hearts crave. … What we worship determines our responses to all our experiences” (Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, p. 67). Jesus testifies to this reality when He simply says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21; Lk 12:34). You will serve with all your being that which you treasure. When your treasure is not God, you commit idolatry (cf. Ezek 14:1-5), and it is idolatry of the heart – the worship of the creature rather than the Creator – that is the core of all sin (Rom 1:25; cf. Deut 29:2-4; 30:6; Jer 31:33; Ezek 6:9; 36:26).

Therefore, when a Biblical counselor (or any Christian) seeks to aid in another’s sanctification and mortification of sin, the battle must be fought at the level of the affections, or the desires. For example, if a counselee’s sin problem is greed, it is because his desire for money rules his heart rather than the desire to know Christ. Or if his sin problem is lust or sexual immorality, it is because he believes that mental or physical sexual stimulation will satisfy his desires more than will the glory of God in Christ.

The counselor must seek, then, to transform the counselee’s heart, his affections. He must be shown that the desires and the affections that he seeks to satisfy with sin are actually most fully satisfied by knowing Jesus Christ. This is how Jesus Himself instructs us to battle covetousness. He commands that we “make [ourselves] money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven” (Lk 12:33). He does not simply command us to stop desiring possessions; He redirects our desire to something greater, to something that will fully satisfy us, to treasure in heaven, to Himself. The Apostle Paul is strengthened to press on in the Christian life in this very same way. He counts all idols – all substitute pleasures – as loss that He may gain Christ and know Him (Phil 3:7-11). David’s righteousness came from his singularity of focus; that is, he desired and sought one thing: to behold the beauty of Yahweh and to meditate in His temple (Ps 27:4). Moses fled from the idolatry of Egypt because he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Heb 11:26). And so it is throughout Scripture.

Therefore, emotions and affections (and thus actions) are changed Biblically when the worthiness and delightfulness of the beauty of Christ is exalted in the heart of the Christian. Affections are changed when the eyes of our hearts are enlightened to know the riches of the glory of the inheritance of God (Eph 1:18). When that happens, the promise of pleasure from sin looks so paltry in comparison to the treasure chest of holy joy found in Christ. Affections are set right, God is worshiped in Christ, and that life of worship controls all we do (Mk 7:18-23) and say (Lk 6:44-45).

1 comment:

Mark D. Twombly said...

Beautiful - thanks Mike.

Romans 6:18-19 - how beautiful it is to become obedient from the heart, having been set free by Christ. I see ever more clearly that anything less than heart obedience is disobedience.

Psalm 32:11 - what joy we have in being 'upright in heart'.