I had a Facebook fan ask me a question that really forced me to think. She was responding to a post I’d made saying something along the lines of “You cannot command an emotion, only an action.” She asked me to explain.
“All I’m saying is that you cannot command someone to feel a certain way, ” I replied. “Love, hate, etc. We’re commanded in the bible to ‘love your neighbor’, but it’s impossible for us to be forced to feel love for someone – but we can certainly act in a loving way towards them.”
I thought that was a pretty good answer. But she had another question up her sleeve. “Does that imply that the command of loving God also directed to actions? and therefore in the literal sense of the term, legalistic?”
Wow. Good question. I had to think on that one (and find a dictionary). Finally, I came to an answer that, while replying to my friend, actually enlightened me at the same time.
Legalism is “excessive adherence to law or formula”. It is “dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith.” (Dictionary.com)
I take this to mean man made rules (moral laws). That, to me, is true legalism. I don’t believe someone is being legalistic if they are simply doing what God is telling them to do.
For example, “you must be in church every Sunday” – that’s a man made rule. God never commanded that (it’s not the same as observing the Sabbath). “You can’t drink alcohol” – again, a man made rule. Trying to live up to man made standards such as these in order to “love” God is legalism.
There’s an interesting observation in this. While actions will often follow emotions (you can fall in love with someone and then begin treating them in a loving way), it can also work in reverse. As an actor, I’ve experienced this numerous times. In scenes where I’m supposed to cry, I’ll begin going through the physical action of crying, and after a while I truly begin FEELING like I need to cry. Same goes if I need to be angry in a scene, or happy. Those emotions FOLLOW the actions.
Since God created emotions, He knows all of this all too well. So in commanding us to love Him, and going through the actions of loving Him, we may begin to feel that love as well – even if we don’t feel it at the start.
But then, anyone truly wanting to do God’s will and follow His commands likely loves God already anyway – otherwise, why go through the motions of pretending to love Him? It’s not the actions that save you – it’s your faith and trust in Jesus.