Christianity is in an exciting season. It's also in a dangerous one. The church is waking up to the truth that God is real! Like really real. Yes, you can hear HIs voice, yes He does do signs and wonders, and yes, Jesus will actually guide you through this life if you allow Him.
Through various different movements, the love and power of Jesus Christ is becoming more and more accessible to the everyday Christian. More churches and ministries are being led by people who never went to seminary, and probably never will, but have simply "tasted and seen that the Lord is good."
However, with so many exciting stories about the wonder and power of Jesus, many are being led astray into harmful and deceitful doctrines and practices that do not produce the good fruit or testimony that Jesus intended for us. The church has in fact ignored biblical warnings about sensualism and instead, intertwined this forbidden practice into it's doctrine under the name of the Holy Spirit.
What Is Sensualism?
According to wikipedia,
Sensualism is the persistent or excessive pursuit of sensual pleasures and interests. In philosophy, sensualism refers to the ethical doctrine that feeling is the only criterion for what is good. In epistemology it is a doctrine whereby sensations and perception are the basic and most important form of true cognition.
As we consider sensualism from a biblical standpoint, I want to break it down a little. Sensualism involves how you feel. This can involve both physical sensation as well as emotional sensation. Many teachers and ministries today offer an "experience" with God to draw people in and to gain a following. Just as the Jews wanted to see a sign, Christians today want to "have an experience."
While having an experience with God is not a bad thing (in fact I pray that each one of you encounter God in a real and powerful way), the pursuit of physical and emotional pleasure or fulfillment is a doorway into deception and false worship.
What does the Bible have to say about Sensualism?
When the Bible talks about false teachers and worldly wisdom (in contrast to Godly wisdom), it uses the word sensual as a descriptive term. This word comes from the greek word psychikos, which refers to natural, primitive, and earthly passions or desires. Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as, "the sensuous nature with its subjection to appetite and passion," as well as, "a wisdom in harmony with the corrupt desires and affections." So far, we see that sensualism is based in the natural, a.k.a. the flesh, not the Spirit of God. Sensualism, by definition, is subjecting oneself to a natural appetite and passion, and is based on corrupt desires and affections.
Being aware (and avoidant) of sensualism accords to sound doctrine since we know that those who "sow into the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. 6:8). Therefore, by sensualism, we can have an experience in our flesh (our mind, our emotions, even our bodies) but without the Spiritual fruit that produces holiness and righteousness, since our experiences are often born in the flesh and not the Spirit. James himself testifies to this point while talking about the difference between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom in James 3:14-17,
"14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."
As stated above, there is a wisdom that comes from sensualism, and you might say, a wisdom that sensualism seems to produce... BUT, it is not the wisdom of God. It is earthly, and demonic, and, as it says in verse 16, will produce self-seeking, confusion, and every evil thing.
The entire letter of Jude is likewise dedicated to exposing false teachers/brethrenp whose "spiritual life" is based on feelings and not clear direction from the scriptures. In his letter, letter Jude tells us of men who have "crept in unnoticed" into the body and are now feasting with the rest of the brothers, all the while, their desires are for themselves. Jude says of these false brothers that they are "ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ." He also states that they are:
Speak Evil of Dignitaries
Mouth Great Swelling Words
Flatter People to Gain an Advantage
Finally, in Jude 1:19 he summarizes these individuals as "sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit." This should not surprise us too much, since most people believe we need to "follow our heart," perhaps not realizing the Bible tells us in Jer. 17:9 that "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?"
Some doctrines and practices even go as far as justifying sexual immorality (which is clearly prohibited), drunkenness and indulgence (which is clearly prohibited), and emotional ecstasy that produces a seemingly over-powering physical reaction. While emotional ecstasy isn't necessary prohibited in the scripture, it doesn't seem to fit into the fruits of the Spirit, being, "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness," and, in fact, is contrary to the last one, "self-control." It's not that God can't or wont overwhelm a person with His presence, this does happen often, typically with joy or tears, both leading to a sense of freedom, but the scriptures NEVER points to this type of experience as being a normal part of one's worship life. When people put physical or emotional experience at the core of their worship, they miss so much of who God is and the freedom He brings in both truth and action. The Lord brings us out of darkness (deception) into light (truth) and then sends us out to be ministers (servants) of others. The fruit of true faith is obedience, not emotional experiences.
The main problem is this: the core of sensualism is self. Sensualism makes it's draw on how one feels and what one can receive emotionally or physically. People are drawn to sensual doctrines because it allows them to temporarily fulfill their own personal lusts, desires, or vices in the name of the Lord. This profanes the work of the Holy Spirit and doesn't produce the authentic life-change of a born again believer, thereby bearing no real fruit for God's kingdom either, because it has no way of edifying others and it does not present outsiders with the gospel. It is completely self-focused.
How do we know if it's the Holy Spirit?
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has very specific roles and produces very specific fruit. The scriptures often highlight those in contrast to what is produced by the flesh and the world (similar to the contrast we read in James 3 between earthly and Godly wisdom). Many people make strange and wild claims, and even do strange and wild things, claiming to be "moved by the Spirit." But how do we know if someone's words and actions are truly of the Spirit or not?
First off, sometimes the Spirit of God does do weird things. Just because something is weird to you doesn't mean God wasn't it (there's a lot of weird stuff in the bible), however, God is very consistent in His nature and purpose and has given us signs to know whether the things being portrayed to us are true or false. 1 Peter 1:22-25 says,
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.
The scriptures state that we are purified, not by signs, wonders, or experiences, but through obeying the truth (being the word of God), and that the word of God abides and endures forever. For, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Therefore, if God is moving, our experiences, our discernment, and our judgements must always line up with the Word of God. And when situations are less clear concerning the word, Jesus also tells us that false teachers/prophets will be know by their "fruits" (Matt. 7:15-20). This is why knowing God's word is so important.
Knowing His commands allow you to test every opportunity, word, feeling, and action to know whether or not it abides in Christ's command. Knowing God's purpose and desire is also important because it allows us to know what fruits (or natural outcomes) are in line with what God has said he wants produced in us (such as the fruits of the spirit, good works, love, purity, etc.) This is why the psalmist writes in Psalm 119:11, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You."
Before you thinking I'm going on some personal crusade or taking things out of context, I want to bring you a very famous passage that holds Jesus' own words. Matthew 7:21-23 says,
Not everyone who says to Me,‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!
f Him because they are prophesying, casting out demons, and doing wonders IN HIS NAME. They do not deny the name of Jesus, in fact they embrace it, and seem to believe that they are in fact in His will, yet He says to them that He "never knew them..." How terrifying. What is the test then? Jesus says that the only ones who will enter His kingdom are those who "do the will of His Father," and who don't "practice lawlessness."
This brings us back to the very basic need of knowing and simply obeying the commands and examples of scripture. If our feelings disagree with what the word of God says, our feelings are wrong. At some point, in order to follow and obey Jesus, we have to come to terms with the fact that the scriptures are the sole authority of truth and worship practice. If we debate disregard the scriptures due to fear or discomfort, we disregard Christ who is the "word of God" in flesh. Jesus Himself tells us that:
That following Him will put us at odds with friends and family (Matt. 10:34-37).
That we will have to deny our own feelings and comfort to follow Him (Matt. 10:38-39).
If we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).
The world will hate us and it hated Him (John 15:18-25).
We are sanctified by His word, and His word is truth (John 17:17).
Obviously, none of the above situations have anything in them that address our emotions or are based in how we feel; Our walk with Christ is defined by what we believe and what we do. In regards to the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us that the Spirit will:
Teach us all things, and bring to remembrance Jesus' words (John 14:26).
Testify of Christ (John 15:26).
Convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8).
He will declare the words of Jesus and will not declare anything contrary to Him (John 16:13-15).
Bear fruits of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22).
There are countless other examples and passages we could point to, a great one being 1 Co. 14 where Paul instructs that spiritual gifts should:
Excel the church (1 Co. 14:12).
Should convict non-believers (1 Co. 14:24-25).
Edify the body (1 Co. 14:31).
Not cause confusion (1 Co. 14:33).
Orderly and self-controlled (1 Co. 14:26-38).
Be discerned and judged by other approved leaders (1 Co. 14:26-38).
There are a lot of false teachings and signs out in the world today, many labeled as "Christian teachings." However, it's only through knowing and adhering to the word of God that we can truly discern what is of the Lord and what is false. By knowing the word, and by discerning the fruits of teachings and words, we have a greater chance of guarding ourselves from false teachings/practices, and a greater chance of identifying when the Lord is truly speaking to us, and when we are being swayed by our own emotions or personal desires.
The Holy Spirit brings conviction, He encourages change and repentance, He challenges us to testify of Christ boldly, He moves in us towards humility and selfless good works, and He causes us to grow in holiness as we edify the Church. In contrast, sensualism offers a "form of godliness, while denying it's power" (2 Tim. 3:5).
Sensualism produces no defense against the lust of the flesh, it offers no greater growth in how to walk and teach according to sound doctrine, it doesn't make us feel uncomfortable and never calls out the need for repentance in us or others. Though it may have a lot of movement and feelings it lacks everything associated with the power and role of the Holy Spirit. In fact, sensualism will contradict the word of God and call it Spiritual wisdom (the Holy Spirit reminds us of the word, it doesn't deny it). Sensualism is about the personal fulfillment of self, while authentic moves and wisdom from the Holy Spirit are about the corporate fulfillment of God's purpose and Kingdom.
Do not be deceived or swayed; If you and God's word disagree, you're wrong. I want to leave you with this one last command from Paul the apostle in 1 Tim. 4:16,
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
Go, and be blessed.