Reformed Emotions: Affection Towards God

Editor’s note: Recently, an animated discussion on faith and emotion took place in an online forum mostly comprised of Chinese house church pastors and Christian leaders. During the conversation, Grace, who teaches and does biblical counseling across China, shared her perspective on the intersection between theology and emotional understanding. Her thoughts were initially compiled for a video course she recorded for the Chinese counseling and research center, Tree of Life.

This is the second of a two-part series.


Contaminated by Sin

It is true: both the senses and the emotions are contaminated by sin. What they tell us may be wrong. But is not reason also contaminated by sin? Isn’t it true that the things logic does when polluted by sin are even more serious and blinding than the things emotion does? This is especially true when a person believes they are justified, and suppresses any uneasiness or the stings of their conscience.

Why do we think our answers will be more correct if we rely solely on reason, not on emotion? Is it possible that this is what happens when our reason is infected by sin? Is it possible that what we are doing when we rely on reason alone is against biblical teaching? In Lev. 19:35, God says: ” You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity.”

What about the person who does have affection? They may not be able to make sense of their affections, but they do know whether or not they have them.

What Is Affection?

When Jonathan Edwards talks about spirituality in his book The Religious Affections, he does not mean whether a person’s spiritual life is good or not. Instead, he is referring to whether someone has been born again or not. In this book, he lists twelve signs of having been saved and born again.

I will share two of these signs as examples: first, “only those affections arising from influences that are spiritual, supernatural, and divine, can be regarded as genuine.” And second, a person who has been born again has “a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency.”

My question is this: what is “affection”? Is affection a feeling or a sensation? Or is affection something that can be obtained through rational discussion? Someone could write a short essay on what affection is, but that does not mean the writer themself has such affection or even that they truly know what affection is.

A truly happy person knows whether they are happy or not, without being given the definition of happiness. If they continue to ask for a definition of happiness, it means they do not have this understanding.

But what about the person who does have affection? They may not be able to make sense of their affections, but they do know whether or not they have them.

If We Have Love, We Know What Love Is

Edwards said one of the signs of salvation is, “A love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency.” Is love an emotion, or an affection? I often have the opportunity to ask people, “Are you happy?” If the person’s response is, “Teacher, please define happiness,” then I know that, most likely, that person is not happy. A truly happy person knows whether they are happy or not, without being given the definition of happiness. If they continue to ask for a definition of happiness, it means they do not have this understanding, and do not actually know what happiness is like. That is why they are asking.

How does this relate to love? If we have a love for the beauty of God’s holiness, we know we love it, even if we do not know the actual definition of love. But if you do not love God’s holiness, then even the ability to make a good case for what love is like does not give you this love.


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Next, we look at “divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency.” A person might be able to write an essay about God, morality, and holiness. But I want to know: what is “excellency?” What is the “beauty” of holiness?

If affections can help us to recognize and understand both the world and ourselves, then the most terrible consequence of suppressing and shutting down our emotions is that we will not have affections for or recognition of God!

Excellency and beauty are mainly feelings and sensations. Are God’s moral attributes beautiful to you? Do you love them? According to Edwards, if you do not know whether you have affection for such things, then you do not even know whether you have been saved and born again.

If affections can help us to recognize and understand both the world and ourselves, then the most terrible consequence of suppressing and shutting down our emotions is that we will not have affections for or recognition of God! You may try hard to convince yourself that you love and know God with the truth of the gospel and the knowledge of the Lord. But if your real affections have yet to collide with the true God, then you will not be able to feel this type of love.


Grace is a pseudonym for a biblical tutor serving in China.

Pray for Chinese believers not to suppress their emotions, so that they might learn to truly love the Lord.

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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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