“Minimizing the importance of transformed feelings makes Christian conversions less supernatural and less radical. It is humanly manageable to make decisions of the will for Christ. No supernatural power is required to pray prayers, sign cards, walk aisles, or even stop sleeping around. Those are good. They just don’t prove that anything spiritual has happened. Christian conversion, on the other hand, is a supernatural, radical thing. The heart is changed. And the evidence of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings.” (p.89)
Many people who do not confess faith or belief in Christ seem to do good things all the time. There is an important question as to whether or not man is capable of acting in an upright way without the compulsion of the Holy Spirit. There are plenty of atheists who kick alcoholism and don’t “find Jesus.” So, do you need to believe in God to be a moral or generally decent person? No. But morality does not bring salvation.
We should not downplay a person’s feelings when they come to Christ. The heart is being broken. It’s an emotional process not merely an intellectual exercise. This was tricky for me because I tend to lean towards everything in life with my head before my heart. When I became a Christian at age 5, I did so because I understood the Gospel on a mind level first. But I also understood that I felt guilty, because I was guilty. Even at that young age, I was aware of my sin and that broke my heart. My parents did a great job of teaching me what disobedience and sin were. This is crucial to grasp the concept that you are a sinner in need of a savior. The bad news must come before the good news. It’s what makes the good news good at a heart level.
What Piper is saying here is, the head makes decisions, but the heart converts to Christ. It’s the only acceptable sacrifice we can make that God will accept. Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” And even this is by the power of God. (Eph. 2:8)
It’s common in the typical American, Evangelical church to “get saved” three or four times while growing up. It’s the “rededicating your life to Christ” you do every year at church camp. You sign a card, you bow your head and raise your hand “without anyone looking around, I see you. Praise God. I see you.” But is anything really happening in those moments?
We humans are mostly driven by our feelings, and it’s when these feelings are felt continually and spiritually that they become new “affections,” and our heart is broken and exchanged; one of stone for one of flesh, that is malleable to bend and conform to God. This is a true radical conversion towards Christ. These are the types of feelings that compel you to change your social circle, to cringe at certain language and jokes, to seek out Biblical wisdom, and to daily renew your mind to follow your already changed heart.
There is a difference between “being good” and being radically changed from something old and dead, to something new and alive. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” This implies that, as a Christian, you will have an observable hope that is within you. When you do have this hope, people will see it and ask about it.