Just Follow Your Heart?
There is a popular saying that I grew up hearing and believing. According to teachers and other adults in my life, if I wanted to grow up and be happy, the only thing I needed to do was just follow my heart. The child who asks, “What should I be when I grow up,” is given the answer, “Just follow your heart.” The junior high student who has to choose between marching band and football is is instructed, “Just follow your heart.” The high school student surely has that answer drilled into his decision-making process as a teenager, and he will use it when deciding who he should date, the friends he should keep, which university he should go to, and whether or not he should go to that drinking party.
The word heart appears over 900 times in the English Bible. Very few times out of those 900 does Scripture actually refer to the organ in a man or woman’s chest. Of course, when we refer to the heart in the saying, "Just follow your heart," we also do not mean to refer to the physical blood pump of the body. When the Bible and we refer to the heart in this way, we mean the source of a human’s feelings, intellect, and emotions. We are referring to the innermost being of a man or woman.
Just follow your heart. Is there danger in that saying? Perhaps, when a child is told to follow his passions on whether he should be an astronaut or a doctor, there is no harm done. However, many people who claim Christianity use this phrase to govern their decisions on how to serve God. They sometimes even worship God using that statement: “As long as it’s from the heart, it doesn’t matter how you worship God!” Is that true? No, it’s not! God does care how we worship Him, and He has given specifics on how we are to go about doing so. Jesus says, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23). Worship must be in spirit (from the heart), but it must also be in truth. Where does that truth come from? It comes from the sum of God’s word (Ps. 119:160; Jn. 17:17). To avoid swinging to the opposite extreme, I will emphasize it again; worship must come from the heart (hence, “spirit and truth;” Mk. 7:6-8), but the heart is not the source that informs us as to what is acceptable worship. Only God’s word is.
If God’s word is where we should seek truth, then why do we still hold on to this age-old idea, “Just follow your heart” (or “gut reaction”)? It is hypocritical for a Christian to believe in this phrase. Why? From the beginning to the end of the Bible, there is warning after warning for the man and woman of God to avoid what the heart pursues. Why? We are supposed to be following Jesus! He Himself said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24). If we are following our hearts, then it is impossible to follow Jesus. We must have Jesus, not our hearts, as our master! Notice some more Scripture with me. “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it’” (Lk. 9:23-24). Jesus claims that in order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves. Jesus offers us eternal life. We should trust Him enough to put our lives in His hands. We must lose our lives to Him (which means to deny the pursuits of the heart), and replace our lives with His will (Gal. 2:20). When we do that, He guarantees us freedom from the bondage of sin and eternity in heaven with Him. It will surely be worth it all!
We read the warning in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” The author knew the danger of following the heart. Similarly, Jesus says that if we choose to save our lives for our own sake, we will actually lose it. The ways of men that seem right are actually the way of death. Why is that? We know that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus says that the heart is the source of all kinds of sin: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mk. 7:21-23). Think about it. Any sin that you and I have ever committed has been because we followed our own desires. There are eternal benefits to making God’s ways our ways.
We read this warning in the book of Jeremiah: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds” (Jer. 17:9-10). What further warning do we need? God says that the heart is the most deceptive of all. He asks the rhetorical question, “Who can understand it?” Let’s make sure that our deeds are God’s deeds, because that is one of the standards God will use during judgment.
Even while God was establishing His first covenant with Israel, He knew the tendencies of humans to follow their own desires instead of His commandments. He told Moses, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God” (Num. 15:38-40). In this passage, God contrasts obedience with following the heart. The thing that separates humans from their Creator is sin (Isa. 59:1-2). God did not want His people to break His “heart” by sinning, so He told the Israelites to do something that would remind them of His commandments everyday. What will you do to remember God’s will in your life? I suggest taking the advice found in Proverbs 3:1-8, which reads, "My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life And peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” The world says, “Follow your heart.” The Lord says, “Let you heart keep my commandments.” Which one will you choose? What should you do daily to remember the Lord’s commandments? Whatever it takes- “Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart!”
Proverbs 23:17-19 reads, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the Lord always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way.” Proverbs 28:26 reads, "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” We could go on and on with Scripture after Scripture, but I think just these few verses we’ve looked at have shown how God feels about the saying of “Just follow your heart.”
Again, I do not want you to misunderstand me. I am not saying that the heart does not have its place in Christianity. The heart is essential in obeying the Lord. Jesus said we must repent or we will perish (Lk. 13:3). Repentance stems from the heart. “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it--for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while- I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:8-10). Paul says that the repentance that leads to salvation comes from godly sorrow (from the heart)!
Jesus reminds us that we must believe in Him, or we will die in our sins (Jn. 8:24). Jesus also claims, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32-33). The Bible says that belief rests in the heart, and confession comes as a result of that belief. “[I]f you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed’” (Rom. 10:9-11).
Obedience also comes from the heart. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). He also said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). So, yes, the heart does have its place in Christianity. The world wants to be guided by the heart, but the Bible says that we should be the ones guiding our hearts (Prov. 23:19)! Will you do that today? Will you guide your heart into obedience of God?