“Follow your heart” is something that we hear all too often in this day and age. Initially, this statement seems like good advice, but is it really biblical? Should we follow our hearts, or is there something else that we need to follow? If we are to answer this question, we must first seek to understand the heart. After this, we will see if “follow your heart” matches biblical teaching. Finally, we will see what the Bible says about such “following.”
What is the Heart?
A fantastic answer to the above question is found in a book called The Dynamic Heart by Jeremy Pierre. In his book, Pierre states that: “People’s feelings are connected to their thoughts and choices. The heart has its reasons for its desires and feelings, even when they seem powerful, mysterious, and overwhelming.”[i] Feelings, then, are very much an important part of understanding what is the heart. We know this from our experience. Often, we think that something “feels” right or wrong “in our hearts.” Those feelings can be, as Pierre notes, powerful, mysterious, or overwhelming.
In and of themselves, feelings are not the heart but rather manifestations from within the heart. When a person feels an emotion in response to an event or something that is said, then that emotion responds to what has happened. The heart interprets what has happened and brings out a manifestation according to what it feels is correct.
This means that the heart is the control center of our emotions. This control center sends out emotions in response to daily realities all the time. We walk past a drunk on the streets and maybe feel some disgust. Perhaps we walk past the grave of a departed loved one and feel sadness. Or maybe we feel delighted when we see those whom we love. All of these feelings are manifestations of our internal control center, the heart.
The Bible uses various terminology to describe the heart (with perhaps some slight variations between each term). Such terms include; soul, spirit, heart (more accurately ‘bowels’), etc. The Bible is rich with imagery for what goes on in our inner being and how that affects what comes out of us in our emotional state. If this is the case, then what does the Bible have to tell us about the state of our emotional control center?
The Heart in Scriptural Context
The Bible is quite harsh. You may never have noticed it before, but the Bible does not regard the human heart as good. This, clearly, cannot be the organ that pumps blood around our bodies as that is essential to our survival. When the Bible speaks of the heart, it must mean this emotional control center of our inner being.
So, what can we read? The most important verse is found in Jeremiah 17:9, which tells us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Already, it is not looking good for the above statement that we should “follow our hearts.”
What Jeremiah says is true. There is no doubt about that from Scripture. However, what can we understand from this statement? Simply put, Jeremiah is telling us that our emotions are misleading. Whenever we merely “feel” that something is right or wrong, that is not enough. Why is it not enough? It is not enough because our hearts are deceitful. What flows out of us in terms of emotions is deceptive because they come from a corrupted control center.
This is why Calvin’s famous statement in volume 1 of his Institutes is correct: “The human heart is an idol factory.” It does not take much examination to realize that we live in a world of sin. All around us people bow down to worship their self-image, celebrities, and their money. People swear, lie, murder, and corrupt their way through life, some without even caring about the morality of their actions. They are this way because they have bought the lie that their emotions are more important than following the law of God.
Think about it. A businessman wants to get to the top, so he tells lies and cheats his numbers so he can get a little further up his corporate ladder. He has an emotional desire to be at the top so he can earn money and live a life of comfort. This has superseded the law of God in his heart, and so the heart has deceived him into thinking that this is a better way than the path of righteousness.
This is why Ecclesiastes tells us: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecc. 11:9). Initially, this verse appears to be telling us to follow our hearts. The conclusion, however, (if read closely) shows that this will lead to our condemnation as we will be brought into judgment for following our hearts.
A firm conclusion can be made that we Christians are not to follow our hearts. They are deceitful and will lead us away from the light of God’s Law. What are we supposed to follow if not our hearts? How are we to inform our living if our hearts are deceptive?
Observe the Word
Psalm 119:5 answers our question by telling us that: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Here, we see that the Word of God is our guide in life, and in following its precepts, we have the way lit to the paths of life. That means when we need to decide that we have an objective guide in God’s Word, rather than a subjective feeling from our hearts. We must never act on something because it “feels” right or wrong. Living this way will lead us into a disaster of what could have been if we had instead looked to God’s Word.
Time and time again, I encounter Christians who, when I ask why they are in the situation they are in, say, “it felt like the right thing to do.” If you take a few minutes to listen to their circumstances before they make their decision, then it is clear that the Word of God spoke to their situation and was ignored. They chose to look for the answer in their emotions rather than in the Word. This is why Paul told Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16). We can look to the Scriptures for how to live and not our emotions.
This why, we have an objective ground for all that we do and also explains why we are to first seek counsel from the Scriptures. The Bible is profitable (sufficient) to help us in whatever problems and decisions we need to make, even if it does not directly speak into our situation.
Why, then, do we continue to follow our hearts when we have struggles and decisions to make? The answer: our hearts are deceitful above all things. We will never understand why, time after time, we end up doing the same thing, suffering, and then repeating our mistakes. Our hearts are deceitful, and there is no point in trying to understand them. God’s Word, however, is full of wisdom and understandable for even the common man. Looking to God’s Word, all believers can find faithful guidance, which will overtake their heart’s desires and bring them into the illuminated path of God’s counsel.
[i] Pierre. J. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience. New Growth Press. Greensboro: NC. (2016). 15