You hear the phrase “Follow your heart” a lot these days. It is the unquestioned dogma of the world. Sometimes it feels as if every movie, song, or novel either explicitly or implicitly teaches this cardinal doctrine. Even Christians get swept up in this poetic sounding admonition, most often without giving too much careful thought to what they are actually saying. After all, following your heart sounds good, but the question we must ask is what would God would think of this advice? And to know what God thinks of anything, we must go back to Scripture.
Well, interestingly enough I came across that very phrase as I was reading through my Bible, and that piqued my interest. I became curious as to whether or not that expression occurred elsewhere in the Scripture, so I did a quick search and found that it appears six times (Numbers 15:39, Jeremiah 3:17; 9:14; 13:10; 18:12; 23:17). I looked up the references and noticed a few recurring themes and quickly realized God’s Word was anything but neutral on this idea! So if you’ve ever wondered what the Bible has to say about following your heart here it is.
1. Our hearts are inclined toward evil.
Jeremiah also warns against following the heart because the heart is evil:
2. Our hearts are stubborn.
And yet how different are we? How often do we hear something we don’t like in a sermon and ignore it, assuming the speaker is just wrong without carefully studying the passages he has brought up in an attempt to live and please God? How often do we crawl to the throne of grace asking forgiveness for the same sin? We like to think that sin is something we do when we are out of control, but the truth is we are completely under control. We are just following our hearts.
3. Our hearts chase after false gods.
Israel followed their hearts and went after Baal and other false gods. Americans follow their hearts and chase after money, happiness, relationships, and any other number of things that may or may not be wrong. But anything that becomes more important than God, that starts to serve the function in our lives that God was meant to serve, or that we grow to love more than God is an idol.
Apparently the Bible doesn’t think very highly of people following their hearts. Elsewhere in Jeremiah, we are told that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Christ warned that out of the heart comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Since our hearts are so wicked and stubborn, following them is the most dangerous thing we could do, and will always result in us abandoning God for idols. So if we aren’t supposed to follow our hearts, what do we are we supposed to follow and what do we do about our hearts?
When I went to see how often this expression occurs in Scripture, I simply typed “follow” and “heart” into the Biblegateway search bar. Most of the results fit in this study, but a few had those exact words in the verse but weren’t actually talking about following your heart. One phrase that appeared twice was the phrase “follow God with all your heart.” David is described as one “who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart” (1 Kings 14:8) and Samuel encourages the people of Israel after their sin saying, “do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart” (1 Samuel 12:20).
In other words, we shouldn’t follow our hearts, but rather direct them to God. We should not let our desires and passions control us; we should let the Holy Spirit. We should not make what feels right the determiner of what is right; we should make God’s Word that standard. And we should abandon this whole ridiculous, worldly concept of following our hearts and instead follow God with our hearts.
Written by Ben Hicks