Don’t Follow Your Heart

Don’t Follow Your Heart

Written by A. Craig Troxel |
Sunday, April 2, 2023

Following our heart may mean that we hear the voice that steers us toward the easier path and not the ethical high road. It is true that the Spirit of God and the grace of God are at work in us “to will and to work” for our salvation (Phil. 2:13). But it is also true that we are prone to cave when we need more resolve and we tend to be bull-headed when we ought to be broken-hearted. If we merely “follow our heart” we may easily slide into the path of least resistance and refuse to take up the cross and follow Christ.

Man’s. . . wants are to be trusted. . . even when their gratification seems furthest off, the uneasiness they occasion is still the best guide of his life.—William James, “The Will to Believe”[1]

Listen to Your Heart

Whenever we are deliberating over a decision, it is not uncommon to hear a friend say, “You should listen to your heart.” Such a sentiment is not only common, but it has also been exalted to a sacrosanct place of moral authority in our culture. It is as if doing anything else would be a denial of your very self. And how could anyone do that? After all, a person must be true to who they are. Anything less would be inauthentic.

So what should we make of this?

What is the Heart?

It may be worth asking what we are listening to if we’re listening to our heart. According to the Bible, the word heart is one among several terms (like soul, spirit, and conscience) that refers to our inner life. But the word heart goes beyond these others. It is used with more frequency and it is used with more subtlety.

On the one hand, the heart communicates the unity of everything we are within. All of our thoughts, plans, wants, feelings, and decisions are generated from this one point, which functions as the governing center of our inner life. On the other hand, the heart comprehends a trinity of the heart’s spiritual functions: the mind (what we know), the desires (what we love) and the will (what we choose). Thus, the word heart in Scripture uniquely captures both the unity and the complexity of our inward life. So “following your heart” is listening, as it were, to your thoughts, longings, and choices. You may say, “So what could be so bad with that?”

Why Not Listen to the Heart?

The problem is one that runs in the family. Actually it arises from the very beginning of the human family. Adam’s and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden did not begin with the first bite. It began with the first errant thought. Their conclusion that what God said was bad to eat was instead good to eat was a serious sin. It was also delusional, rebellious, twisted, and ruinous for them and for all of their children. Ever since then the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve have suffered in their heart’s mind from evil thoughts (Gen. 6:5). Because of sin, our foolish hearts struggle with proud and selfish ideas. Even Christians, who are delivered from sin’s condemning power and reigning power, still struggle against residual sin. Self-indulgence and self-importance continue to dog every Christian so that we are often unclear about the true motives that lie under our thoughts. Jeremiah spoke of this, when he wrote:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

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