Is this good advice, bad advice, or a little of both? When faced with some decisions in life, the heart, one’s passion, emotions and feeling do matter. They must be taken into account. We get ourselves into trouble, however, when the heart is the primary factor or the trump card in decision making.
The heart, one’s particular passion, and feelings are not inherently bad. They are part and parcel of what it means to be human and created in the image of God. Our problem is that they are fallen, tainted, corrupted, and ultimately untrustworthy in and of themselves. A few biblical insights:
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable – who can understand it?” The prophet is acknowledging the sinfulness of human beings, which penetrates to the depths of one’s being. The consequences of sin do not simply affect our outward behavior, but also affect mind, will, and emotions. Can the heart be trusted? No.
But what about the renewed heart? What about the born again Christian who is new in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit? That does make the difference for us both positionally and experientially. We still struggle, however, with the consequences of indwelling sin, the flesh. Consider . . .
Romans 7:14-20 – “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
The Apostle Paul’s experience is the same for all of us. As believers who are new in Christ we know what is right and we want to do it. At the same time, we often struggle with doing the right thing because there is the principle of sin still in us. At least we are aware of it. At least we have the Holy Spirit pointing it out to us. Based upon the experience Paul is describing, should we follow what is deep within us? Should we always follow the heart? Yes, it is renewed, but can I fully trust my feelings, my thoughts, and my lifelong belief systems? Not always and not ultimately.
To be fair, there is a minority of Biblical scholars who argue that this Romans passage is actually describing the pre-salvation experience of Paul, not his life as a Christian. Still, based on further Scriptures, I think my point will hold up. Consider:
Romans 12:2a – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Ephesians 4:22-24 – “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
There are many other passages which point out that although we are new in Christ, we still have to intentionally and purposefully choose to think and do the right things, to be transformed, to put off certain attitudes and behaviors and put on others. And what are the right things? Not always those that are deep within our heart, but those that are based on something outside of us, namely “his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2b).
Therefore, we need something outside of ourselves by which to measure and evaluate our heart: our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, and our passions. How about . . .
1. The wisdom of others. As believers we are in the family of God, the Body of Christ. A lot could be said here, but as imperfect as the church is, we need each other for advice, counsel, wisdom, and accountability.
2. The wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is something within us we DO need to pay attention to. Yes, God does speak to us in our “hearts.” The challenge is to determine what is the Holy Spirit and what is coming from my own heart or “evil desire” (James 1:13-15). Therefore . . .
3. The wisdom of Scripture. We need to measure all of this – the wisdom of others, our heart and all its components, and even what we think may be spiritual impulses by the word of God. Yes, we may argue over interpretation and application, but the point is, will we acknowledge an authority outside of and greater than “follow your heart?”
I have seen countless marriages, families, lives, and ministries wrecked because people were absolutely convinced they were doing the right thing. Although they may have stated it in different ways, the bottom line is they just knew it was right because they were following their “heart.” And it was deceitful beyond belief.