A few weeks ago, my roommate, Christen, and I went on a shopping adventure for our new apartment. We are so excited to have a new place to call home! On the day of said adventure, we went to 5 different stores (6 if you count 2 stops at Target) in just a few hours looking for furniture, decor, appliances, and everything else adults apparently need. As we wandered down the aisles, I couldn’t help but notice the number of wall accents and frames that say things like “follow your heart” or echo the famous Roxette song, “listen to your heart” in some form or fashion.
Of course, this type of vernacular is nothing new or surprising. Phrases and inspirational quotes similar to these are embedded in our cultural language. We hear them, we say them, maybe we even believe them. But, for whatever reason, this time, as I looked upon these lazy “words of encouragement,” I cringed. More and more, I understand how sinful my heart really is. To be very candid, no one should be following it or taking any sort of advice from it on its own accord. According to the Bible, God agrees, and He’s definitely not shy about warning us of the evil nature of our hearts. Take a look at some relevant Scripture.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.
I’m pretty certain no one wants their life to be full of these things. Our hearts are far from trustworthy. These verses use some really strong, powerful words. Sometimes I tell myself I can skip over this part of the Bible because it’s not applicable to my life. I’m not a murderer. I’m not an adulterer or a thief. Sure, I’m a sinner, but I tell myself my sin doesn’t fall into the same category as most of the evil mentioned above. In hindsight, that’s only pride (a fruit of the heart of man) blinding me.
Jesus knew we would justify our sin this way, tainting God’s commands with our foolish legalism. We have such a tendency to compare ourselves to one another and focus on the “dos and don’ts” of religion, but God sees right through this fake measurement of righteousness we’ve created. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clarifies the true meaning of the Law by revealing that the Father cares less about our actions, and more about the heart behind them.
It is written:
Matthew 5:21-22 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matthew 5:27-28 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
So, there we have it. Each of our hearts are capable of both anger and murder, lust and adultery. No sin is greater than another, for anything sinful is outside of God’s will. It’s easy to read the Bible and shake our heads at the Pharisees and religious leaders of biblical times. But, with some perspective, it is clear that we are just like them. We believe we know better than God. We believe the lie that our heart could never in a million years lead us astray. My point is God is practically begging us to stop following our hearts and start following Him. Paul refers to our evil hearts as the source of “the desires of the flesh” and speaks to the struggle of relinquishing control to the Spirit in his letters.
Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Romans 7:18-20 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Evil is rooted deep inside of us. “Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” are not far away. Knowing this to be true, the concept of “following your heart” becomes a matter of eternity, for sin has separated us all from God. But we can rest in the good news of free salvation and redemption that is not dependent on anything we have or haven’t done, but solely on the finished work of Christ. Even in the midst of our wickedness, God longs for our “desperately sick” hearts. He relentlessly pursues them, and if we let Him, He will graciously restore them.
For more on this topic, here are some additional references …