The common advice to “follow your heart” has permeated our culture and become something of a mantra for living life on your own terms. But what does the Bible have to say about following your heart? While the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us not to follow our hearts, it does provide ample warnings about the deceitfulness of our hearts and the importance of grounding our lives in God’s truth.
The Heart’s Deceitfulness
The Bible clearly teaches that the human heart is prone to deceitfulness and should not be fully trusted. Jeremiah 17:9 warns that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our hearts can convince us to go down paths that may feel right in the moment but ultimately lead to destruction and disobedience to God. We see examples of this with David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), the Israelites worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32), and Judas betraying Jesus (Mark 14:10-11).
In following our hearts, we are essentially elevating our feelings and desires above God’s Word. But Proverbs 28:26 cautions, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” And Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” When we make decisions solely based on our passions and feelings, we become prone to justifying almost anything that feels right in the moment.
The Need for Wisdom and Discernment
Rather than follow the heart’s fleeting feelings, the Bible tells us we need wisdom and discernment that comes from God Himself. As Proverbs 3:5-6 declares, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” We are called to submit our hearts – with all their complexes desires and emotions – to God daily and seek after His wisdom.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns in Matthew 7:13-14 that the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, but the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Following our hearts is often the easier, wide path that aligns with the world’s wisdom. But God calls us to the narrow path of seeking His righteousness and desires for our lives above our own.
As Romans 12:2 explains, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rather than thoughtlessly follow our hearts, we are called to renew our minds according to God’s Word so that we develop discernment to know His perfect will.
Examples Where “Following Your Heart” Leads Astray
While the idea of “following your heart” may seem romantic and ideal in our culture, the Bible gives many examples where this leads people astray:
- Samson followed his heart in demanding an unbelieving Philistine wife, which led to his downfall (Judges 14:1-3)
- Solomon followed his heart in accumulating many wives who turned his heart from God (1 Kings 11:3-4)
- The Israelites repeatedly followed their hearts in worshiping idols when they felt like it (Hosea 4:11-12)
- Ananias and Sapphira followed their hearts in lying about money from property they sold (Acts 5:1-11)
- Demas followed his heart in loving the present world and deserted ministry with Paul (2 Timothy 4:10)
As these examples illustrate, following our hearts often leads to disobeying God’s commands and straying from His will for our lives. Our hearts are masters at justifying what we want to believe in the moment. But God sees the long-term consequences where our passions lead – consequences we often can’t see in our limited perspectives.
The Need for Truth and Obedience
Rather than chase fleeting feelings and emotions, God calls us to build our lives upon His eternal truth. Jesus declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Only through grounding our identity in Christ can we find reliable guidance. King David, whom God called “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), prayed to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word lights our way when the heart’s path leads to darkness.
Furthermore, true life is found through obedience to God’s commands. James 1:22 instructs, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” While following our hearts caters to our inner desires, following God requires denying ourselves (Luke 9:23), humility (James 4:10), and pursuing righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The abundant life Jesus promises comes from surrendering our hearts to our Creator.
As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” God wants us to follow our hearts when our hearts are fully devoted to seeking and following Him. But the key is that our hearts must be fully surrendered to God first. Otherwise, they will lead us down deceitful paths.
Guarding Our Hearts
Rather than thoughtlessly follow its fleeting whims, Scripture calls us to carefully guard our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 instructs, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Guarding our hearts involves continually realigning our innermost desires to God’s truth found in the Bible.
We guard our hearts by saturating our minds with Scripture (Psalm 119:11), being quick to confess and repent of sin that entangles us (1 John 1:9), prayerfully considering decisions from God’s perspective (Philippians 4:6-7), and seeking wise counsel (Proverbs 15:22). As our hearts are rooted deep in God’s Word and will, we gain discernment to know whether emotions and desires flowing from our heart are aligned with God’s truth or deceitful whims.
The Psalms model candid conversations with God about emotions and desires of the heart. Through prayerful praise and lament, truth prevails over fleeting feelings of the moment. God is always ready to guide us, but we must continually commit our hearts to His refining and redirection.
Following God’s Heart for Our Lives
While our hearts vacillate between fight or flight feelings and emotional highs and lows, God’s heart is constant. He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). He delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18). He works all things for our good (Romans 8:28). The God who fashioned the universe offers to make the masterpiece of your life.
Thus, the call is not to follow our hearts but to follow God’s heart for our lives. As Acts 13:22 says, David “was a man after God’s own heart.” Despite failures and flaws, David continually turned to God for wisdom, forgiveness, and direction. We too can become men and women after God’s own heart as we fix our eyes on His unchanging character.
By walking in intimate communion with God daily, our hearts take on the Father’s heart. Our passions come to align with heavenly priorities rather than earthly impulses. Divine wisdom guides our decision making and relationships. God’s truth and faithfulness keep our hearts steadfast amidst life’s storms. And His living water springs up within us to eternal life (John 4:14).
Key Passages on the Heart’s Deceitfulness
Below are some key Bible passages that speak to the heart’s deceitfulness and our need for God’s wisdom and truth:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)
The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
Rightly Ordered Loves
Augustine spoke of the need for our “loves” to be rightly ordered. Rather than reject all desires and emotions, the goal is to subordinate them under the greatest commandment: loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). As we fill our hearts with love for God and His truth, our other loves and feelings come into proper alignment.
This requires a lifelong process of surrendering our hearts to Jesus, keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), pursuing godliness (1 Timothy 6:11), setting our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2), and bringing every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But as we walk closely with God day by day, He is able to align our hearts to follow after Him.
Wisdom for Decision Making
Since our hearts can so easily deceive us, how do we make wise decisions that align with God’s will? Here are some biblical principles for decision making:
- Pray for wisdom and discernment (James 1:5, Philippians 1:9-10)
- Study God’s Word and let it dwell richly in you (Psalm 119:9-11, Colossians 3:16)
- Seek godly counsel and wise advice (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 15:22)
- Consider how the decision would look from eternity (2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:25)
- Evaluate options in light of God’s values and priorities (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:5-8)
- Listen for God’s Spirit guiding your conscience (Romans 9:1, John 16:13)
The more we saturate our hearts and minds with God’s truth, the better equipped we’ll be to apply wisdom in the face of life’s decisions. God promises that if we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6).
Following God’s Heart in Relationships
One area we need great wisdom is relationships. While chemistry and emotions can spark initial interest, God calls us to evaluate potential relationships much deeper. Some key relationship questions to consider:
- Does this person share my Christian values and faith? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
- Is this relationship distracting my heart from God? (Exodus 34:15)
- Does this person challenge me to grow in my faith? (Proverbs 27:17)
- Am I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually safe with this person? (Proverbs 13:20)
- Does this relationship help me fulfill God’s purposes for my life? (2 Timothy 2:4)
- Have we sought pre-marital counsel if considering marriage? (Proverbs 11:14)
A relationship grounded in godly wisdom and discernment reaps blessings for years to come. While our hearts may race at physical touch and emotional connection, true companionship thrives when anchored in the love of Christ.
Aligning with God’s Definition of Love
Our culture often equates love with feelings of attraction and romance. We “fall into” love and “fall out” of love. But God defines love very differently in Scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 describes the kind of love God desires to cultivate in our hearts:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
This kind of steadfast, selfless love only grows as we abide in Christ. Rather than look for people to fulfill our needs, God frees us to love others sacrificially. Our hearts become channels of His compassion and grace.
Following God’s Heart in Sex and Purity
Another area we must guard our hearts is in the sexual arena. Our culture trivializes sex while the Bible treats it as precious and holy. Some relevant passages include:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)
Rather than follow where our heart or body craves, Scripture calls us to purity. We glorify God by controlling our sexual desires and waiting for marriage for sexual activity. Through faith and God’s grace, we can overcome temptation. Following God’s heart in purity leads to true thriving.
Key Scriptures to Renew Our Hearts
In conclusion, here are some key Bible verses for renewing our hearts to follow God above all else:
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. (Proverbs 23:26)
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)
May we diligently guard our hearts, realigning our inner compass to point steadfastly toward our Creator. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, He transforms our hearts to beat in rhythm with heaven. By His Spirit, we gain wisdom and courage to walk the narrow but life-giving way of God’s perfect will.