“Follow your heart” is a message that our society is preaching. A five-year old will watch the Tigger Movie and hear characters sing, “follow your heart and know that you can’t go wrong.” Young adults in the graduating class of 2010 may have heard Ben Stein’s advice on CBS entitled “Decide to Live.” He explained that people who were happy “decided to do what their heart told them to do, to do what was in them to do.” His message was clear—follow your heart.
Children and young people are not the only ones bombarded with this message. For adults there are countless books and television shows that give similar advice: follow your heart and this will give you purpose in life and in work. Adults can even listen to the old Roxette’s or Cascada’s song titled “Listen to your heart” on the radio while pursuing their own success.
But I question: Is this good advice? Should we follow our hearts?
Scripture says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
This verse shows us that our hearts are crafty and cunning. When discerning whether or not to follow our hearts, it is helpful to define “heart.” Heart is essentially “what makes us tick”. Our heart includes our personalities, the way we think, how we feel, and what we desire. This means the heart is connected with moral qualities (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery 368).
Yes, the moment we receive Jesus as our personal Savior, Scripture says we are given a new heart, but we still struggle with sin every day. This dynamic is what theologians call “remaining sin.” Sin does not define us anymore, but it does remain. We are no longer identified as sinners, but we will struggle with the reality of sin until we die. Paul calls this internal struggle a conflict between spirit and flesh.
What is the flesh? Why is it so bad?
1. Following the flesh is bad because “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17a). When we walk in the flesh we are opposing God.
2. Not only does the flesh oppose God, but walking in the flesh will ruin our lives. Read a few character traits of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, stride, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-21). We wouldn’t even have to talk to three people to find out that these things are terrible and have completely ruined people’s lives. Galatians 6:7 shows us that God is not mocked and that whatever we sow we will reap. We can either sow to the Spirit or to the flesh. Verse eight continues to say that the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption.
3. Living according to the flesh will ruin our lives, and oppose God, but the good news is that Jesus wants to produce a much different life for us through his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to pour out his gifts and to produce fruit in believers. The fruit of the Spirit in contrast to the flesh is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
I argue that kids should not follow The Tigger Movie’s advice because if they follow their hearts they will go the wrong way. High school and college graduates should not heed Ben Stein’s advice to “do what is in them to do” or they will live sexually immoral lives filled with jealously and fits of rage. Adults should not follow the Roxette song and listen to their hearts because they will be living in the flesh. They will be living in complete opposition to God.
I believe we should not follow our hearts because it is not grounded in truth. Rather we should live by the Spirit. And what is amazing is that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). God has given us grace so that we may abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8). God is greater than he who is in the world, and he is in you if you are a believer (1 John 4:4).