An earlier edition of this article was first published in The Brink Magazine, Spring 2017.
Invariably, when I watch a Disney Channel movie (not that I do, anymore), I’ll hear one line shoehorned into every single film: “Just follow your heart.” The charge is always the same: Do what your feelings tell you to do, no matter the cost. Even outside of kid’s movies, we watch made-for-TV movies, fairytales, and romantic comedies that all affirm this same sentiment. Then, at the end of the day, we’re forced to ask ourselves: Is that how I should make decisions for my life? Am I just to follow my heart—whatever that means? Or am I to follow or trust in my thinking? Or better yet, is there something else entirely I should trust in?
Unsurprisingly, we live in a time in which our Christian worldview, is at odds with the worldview of our general culture. As followers of Christ, we see the world in a diametrically different way than those around us. At the very heart of both of these different worldviews is a question of authority: Whom or what should I trust? Each worldview offers a different answer.
What the World Says
Our culture is riddled with examples of people torn between what feels right and what is right. Recently, many Christians have been making big news by adopting an interpretation of the Bible that condones homosexuality and writing about their conclusions. While the names change, the story has generally stayed the same. A popular Christian author, musician, pastor, or whoever has studied the Bible with much prayer and earnestness. And they’ve come to the conclusion, sometimes after as much as a year, that homosexuality isn’t wrong, at least not outside of marriage. Forget that this conclusion rejects thousands of years of Christian interpretation of passages like Genesis 19:1-38, Leviticus 18:22, Mark 10:6-9, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 5:1-21, 1 Timothy 1:10, Jude 1:7, and many others.
While many of these blog posts are lengthy and nuanced, they often have one theme that connects them: The authors have changed their minds on this issue because of what they’ve seen in the culture around us. We hear their statements, and we sympathize with what the author and their audience are going through. We hear their words of transparency and tenderness, and we want to share in their empathy.
But this ethical pendulum swing assumes that we’re the first generation in the last two millennia that has had to deal with the effects of sin in our world. Because of this, we often allow our feelings to affect our understanding of truth. When our feelings control us, we can easily betray the truth we know. Then, we go with what feels right, rather than with what is right.
While this has hit close to home recently in Christian circles, our society—especially popular culture—has conditioned us to think this way for a long time. I think of fuzzy Instagram posts that have “Follow Your Heart” embossed in a serif font across the backdrop of a sunset or of drawn-out books or television shows that center on a character deciding whether to “follow their hearts” or to be forever unhappy. If popular culture has taught us anything, it is this: If you don’t follow your heart, you won’t get your happy ending. It’s no wonder, then, that we struggle to know whether this might be true about Christianity as well. Should I follow my heart, even if it disagrees with my faith?
What the Bible Says
For Christians, this tension can feel like an internal tug-o’-war. When we listen to and watch all of the different mediums around us, we don’t know whom or what to trust concerning the big questions of life. This anxiety seems to come to a head when we encounter ethical problems in our lives: homosexuality, abortion, and immigration, to name a few. Ultimately, we wonder whether we should side with our feelings on these questions of morality. Thankfully, we’re not left to our own devices. God, in His divine wisdom, gives us examples of person after person in Scripture who dealt with this same dilemma.
In the book of Judges, a phrase used a couple of times is, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6, 21:25). To our modern sensibilities, we might think that this ethic was good—something for which the Israelites ought to be commended. The problem, though, is that this phrase is never a positive one in the Bible. “To do right in their own eyes” was to do evil in the sight of the Lord (Judg. 2:11; 3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). That means, at least in this book of the Bible, that just because someone did what he or she felt was right doesn’t mean that the action was actually right.
In addition to the account in Judges, the prophet Jeremiah gives us instruction on over trusting our hearts. Jeremiah 17:9-10 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’”
The Bible is replete with the idea that the heart, without the transforming work of Christ and the Spirit, cannot be trusted (Gen. 6:5; Prov. 4:23; Ps. 51:10; Ezek. 36:26; Lk 6:45). Our hearts, just like our minds and our actions, have been affected by sin. Sin contorts and perverts our feelings and our thoughts. Even as God works in us, our hearts are not yet perfect. If this is the case—and it is—how can we faithfully trust our hearts or our minds?
If we can’t trust the culture around us, and we can’t even trust our own hearts or feelings, whom or what can we trust? In the simplest of words, the answer is this: God and His Word. You see, the problem begins when we make ourselves the center and arbiter of our decisions. Instead, we should follow God Who gives us truth outside of ourselves to help us make decisions that glorify Him. We don’t trust inwardly, but we instead trust in a standard of truth that transcends us.
Though this truth is higher than us, it is not removed from us. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God has given us His Word that is able to cut deep into our lives. His Word can humble the proud and exalt the humble. It can bring us low and raise us to new heights. It’s only the Bible, which is God’s very word to us, that can be trusted in this life. And only by trusting not in ourselves but in God and His truth can we make the right decisions.
God even does more for us than give us His Word. It’s not just that He gives us good instruction; He also takes our old, deceitful heart and replaces it with a new one. He does the same thing with our minds. In reality, the entirety of who we are becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Our feelings, our minds, and our actions are all becoming transformed by the working of the Spirit to look more like Christ (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 2:1-11; 1 Jn. 2:6).
As Christians, God is helping us to put to death the old self and all of its practices, and that includes every part of who we are (Col. 3:9-10). God helps us remove all of the “old man” and produces a new creation within us. As God works His regenerative work within us, we are now “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10).
What different does this make in your life? When the world tells you to follow your heart, God tells you to follow His heart for the world (Jn. 3:16). When the world tells you to trust in your thinking, God tells you to transform your mind (Rom. 12:1-2). When the world tells you to trust in yourself, God says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5) Now, as you’re being made new in Christ (Rom. 8:1-39), you trust in a glorious Guide for truth. It’s not what you say, or what the world says, but what God says that makes all the difference.
 All quotations in this article will come from the English Standard Version.