Recently I was again exposed to a short list of ‘Thing Jesus never said’ contrasted with ‘Things Jesus said.’ One point in particular was that Jesus never said to ‘follow your heart.’ While I get the intent behind the phrase, I also find it simplistic and scripturally inaccurate On the occasions that I have challenged the simplistic idea that it may not be entirely wrong to ‘follow your heart’ (I have no issue with the other points) I have received the obvious follow, a reference to Jeremiah 17:9 saying I am wrong because our hearts are ‘deceitfully wicked.’ I don’t want to go too far down a road here but frankly I find a lot of my fellow believers come across as far better at quoting standard scriptures than engaging in some scriptural research and critical thinking.
Now, lest I simply come across as a cranky old man, I have a deep concern, backed up by numerous research studies and polls others have done, that a great many who claim Jesus’ name do not seem to know His word. Granted He has called me to teach so I am more invested in scripture, but I think we all need a level of investment that goes beyond cliché scriptures. Thus, let’s explore the issue of heart from both the Old and New Testaments by looking at some sample scriptures. Here are some scriptures followed by my comments.
5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (NKJV)
This seems to support Jeremiah quoting Yahweh as saying our hearts are deceitfully wicked. Yet in context if we read a few verses further we find that Noah was a just man and the ‘intent of the thoughts of his heart’ were not continually evil. Well both Genesis 6 and Jeremiah 17 seem be blanket statements I think they are generalities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)
If our hearts could not be cleansed then David’s prayer of contrition and repentance was not inspired by the Spirit.
1 My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you. 3 Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:1–5 (NKJV)
23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)
We are enjoined in Proverbs 3 to keep His commands with our heart, to write His law on the tablet of our hearts and trust Him with all our heart. Seemingly summed up in Proverbs 4:23. All things contrary to what can be done with a completely wicked and deceitful heart.
9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)
Here we come to the core verse everyone seems to know without seeming to not know the context. Jeremiah is delivering a message and contrasting those who follow Yahweh with those who do not. The very next verse is always left out.
10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:10
This takes us back to the context. If every heart is deceitfully wicked then the only proper response is judgment for everyone but that is not what we see in Jeremiah’s message. Yahweh is judging good and evil according to their ways.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
This is the promise of the new covenant and minimally should teach believers that when we have been born again our heart has been renewed.
7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7–9 (NKJV)
Here Peter teaches that our hearts can be purified through faith in Jesus.
43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)
Here, prior to the inauguration of the new covenant Jesus taught that our hearts could bring forth good our evil depending on the values we had embraced.
6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)
Here Paul taught us that it is with our hearts that we encounter Jesus. The heart is where He shines into our lives.
10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10 (NKJV)
Lastly and most importantly, if all of us have desperately wicked hearts how could any of us ever be saved? After all, Paul is telling us here that our heart is the organ of faith!
In conclusion. If we ignore the whole counsel of God, we can wholeheartedly embrace what is regularly taught from Jeremiah 17:9, that all of us have deceitfully wicked hearts. However, if we embrace scripture, we see that the issue is much more nuanced and that our hearts can follow Jesus and we can follow our hearts. What led to my conversion was that I followed mine right into His presence. If you have not yet done so I invite you to do the same.