FOLLOW YOUR HEART???
Have you ever been told “follow your heart” by a friend or relative when facing a difficult life decision? Many people hearing this advice are typically struggling with a decision. They struggle because they are in a state of cognitive dissonance. They have two competing values and two choices. But one choice is usually more difficult than the other in terms of the energy and commitment that is needed to make and sustain the decision for the change. The struggle lies in the fact that the decision to do nothing may bring more emotional and mental pain than making the life-change. This existential wrestling is common nowadays with midlife career changers. For you faithful Christians that have been responsible in your personal and spiritual lives and have exercised self-control in laying down your will, for God’s will, I say “follow your heart”. It is more likely than not that you are so zealous for God’s work to be done in your life that “the desires of your heart” can and will be granted you because of your steadfast and faithful “delighting in the Lord” (Ps37:4).
But what are we to make of verses like, Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Well here’s the thing. The Bible is meant to be read in its entirety and understood in light of God’s progressive revelation. We know that without God we can try to live good lives and may even succeed in being “good” people and productive members of society.
However, we know that in the beginning God created all things good, but sin entered into the heart of man such that all men and the seed of man were born into sin. But God prophesied from Genesis that his plan was for redemption through His son, who would miraculously come from the seed of the woman! Because of sin we needed the law to tell us what was right and wrong. And that we might know the rewards or punishments of following or rebelling against the commands of God. The law was a fence to show us sheep where we should stay. The law didn’t do anything about changing our hearts and that was the reason we needed sacrifices. The sacrifice system covered our sins so that when we repeatedly broke the laws we would have recourse to forgiveness. But in reading the Scriptures we know the law was only a shadow of things to come. Ezekiel tells us that God planned to give us redemption through the blood of Jesus and having him pay the price of death so that we might have life, a new Spirit and a new heart. And the power of the Holy Spirit to not sin continually, we could “be holy, because I am holy” (1Pe.1:16).
Thousands of years after the Mosaic law, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about law and its limits. Prophetically, Dr. King said, “…the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless…” King was referring to Federal and State laws governing civil rights and freedoms. He stood up for his generation and all generations following so that there might be civil rights and equality. His knowledge of the heart of man came from Scripture. He knew not all men had been given that new heart and new spirit that Ezekiel had prophesied and that there remained a desperately wicked heart in many, even among those that claimed Christianity. He knew that for some of the rule-breakers and interpretation makers only the law written and enforced by the powers of government would be sufficient to restrain the injustice millions had suffered.
Below you may read an excerpt of a speech given by Dr. King as we celebrate the legacy of a man who knew the experience of a new heart of flesh. He knew and had received that new spirit. We struggle even today in our society to hold on to the vision that he saw for equality and peace. Do you know God? Have you experienced the removal of your heart of stone and received a heart of flesh? If so, then follow your heart, go do what God himself has given you strength to do. Go in the strength of the Lord and fight the good fight of faith.
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.
Well, there’s half-truth involved here.
Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.
But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.
It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.
So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.” – Martin Luther King Jr.