The Result of Following Your Heart

Walking shoes

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

A popular idea in our modern culture is that we should “follow our heart.” While this is popular, it is not wise. Our heart, on its own, will not direct us in the way we need to go. Jeremiah said, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). In the passage quoted at the beginning of this article, the Lord said that man’s heart is “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). The rest of that chapter elaborates on this idea.

In this article, we are going to examine that chapter (Jeremiah 17) and see what happens when we follow our heart. However, we first need to understand the context. Jeremiah had been warning the people of Judah about destruction that was coming. They had rejected God, embraced idolatry, and refused to repent of their sin; so God was going to punish them through the Babylonian army that was coming against them. Though we live in a different time and under different circumstances, the basic points are the same. We will experience the same pitfalls as they did if we also “follow our heart.”

What happens when we follow our heart? This chapter describes six consequences that will come from this.

Sin Becomes a Part of Us

The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus; with a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart and on the horns of their altars, as they remember their children, so they remember their altars and their Asherim by green trees on the high hills. O mountain of Mine in the countryside, I will give over your wealth and all your treasures for booty, your high places for sin throughout your borders. And you will, even of yourself, let go of your inheritance that I gave you; and I will make you serve your enemies in the land which you do not know; for you have kindled a fire in My anger which will burn forever” (Jeremiah 17:1-4).

Their sin was described as being almost permanently etched on their heart (v. 1) – not that it could never be removed (God could still forgive them), but they could not remove it themselves. They remembered “their altars and their Asherim” just as they remembered “their children” (v. 2), indicating the fact that they had become as close to their idolatrous practices as they had to their children. This behavior would lead to irreversible consequences. They would lose their wealth, their inheritance, and their home in the promised land (v. 3-4).

When we follow our heart, we will inevitably be led into sin and the consequences will be disastrous. Our lives will be characterized by this sin and we will not be able to remedy this without turning back to the Lord.

We Put Our Trust in Man

Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

A curse is pronounced upon those to “[trust] in mankind” (v. 5). One cannot follow both God and sin. Therefore, when they followed sin and later realized their need to put their trust in someone higher than themselves, they turned to others rather than to the Lord. By doing this, they would miss out on the blessings and reward that come from following God (v. 6). Yet those who trust in the Lord will be blessed and will enjoy stability in this life (v. 7-8; cf. Psalm 1:1-3).

When we follow our heart and difficulties come (as they inevitably will), it will be difficult for us to turn to God since that would require us to also turn from our sin. So we will turn to weak and fallible men. Yet if we would turn from our sin and put our trust in the Lord, we will enjoy the blessings the come with that.

Our Heart Deceives Us

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, so is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; in the midst of his days it will forsake him, and in the end he will be a fool” (Jeremiah 17:9-11).

This is the main point of the chapter. They trusted in their heart, yet their heart deceived them. Immediately after pointing this out, the Lord said that He would “search the heart” and “test the mind” in order to “give to each man according to his ways” (v. 10). Nothing is hidden from Him. To illustrate this point, He described the partridge that would hatch eggs that it did not lay. Despite the effort, the “reward” (the newly hatched young) belonged to another. The lesson was that their efforts to enrich themselves apart from God was futile.

When we follow our heart, we will be deceived. As we already noted, Jeremiah said elsewhere, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). The wise man wrote, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Whatever way we choose – to follow our heart or to follow the Lord – nothing is hidden from Him. “All things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13), and we will be held accountable by Him and judged for these things (2 Corinthians 5:10). No matter what “profit” we think we can “gain” by rejecting the Lord, in the end it will not be worth it (Matthew 16:26).

We Will Be Put to Shame

A glorious throne on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord. Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are my praise.

Look, they keep saying to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now!’ But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You, nor have I longed for the woeful day; You Yourself know that the utterance of my lips was in Your presence. Do not be a terror to me; You are my refuge in the day of disaster. Let those who persecute me be put to shame, but as for me, let me not be put to shame; let them be dismayed, but let me not be dismayed. Bring on them a day of disaster, and crush them with twofold destruction!” (Jeremiah 17:12-18).

They were reminded that God rules from heaven (v. 12). Therefore, those who “forsake [Him] will be put to shame” (v. 13). Healing and salvation were only found in the Lord (v. 14), so their sin that was seemingly “permanent” (v. 1) could only be forgiven by Him. However, the ones who followed their own way rejected Jeremiah’s warning and attempted to put to shame those who spoke the truth (v. 15-18).

When we follow our heart, we are rejecting the only way to have our sins forgiven and our shame taken away. Salvation and forgiveness are only found in Christ (Acts 4:12; Ephesians 1:7). We need to be willing to turn away from sin and be open to the words that are spoken by those who are trying to turn us back to the Lord’s ways.

We Will Ignore the Word of God

Thus the Lord said to me, ‘Go and stand in the public gate, through which the kings of Judah come in and go out, as well as in all the gates of Jerusalem; and say to them, “Listen to the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and all Judah and all inhabitants of Jerusalem who come in through these gates: Thus says the Lord, ‘Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction’”’” (Jeremiah 17:19-23).

God told Jeremiah to publicly proclaim the need to keep the sabbath (v. 19-22). This was done in order to test them. The sabbath law prohibited working on that day (Exodus 20:8-11). Unfortunately, they rejected it because it was not what they wanted to do (v. 23). They were unwilling to put God’s will ahead of their own.

When we follow our heart, we will feel justified in rejecting anything in the Bible that is contrary to what we think or what we want. Yet we must be willing to put the Lord first. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). We cannot surrender our lives to the Lord and at the same time follow our own desires. We have to choose one or the other.

We Will Be Destroyed

‘But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it, then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the Lord. But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 17:24-27).

As this chapter is brought to a close, they were reminded that listening to God would bring a reward (v. 24-26). However, if they refused to listen to God because they wanted to follow their heart, this would bring about destruction (v. 28).

The same is true for us today. God rewards those who listen to and obey Him. Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). On the other hand, if we “do not obey the gospel,” this will lead to “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). We have to decide what voice we will follow – the voice of the Lord or the inner voice of our own heart.


Rather than following our heart, we need to follow God. Our heart can deceive us and turn us away from the Lord. Our only hope lies in our willingness to submit to His will and put away sin from our lives.

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