“Always let your conscience be your guide.”
“Follow your heart.”
Those are the kinds of self-affirming advice we often hear. The basic argument is that most of us are pretty good people and if we listen really closely to our inner guiding light, then we’ll make good decisions.
But as Christians, we’re not supposed to do what’s right in our own minds. We’re supposed to do what God thinks is right. To some, this might just seem like a subtle shift in semantics. Of course what I think is right and God thinks is right are the same thing. Aren’t they?’
Not necessarily. While the holy spirit is transforming us to “have the mind of Christ,” we’re not all the way there yet. That’s one reason why it’s so important to spend time studying scripture — to make sure we know how God thinks and line-up with Him.
What God Has To Say About Your Heart
When God made the choice to destroy everyone but Noah and his family in a flood, He did so after seeing “that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil” (Gen. 6:5, WEB). Even though we are made in God’s image, every single person has sinned and we’re corrupted by the fallen world we live in. And yet even in this state, human’s tend to trust that they know what’s right. But we’re often very wrong.
Yahweh says: Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from Yahweh. … The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:5, 9-10, WEB)
Human being can’t trust their hearts. You might get some things right, but you can’t even really know yourself unless you ask God to share His perspective on you. But that verse in Jeremiah is addressed to the person who’s heart departs from the Lord. What about once you are in relationship with God and making Him the one your trust? What does that do to your heart?
Put Your Heart In The Right Place
If you do a word-search for “heart” in the book of Proverbs, you’ll see two different pictures of what our hearts can be like. We can let wisdom enter into our hearts, trust in Yahweh, and keep His commandments (Prov. 2:10; 3:1, 5). Or we can have a heart filled with perverseness, worthlessly wicked, and abominable in God’s eyes (Prov. 6:14; 10:20; 11:20).
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life. (Prov. 4:23, WEB)
We make choices that determine the state of our hearts. We can either choose to walk contrary to God and become less and less like Him, or we can walk with God and let Him transform our hearts. That’s your choice. That’s quite a responsibility, but it’s also something of a relief. No one else gets to make the decision about what kind of heart you have. It’s up to you.
Respect Your Creator’s Authority
It’s hard to get to the point where you trust God more than you trust yourself; where you accept His viewpoint as authoritative even when you have a different idea. But that’s a place we have to get to.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts. (Prov. 21:2, KJV)
God cares about what we do as well as the “why” behind our actions. He does take our intentions into consideration, but good intentions don’t excuse bad conduct or erase sins. We can be forgiven when we repent, of course, but God still wants to see growth. He wants us to apply our hearts to wisdom, not stay ignorant. Especially not willfully.
For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they didn’t subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Rom. 10:2-3, WEB)
We don’t get to decide what’s right and what’s not. Nor are zeal and good feelings enough. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, KJV). If we care about God, then we should show that by submitting to His authority.
Make Yourself A New Heart
In the book of Ezekiel, God replies to Israel’s claim that He’s unfair. After explaining how He rewards righteous people for righteous deeds and wicked people for wicked deeds while also allowing for repentance and change, He points out that they’re actually the unfair ones (Ez. 18:1-29). Then He offers them a solution to the present, iniquitous state of their hearts.
Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel, everyone according to his ways, says the Lord Yahweh. Return, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, in which you have transgressed; and make yourself a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, says the Lord Yahweh: therefore turn yourselves, and live. (Eze. 18:30-32, WEB)
Other verses show that the sort of new heart which can obey God’s commands is a gift form Him (Eze. 11:19-20; 36:26-27). But He doesn’t force this gift on us. We’re involved in making our hearts new by choosing to accept God’s authority in every area of our lives and to submit to His work in us.
Putting On The Mind of Christ
Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh; for they shall all know me, from their least to their greatest, says Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more. (Jer. 31:31-34, WEB)
We are living in the new covenant days. God is writing His character into our hearts right now if we’re in His church. We’re being changed as we learn how to think, feel, and act the way God does. And that means our thoughts on what’s right are (or should be) lining up with God’s thoughts on what’s right. The more like Him we become and the more we put on the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), the less we’ll have to second guess ourselves. So should you do what you think is right? That depends on whether or not you’ve lined-up your thinking with what God says is right.