Follow Your Heart?

The Human Heart

The popular mantra, “follow your heart,” assumes that we have inherent goodness deep inside us that we just need to express to others. John Keats wrote: “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affection and the truth of imagination.” This is a modern version of the “Care Bear Stare” used to overcome “Dark Heart”—make sure to watch this video; you will not regret it.



Actually, Jesus has some bad news regarding what comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt 15:17-20; Mark 7:20-22). He concludes, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17-21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Fruit of the Spirit

After Paul makes his list of sinful desires, he follows it with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is not inherent in us but worked into us by the Holy Spirit. The natural human heart produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind by giving us a new heart. And they are opposed to one another. Thorn bushes do not produce oranges. Weeds do not produce apples. And the human heart does not naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit.


Unfortunately, some Christians treat the fruit of the Spirit like a new Law—expectations that we must strive to attain by our own effort. This is not Paul’s point. The fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not us. This is a message of great hope, not pessimistic resignation. The fruit of the Spirit is what we can ask and hope that God does to us. The fruit of the Spirit is hope for the work of God in us; not duty. The fruit of the Spirit is anticipation of what God may do to us; not moral expectation with the threat of punishment. The fruit of the Spirit is God killing parts of us to transform them—cutting in order to heal, destroying for the purpose of rebuilding. The fruit is not our dedication to our pious intentions. If it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), then why do we begin with the Spirit but really try to attain our goals by human effort (Galatians 3:3)?

  • How do you conjure love when you hate your ex? Or the person who slanders you? Or your self-absorbed friend?
  • How do you make yourself joyful when you are paralyzed by fear and insecurities?
  • How do you summon peace when you are flooded by worries about your past, or present, or future?
  • How do you make yourself patient when your anxiety wakes you up at night or you can feel the anxiety in your body?
  • How do you invoke kindness when there are so many people who act like your enemy?
  • How do you strive for gentleness when you know that the meek are treated like doormats?
  • How do you stir-up goodness when badness erupts so naturally and feels more immediately fulfilling?
  • How do you enact self-control when your desire for quick pleasure is so out of control?


Left on our own, we cannot do any of these because the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not our action plan for managing sin and achieving holiness (read Luther’s Bondage of the Will). What we need is not assistance by the Holy Spirit mixed with our spiritual effort. We need the Spirit to transform us. We need the Spirit to give us a new heart with new desires and affections: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of faith and repentance, not spiritual self-determination. The fruit of the Spirit is the hope that God may do what he promises to do: to restore that which has been destroyed, to be faithful when you are faithless, and to show up in your weakness with his strength.