When the Heart Leads Us Astray


One of the most popular phrases we tell others when trying to guide or encourage them is, “Follow your heart.” It seems harmless and altruistic enough — and I am quite sure it is often delivered with the best of intentions. But what does that mean exactly — and what are the implications to our sexuality?

Recently I read a chapter in When People Are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch that really convicted me about this topic. It is something I had been pondering for a little while as I wrestled with how to identify when we are following God’s guidance using spiritual discernment versus following our own wishes and believing that is what He would have us do. When I read this chapter, it felt like the author was speaking to my heart and I think I underlined almost every sentence. I would like to share some of this with you as I believe it is very pertinent to our culture today and has direct implications on our sexuality.

What the Bible Tells Us About Our Heart

Let’s start with the advice of “follow your heart.” Within that piece of advice is the assumption that the heart is ultimately pure and can lead us to the “right path.” Unfortunately, this is not the truth. In fact, Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). I have always struggled with this verse because as a Christian and a counselor, I want to look for the best in people and find their strengths. I want to believe that under even the most tough exterior is a softness and a pure heart. While I do believe that each person is touched by the fingerprint of God and has His unique giftings and qualities within them, I cannot forget that in Welch’s words, “If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important, and people will become more important.”

In other words, if we begin to rely on ourselves to be our guides through life, then Jesus is not truly our Lord. He becomes smaller than ourselves. We turn from His Scripture and voice, putting more faith in our emotions and wishes. Welch then states, “If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth.” We are encouraged to go after what we want and the thought of discipline or patience is often ignored, or worse, viewed as oppressive.

You may be starting to see how I believe this concept of following one’s own heart can relate to our sexuality. As we have become a more self-centered culture, integrity, discipline, and service have lost standing in our minds as priorities. Discipline is often viewed as repressing our desires — some may even say “God-given desires.” Let’s take premarital sex for example. In His Word, God asks us to reserve the sexual relationship for within the confines of the marital covenant. Song of Solomon 8:4 (CSB) says, “Don’t stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” Our Heavenly Father urges us to practice delaying gratification because it will build character that will support our marriage and will ultimately lead to increased satisfaction. It is not to oppress us or test our loyalty.

Though our heart may wish to be intimate physically with the one we love, God has asked us to be patient and trust His wishes. Submitting to God’s will over our own is a practice that we will have to walk out daily in marriage as we struggle through financial issues, infertility, buying a house, job loss, illness, miscarriage, child-rearing, and so many other challenges. If we enter marriage following our hearts first rather than God’s will, we are often placing ourselves in a position that can result in serving self first, others second, and God last. His intention is the exact reverse. This example of waiting until marriage is just one way this concept can affect our sexuality, but can apply to masturbation, pressuring our spouse to try a sexual act that they do not feel peace about, pornography, and so much more. The heart can easily give way to lust if we follow it.

God’s Will Over Our Feelings and Desires

When feelings and desires become our highest authority, we can often find a way to justify any action and can start to become controlled by these desires, which are frequently labeled as “needs.” Welch states, “Whatever you think you need, you come to fear. If you ‘need’ love (to feel okay about yourself), you will soon be controlled by the one who dispenses love. You are also saying that without that person’s love, you will be spiritually handicapped, unable to give love to others.” If these words are challenging you, please know that I am right there with you! As a counselor, I am quite familiar with discussion of desires and needs. I think it is very healthy to discuss and communicate with your friends and spouse (and God!) what you wish for and desire. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” After reading Welch’s chapter, however, I am encouraged to look at this verse in a new light.

Previously, I always focused on the second part of the verse. Now I notice just how important that first piece is: “Take delight in the Lord . . .  and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If we take delight in something, let’s say new babies, we spend time adoring them and just being in their presence. We long to get to know their personalities and just genuinely derive joy from their existence. If we were to spend time with God like this, I cannot imagine how much He would change our hearts! The desires of our heart would be molded into His own as we were made increasingly into His likeness. I truly believe that as we seek Him, He even removes or weakens our desire to sin because our desire to glorify Him is so much stronger than our flesh.

In Welch’s words, “There will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs.” He will mold these desires and needs into His will for our lives. He will provide a community around us who pushes us towards a pursuit of purity and freedom in Him. He wishes to partner with us. Our emotions truly are a gift when surrendered to Him, but we cannot be ruled by them. If so, our hearts can lead us astray. And they will. All of us will sin and fall short at times as we put our desires above God’s call on our lives. But He is faithful to forgive if we will repent and come back to Him. Then, my friend, take delight in Him, for in His Presence is freedom and joy and healing!

Related Resources:

Amy is with us for the month of February to talk about intimacy and give us a biblical perspective on relationships and God’s will for us when it comes to love and sex. Check out her first article, “3 Scriptural Truths That Reveal God’s Plan for Sex,” in this 3-part series and corresponding podcast episode by clicking on the link here or one provided below her author bio.

Next week she will wrap up the series with a candid look at issues that often arise in sex in the married relationship.


Amy Owen

Amy Owen

Amy Owen is a Jesus-follower, wife, doggy-mom, and counselor. She studied Child and Family Development at University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) for her undergraduate and obtained a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Richmont Graduate University. While at Richmont, Amy had the privilege to study Christian Sex Therapy, which is one of her passions. Currently, Amy lives in South Georgia and works with youth and their families. Her previous counseling work includes private practice with teens and adults, as well as inpatient and residential settings with adults struggling with acute mental illness and addiction. In her free time, Amy is an avid fiction-reader and walker; in addition, she loves to make new friends.

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