For the Hearts Together closing devotional thought, CUW Professor of Theology Rev. Dr. Jason Soenksen reflects upon kardiokratia, the rule of the heart, and reminds us that our hearts do not rule. Instead, it is Christ who rules in our hearts.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the spring 2023 edition of Hearts Together. a publication of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” —1 John 3:19-20 ESV

In the fifth century BC, the ancient Greeks functioned under one of three forms of government: monarchia (monarchy), oligarchia (oligarchy), or demokratia (democracy), the rule of the people. While peoples, ancient and modern, have organized their civic affairs in various ways, so the affairs of the heart have, and still are, ruled in different ways. We live in an age where feelings rule. One might call such a rule kardiokratia (the rule of the heart). 

Under kardiokratia (the rule of the heart) rational arguments are supplanted by emotional appeals. A well-ordered mind does not convince so easily as a wounded or outraged heart whose desires, whatever they may be, are perceived to be hampered by facts and ultimate realities. For many, truth is found within their own heart, and is subject to change as feelings and circumstances evolve. In this view, there can be nothing absolute, definitive, binding, or authoritative outside of ourselves. Even within, the hearts and the bodies of many are at odds with one another.

Kardiokratia is wreaking havoc on marriage and human sexuality. Sexual identity, rather than a given, a reality fixed by our Creator, is ruled by the heart, whose reign overrides the facts of biology, our divinely ordered existence in the body. The existence of a child in the womb is determined by the feelings of parents. If wanted, then the baby is a child. If unwanted, then not human. The heart would rule all, boast that it knows all, but the more it rules, and the more it asserts its authority against God, whose truth is revealed not only in nature, but perfectly and sufficiently in Holy Scripture, the more the heart is enslaved.

In the divine logic of Jesus, we learn that the one who saves his life, will lose it; the one who dies to himself and to his sin with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3–5) is the one who finds, or rather, is given life greater than his heart could ever imagine (Mark 8:35). The mystery of godliness is indeed great!

Kardiokratia is not merely present in the world at large, but is a view with which even the sinner-saints of the church must contend in their own hearts. Our hearts desire peace with the world, and so seek mediating, compromising positions between the unfailing truth of God and the rolling waves and wandering stars of kardiokratia. To combat the effects of kardiokratia, our Triune God has caused Holy Scripture to be written for our instruction. Through its proclamation and in its sacred pages, our Father would transform our mind, guide our heart, and strengthen our will.

Threats of kardiokratia

The threat of kardiokratia is two-fold: first, that we would rewrite truth, attempting to become our own gods, or, more subtly, to change God into our image rather than being transformed into His image. We struggle against this form of pride. But we also struggle against despair, wondering whether we can be forgiven for our sins. We know the Law of God. It is written on our hearts, heard by our ears, and read with our eyes. And our hearts know that we are not as we should be. Our hearts condemn us. To be sure, we indeed deserve punishment. But the misguided heart would take the Law too far, condemning itself to damnation or making up its own rites and rules for reconciliation, rather than trusting in Christ as our one Mediator.

To this seditious form of spiritual governance, this evil and demonic kartiokratia, the apostle John speaks: “God is greater than our hearts.” Even when we do not feel loved by God, when we don’t feel forgiven, when we have grown weary of the struggle against sin and regard it as futile, God is greater than our hearts. For, John reminds us, “this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:12). Our Father knows that Jesus has fulfilled the Law for us and suffered all that our sins deserved. The only One who could condemn us is the very One who died and rose for us, who justified us, intercedes for us, and comes again to raise us from the dead (Romans 8:33—34).

A Christ-ruled heart

This is hope that does not disappoint. It is the truth that does not deceive. The truth, the promise of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus, that abides and sustains, that comforts and encourages, even when we don’t feel it. Our hearts do not rule, but it is Christ who rules in our hearts, even as He guides and governs all things for the sake of the church and the proclamation of His eternal Gospel.

It is the Christ-ruled heart that accepts and rejoices in what is given by God in this life; such a heart accepts and honors the body, saying about sexuality what God says about it, and so treating His name as holy and enjoying the rule of His kingdom even in this life. A Christ-ruled heart accepts the suffering that comes to Christians in this life. Such a heart accepts suffering even in marriage and family, where husbands lay down their lives for their wives (Ephesians 5:25) and wives show reverence and obedience to their husbands (Ephesians 5:33; 1 Peter 3:5—6). Christian men and women both are called to struggle against their hearts, confident that their struggle is pleasing to God through faith for the sake of Christ, and knowing that they are giving witnesses in their very bodies to the mystery of Christ and the Church, the greatest of all Lovers and His Beloved (Ephesians 5:32).

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The spring 2023 Hearts Together magazine hit mailboxes in April. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email