Not Mere Rules

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, May 3, 2016 0 comments

by Bill Seng

“The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.  Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: ‘The person who believes God, is set right by God – and that the real life.’ Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: ‘The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.’” ~Galatians 3:11-12 (MSG)

What is it that makes us right with God? In the Old Testament there were over 600 laws given by God through Moses that were meant to direct the Israelites in living holy lives. In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees were people who, outwardly, appeared to be fulfilling the law to the most lucrative detail. And yet, those were the people Jesus chastised the harshest. It is important to keep it in mind that the “rules” laid out for us in the New Testament are more than just a means to make us better than other people. They are a blueprint of a holy re-created design that goes against our inherent sinful nature.

It can be seen from the earliest chapters of the Bible that sin damages relationships. The repercussions of the first sin (Genesis 3) damaged mankind’s relationship to God, to one another, to the animal kingdom, and to the environment. Man blamed God and the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, and God cursed the ground. The way that mankind was meant to be was lost forever. Jesus, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45-49), reset this pattern so that mankind could once again have a holy nature. This holy nature is first reconciled to God.

The forgiveness of sins should make us better people in relation to one another, but that would mean nothing if it did not make us right with God. Every relationship has boundaries, and when the boundaries are breached the relationship breaks down. Take, for example, a basic friendship. A true friendship requires vulnerability. You might share information with a true friend that you share with no one else. If your friend starts sharing that information with everyone else, you might not remain friends for much longer. It’s funny, the Bible addresses this violation in vulnerability: it’s called gossip. The Bible speaks against gossip pretty strongly, but I wouldn’t call it a rule against it. It is a revelation that our redeemed nature has no room for such a damaging practice. Our restored relationship with God is not dependent on our effort, but God’s righteousness and work. It is through a restored relationship with him that we may have right relationships with one another.

Jesus says that the second most important command, “Love your neighbor…” is much like the first, “Love the Lord your God…”  (Mark 12:30-31).The second half of the command is one of the most abused portions of Scripture to justify sin in both our lives and others. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Let me add, this is not just a list of rules to make such people feel bad.

The people Paul was addressing had been all of these things at some point in their lives. But look closely at each one of these sins. They are lifestyle sins that directly harm other people. Every sin is sin, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. All of these sins rob someone of dignity. In some cases, it is another person; in other cases, its one’s self. Yes, Paul was warning people that if they are living such lives, they will not go to heaven, but he was also lists these out to preserve the dignity of the people of God who are participating in the life of the new creation. This new creation nature restores us to our full dignity of being created in the image of God and that is something to rejoice in. That portion of Scripture finishes by saying, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v.11).

In conclusion, relationships are not rules driven, but they do have boundaries. When we violate these boundaries inside of our relationships with people, we first violate the boundaries with our relationship to God. So you can’t use the excuse that what you do in your private life does not affect anyone else; it does. It is important to abide by the commands of God for our own good. Not because he’s mean, but because he cares for us. As in any normal relationship, it is right to put the needs of the one you love ahead of your own.

So why should each of us follow the rules of Christianity? Following what God wants us to do shows that we love Him, and it strengthens our relationship with the almighty creator of the universe. If that’s not a good enough reason for you, what is?

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