Before I became a Christian, one of my biggest arguments against the faith was all the rules I’d have to follow. From the tiny bits and pieces I’d learned about Christianity, read in random Bible searches, and been lectured to by well-meaning Christians, there were a LOT of rules they lived by.
- Rules about how they talked
- Rules about who they associated with
- Rules about alcohol
- Rules about sex
- Rules about money
- Rules about jealousy
- Rules about forgiveness
- Rules about hate
- Rules about love
- Rules about what they could read
- Rules about what they could watch on tv
- Rules about movies
- Rules about music
- Rules about clothes
- Rules about how to speak
- Rules about how not to speak
- Rules about food
- Rules about marriage
- Rules about parenting
- Rules about rules about rules about rules
That’s not even all of them, friends.
It seemed to me that there were lots of rules, but not so many rule followers amongst them.
In fact, it was the one thing I could hold up to God and say,
“See there, God, all these people of yours are no better than I am. None of them follow all your rules. Some don’t follow any. So, why should I get on board only to be a hypocrite, when I know I can’t follow all of this stuff?”
Can you relate?
It wasn’t until many years later, as I was deep into studying the faith, that I began to realize the mistake was mine. The truth, in fact, shocked me:
Christians aren’t rule followers.
They are rule breakers.
Seem counter to what you’ve always believed? It’s confusing to be sure, because while some may dip their toes in the rule following from time to time, the truth is that God calls us away from that.
In fact, Jesus broke ALL the rules, all the regulations that were burdening people and keeping them from the faith. Rules that had turned so far from their original intention, that no one could keep them. His death on the cross set us free from having to constantly make amends with God based on rules. He set us right with God once and for all.
Still, not all Christians understand this about their faith. They return again and again to the history of faith before Jesus. In fact, jumping in and out of those rules is a struggle that Christians have had from the very beginning. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia with hopes to correct their misdirection. After he left from telling them about Jesus, they fell away from what he taught and started going back to the law of Moses, trying to win favor with God.
But by doing so, they–like many, many Christians today–were not only missing the point of Jesus’ death, but suggesting the power of it wasn’t sufficient. As if what they could do on their own was somehow more effective.
But the truth is, freedom isn’t found through following a set of strict faith rules, but through what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because He took on all of our sins–past, present, and future–we live in freedom from them. There is no rule we can follow or not follow to gain favor with God. God accepts us despite our faults, when we choose to let Him.
That doesn’t mean we’re free to wreck our lives and the lives of others with bad behavior. We can understand His heart behind trying to protect us from ourselves with sets of rules (just like we, as parents, do for our own children), and honor Him by living as best we can because of our great love for Him.
Will we get it right? Nope. Not a chance.
But that shouldn’t keep us from trying to live lives that please and honor Him. It also means that we shouldn’t fall back into old habits of trying to please God by following rules when He clearly has shown us a new way. Paul warns us that doing so gives more power to sin, than to God.
“It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three–sin, guilt, death–are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 MSG
So don’t be put off by all the rules. The truth is, we struggle with them as well. Not to follow them, but to remember that it’s no longer about the rules. It’s hard for any of us to fully accept that God will take us just as we are. No matter how many times we remind ourselves.