While you are reading this, do not look to your right. Have you messed up yet? “Thou shalt not…” commands have an unintended effect on us: they make us want to do the very things they have forbidden. This, in a nutshell is what makes legalistic religion fail. Rules don’t restrain us, they tempt us.
How much better, God’s plan to restore us by implanting His Spirit to guide us, not by restrictive rules, but by creating in us the desire to do right. And yet, from the earliest days of the Christian church, men have tried to distort this message and turn the church into another religious bastion of rules.
Which led Paul to lament:
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. – (Colossians 2:20-23)
It is not that Paul believed Christians are not tempted to do sinful things, or that nothing in the world is harmful to taste or touch. But, rather, that attempting to live by “Thou shalt not” rules never accomplishes in us a life in harmony with the ways God intended. But neither does Paul leave us passively waiting for the Spirit to overpower our temptations. Instead, he teaches us to refocus our hearts and minds:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
– (Colossians 3:1-2)