Tag Archives: Rules

The New Way of Freedom

I used to steer clear of Jesus because I didn’t want to be confined by all those uptight rules.  Ironic, when in truth, following Jesus allows one to cast off the rules (more fully explained in the previous post, “The New Way“).  It’s not that the rules were bad, but that you don’t need them if you are listening to the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit.  Moreover, rules don’t work because they arouse our human urge to break them. There is something about a sign that says, “Don’t Touch” that makes us want to do it. Rules try to stop us from heading in a negative direction, toward sin and death.  The Spirit leads us in a positive direction, into the joy of living gracefully.  The Spirit leads us toward rich, satisfying life.


So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Ro 8:1–4). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.


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)

A Closer Walk

It was the religious people who gave Jesus fits.  Jesus showed great compassion to those who were stuck in sin.  Jesus loved the unlovable, not by overlooking their bad stuff but by showing them the path to forgiveness, restoration and freedom.  But the religious people, the self-righteous, legalistic, judgmental people?  Jesus blasted them with harsh criticism.  Because He loved them, too, and they were traveling a far more dangerous road.  When you are in trouble, it is far more dangerous if you either don’t realize it, or pretend that you are not.

After being challenged one day because His disciples were not strictly following the religious ritual of hand washing before eating, Jesus turned on His accusers.  He pointed out how they used religious tradition to thwart the real purposes of God.  (See Matthew 15:1-20).  He said:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”” (Matthew 15:7-9)

When people try to make themselves righteous, they do so by following religious rules.  The problem with that approach is that, inevitably, they begin to keep score, becoming proud and looking down on others.  When people try to make themselves righteous, they become self-righteous.

Much of the time, religious rules are designed and followed to make a person look good to others.  Instead of expressing genuine love for God, rule-followers say, “Look at me, people; I’m religious, I’m better than you…”  Sometimes when people say things in a way that sounds religious, they do it for the same motive.  But God says, when people “honor Me with their lips, but not their hearts” they are “far from Me.”   Their worship does not cause them to draw close.  No matter how religious it sounds, their worship has no real effect.  It is “in vain,”  which means it is empty.

God’s Word is given to us with the purpose of drawing us into a living and loving relationship with Him.  You don’t form that kind of relationship with anyone by following rules and keeping score.  That, in a nutshell, is the problem with most religion.  It’s why religion doesn’t work.

But relationship does.  You want to draw close to God?  Stop being religious, and get close to Jesus.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.