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More than Rules

By William R. Cunningham
January 6, 2007


What if the Christian life is more than rules to follow?  What if God is not so much interested in us following a set of rules, but rather a true relationship?  I find that people think of Christianity as a religion that is defined by a certain set of rules to follow. We strive to do this and not do that in hopes that we will be good enough to be approved by God.  We in effect have a hard time believing that justification is by faith and not by works.

Too many peopel would rather believe their pastor or religious leader instead of reading the bible for themselves. Many people are deceived because of that very thing, namely ignorance. Many people would rather simply follow the rules handed to them by their religious leaders instead of developing a personal relationship with God and learning his word for themselves.

What does God want us to do and how does he want us to live.  Is his way characterized by a set of rules that we must follow or is there something else?  What did Jesus teach us?  I believe the key to understanding what God wants and how we should live is to examine the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Why?  Jesus Christ taught us the Kingdom of God.  He taught us what citizens of that kingdom would look like.

John 3:3 (NKJV) -- {3} Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5 (NKJV) -- {5} Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

What we fail to realize is that we do not enter that kingdom by following the rules.  We can’t be part of God’s kingdom because we have reached a certain standard and have done enough good things to earn entry. 

Isaiah 64:6 (NASB95) -- {6} For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

(Quoted from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 updated to show the emphasis that righteousnesses (KJV, NKJV) means righteous acts or righteous deeds as shown in NASB)

We are only able to enter into God’s kingdom because of God himself.  We can only be a part of God’s kingdom because God has paved the way for us through Jesus Christ.  So we see that it is not by our merit that we are saved and enter his kingdom, but rather the grace of God.

What do we do now that we are in the Kingdom?  Can we live by works though we were saved by grace?  This is where many go wrong.  They believe that they were saved by grace, but now believe that they have to follow rules in order to remain saved.  To them, justification is maintained by works.  Is this true?

Does God expect us to follow a plethora of rules in order to remain accepted by Him?  Should we compile all of the laws and rules in the Bible and strive to obey them?  Now that may seem like a complicated task, however it gets worse.  Some people try to do that and follow the rules given to them by their church leaders.  How can the rules of church leaders be different from the Bible?  Besides, didn’t human history already go down that path in the Old Testament?  The people then were not able to obey God directly so how in the world can we expect to obey the words written down in the bible?

I believe that it isn’t that complicated.  It isn’t complicated because we waste a lot of time trying to follow the rules.  Sure there are going to be do’s and don’ts.  However, Christians are not characterized by those.  Let me give you an example.

It is against the law to murder someone in America (sort of—I will explain later).  However, does the fact that a person doesn’t murder make him an American.  What’s worse is that a police officer may kill someone in the line of duty.  Isn’t that murder?  Apparently not if done in a legal way (justified force for example).  That is why I said “sort of” earlier.  Now the Bible also says “do not murder.”  Does not murdering someone make us Christian (even though the particular command predated Christianity)?

Exodus 20:13 (NASB95) -- {13} “You shall not murder.

Though God wants us to refrain from murdering, that very task does not define us as Christian, but is more of a revelation of what God is like.  Aren’t there many instances in the Bible where God’s people killed people?  What about those who were killed by the Israelites during battle, and even Sapphira and Ananias in the New Testament (Acts 5:1-11).

Now we are faced to establish what murder really means since it appears that it is OK to kill someone given the proper situation.  Now what if we had to do this for every single rule that we are to live by in order to be accepted by God?  The task to live acceptable to God would be tremendous.  Our whole life would be consumed by following the rules. I dare say that we really wouldn’t be living.

What will complicate things even further is what happens in heaven?  If we strive to live by the rules on earth, then do we continue to earn our way in heaven by continuing our pursuit to follow the rules?  That implies that perhaps someone could get kicked out of heaven if he failed to follow the rules.

Again, I think that the Christian life is much simpler than that.  We have made Christianity much more complicated than it really is.  Christianity isn’t about following the rules, especially since we are not capable of doing that anyway.  Besides, it is not human nature to do something that is contrary to it—therein is the key to understanding the kingdom of God and the true Christian life.

Reconciling with Reality

Life is very complex and mere rules will never be able to encapsulate it.  For example, there is always a new case in the legal system where no laws really cover it.  Those cases become precedence for future similar cases.  Consider how the constitution of the United States of America is frequently re-interpreted.  No law or rule is able to encapsulate human behavior and existence.

Therefore, why should we think that being a Christian means that we follow the rules?  Why should we think that God desires that we follow his rules when his own chosen people were unable to do it?  Also, why would we need Jesus Christ if all we have to do is follow the rules?  There is much more to it than that and that very thing makes it much less complex for us to be Christians.

The key is that we have to be Christians.  We don’t ascend to Christianity.  We can’t even become Christians on our own efforts.  If it were not for Jesus Christ then no one could become a Christian.  But what then is a Christian?  A Christian is simply someone who has been reconciled to God.  That person has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ and was saved at that moment.  That caused other things within that person to take place such as justification, regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and of course reconciliation to God.

John 3:14-16 (NASB95) -- {14} “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; {15} so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. {16} “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

I have tried to look at life the way it really is and reconcile that with what I have learned from the Bible.  I cannot claim that I have some special knowledge of God’s word, but I can say that I try to look at it objectively and on the basis of relationship and not rules.  I have come to believe that human life is much too complex to limit with rules and regulations.  I think we trap a person even more when we tell him or her that he or she must follow the rules.

What Rules

What rules should a person follow?  There are many sets of rules available to a person.

  1. The rules of the particular region (government)
  2. Moral codes/social values
  3. Religious rules
  4. Church rules
  5. Rules from others

What is a person to do if he is trying to follow all of these and other sources of rules?  It is no wonder that people reject Christianity.  It is not so much Christianity they are rejecting—because they haven’t really seen true Christianity.  They are really rejecting the church or religious experience, i.e., bondage.  What human wouldn’t resist the attempts of oppression?

If we live by rules then we are not really living at all.  We are only robots doing what we are told and if we don’t then we are punished for it.  Jesus Christ isn’t necessary in such a system.  It is only necessary that we follow the rules.  I doubt very much if Jesus’ role was to empower us to follow the rules.  If that were true, then justification would still be by works not by faith.

Romans 3:28 (NKJV) -- {28} Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Galatians 2:16 (NKJV) -- {16} knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Galatians 3:11 (NKJV) -- {11} But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”

Does this mean that we don’t have to follow the law?  Does this mean that the Ten Commandments are not applicable to us?  Let’s stop a minute at the Ten Commandments.  One of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).  However, the Sabbath day is Saturday.  Christians are told to go to church on Sunday and in many cases they recite this very command to justify it.  However, Sunday is not the Sabbath day.  Therefore, if we were to follow the Ten Commandments in its entirety then we would have to keep it holy and do no work on Saturday (it says nothing about church attendance).  Do you see how complicated things can get if we simply strive to follow the rules.  The early Christians met on a Sunday to honor the day of the Lord (his resurrection day) instead of the seventh day.

More than Rules

In mathematics a particular physical phenomenon can be described by one or more mathematical equations.  I remember the Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic theories.  There is ohm’s law that shows the relationship between impedance (resistance), current, and voltage in an electrical circuit.  As time goes on some of these mathematical equations and even some of the underlying theory are updated or sometimes abandoned as more data is obtained and more observations are made.

Life is more than rules (equations).  We only try to encapsulate life with equations, rules and descriptions.  The Christian life is no different since God is the giver of all life.  I don’t believe that God created a bunch of rules, created humans, and then told them to follow the rules in order to remain on his good side so to speak.  I believe God made humans with free will and left it to them to live one way or another.  Humans chose the other way—the way corrupted by sin as the result of rejecting God.

I think that we can never truly get close to God and therefore live according to his way if we simply try to follow the rules.  Sure there are some rules that we should adhere to (don’t steal for example), but overall our objective is not to merely follow the rules.  Even the rule, don’t steal; will hardly keep a starving person from taking food in order to survive.  Does that mean he is doomed to hell?  Again, do you see how complicated it could get?

The Kingdom of God

Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) -- {33} But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Instead of following the rules, let’s follow Jesus Christ.  Jesus said that our number one priority is the Kingdom of God—not rules and regulations.  We should strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness over and above anything else.  This transcends rules obtained from the bible, church rules, church leader’s rules, and any other rules.  Please understand that when I say that this transcends rules obtained from the bible, that I am talking about how people interpret the bible.  Some people consider the bible to be an instruction manual to follow.  The Kingdom of God is beyond that interpretation of the bible.

The bible points us to the Kingdom of God by pointing us to Jesus.  Jesus points us to God.

John 14:6 (NKJV) -- {6} Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Jesus taught us much about the kingdom of God.  Consider the following passage of scripture.

Luke 6:27-38 (NKJV) -- {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Here is how many will interpret this scripture.

Christians are supposed to do the following.

  1. Love our enemies
  2. do good to those who hate you
  3. bless those who curse you
  4. Pray for those who spitefully use you
  5. Turn the other cheek when someone hits you in the face
  6. Give the person your sweater if they take your coat
  7. Give to those who asks of you and don’t expect to get it back

Of course this list is not all inclusive because there are many other laws that we could obtain from the scriptures.  However, I doubt very seriously if Jesus meant for us to interpret this scripture as described above.  First of all, in an effort to describe the Kingdom from a rules perspective, Jesus would have to list every rule that would cover every situation we could possibly face during our lifetime.  That of course cannot and has not happened.

Instead we should view this and similar scriptures about the Kingdom of God as a glimpse inside of that kingdom.  Jesus is instructing us on how to conduct ourselves, but he is also showing us what the Kingdom of God looks like.

I believe that we should use the scriptures as principles to live by that provide instruction and wisdom for everyday situations.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) -- {16} All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, {17} that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It’s not about rules, but lifestyle.  Christians look a certain way because they are a certain way.  Christians are a certain way because God has deposited his spirit within them.  Christians are part of God’s kingdom and that is what they will look like.  Sure we are going to have decisions to make and surely God’s word will come alive when we make those decisions.

We could summarize it all this way.

Matthew 22:34-40 (NKJV) -- {34} But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. {35} Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, {36} “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” {37} Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ {38} This is the first and great commandment. {39} And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ {40} On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Again, we can miss it here too.  The law keepers will say, “This means that we are supposed to love God and love others.”  I say that Christians love God and they love others.  This is not because they have ascended to the rule, but rather, because they are what God made them, namely his children.

It’s more than rules!  It’s a way.  The way is not established by us.  We can’t save ourselves and we cannot make ourselves more acceptable to God.  It is only because of God’s grace that we are saved.  It is only because of God’s love for us that we can enter into a relationship with him.  We are truly saved by faith and we are established by faith.

I think that too many people are in bondage because they spend so much time trying to follow the rules.  The perceive God to be the great judge in the sky who scrutinizes your every act.  We then begin to stress ourselves out as we judge our own actions fearing that God will reject us if we do the wrong thing.  However, I don’t think that God is concerned with many things that we are.  Let me give you an example.

Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days with God receiving the law on tablets.  After that time, Moses came down from the mountain only to see the people deep into idol worship.

Exodus 32:15-19 (NKJV) -- {15} And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. {16} Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. {17} And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” {18} But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.” {19} So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

You would figure that God would have been extremely upset with Moses for smashing the tablets that he had just made for him. 

However, the bible does not indicate that God was upset with Moses or that Moses was somehow punished for breaking the tablets.  I note here that I was told as a child that Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised Land because he broke the tables.  That is not true.  What was God’s response to Moses breaking the tablets?

Exodus 34:1-3 (NKJV) -- {1} And the Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. {2} So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. {3} And no man shall come up with you, and let no man be seen throughout all the mountain; let neither flocks nor herds feed before that mountain.”

God simply wrote on a new set of tablets the words that were on the first set.  It doesn’t appear that God was concerned about the fact that Moses broke the first tablets.  As a matter of fact, God was angry at the people for committing idolatry just as Moses was.
The point that I am trying to make here is that perhaps God is not so concerned about many of the things that we are overly concerned about—our rules.

It is not because we follow the rules, which would mean that salvation would be based on our merit or ability.  It is because of the power of God that we are Christian.  Christians live the way Christians are, which is the way that God made them.  There are no rules for that, just the way.  The rules then are merely guides to help us on our way, not to define it or us.  It’s more than rules—it’s God’s Kingdom.  Amen.

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