Rules have a place. If you or someone in your home is a football fan, this is an exciting time of year — the NFL playoffs. Without rules, the football field would be chaotic. Even with rules in place to govern play, the players routinely push the limits. This is evidenced by the number of flags thrown by referees during the game.
Cooking is another arena where there are rules to follow. Typically in the form of recipes, certain rules need to be learned in order to be a successful cook. The best cook is one who doesn’t need the written rule, but follows an internal guide to produce the best food. The internal guide develops when the “rules” are internalized and a recipe no longer becomes necessary to ensure a tasty creation.
Rules in sports and cooking guide our behaviors. We can easily refer to the rule and know where we went awry. Years ago I had a friend who, by her own admission, was not a cook. She even had trouble following a recipe. She once made a crockpot ham recipe that called for 6 tablespoons of brown sugar. I don’t know how it was written – 6 T or 6 tbl – but she thought it was 6 pounds (6 lbs) of brown sugar. Unaware of proper ratios, she obediently worked 6 pounds of sugar into the crockpot of shaved ham. Needless to say, the end product was uneatable.
One arena in which rules don’t work well is relationships. The best relationships are governed by internal gestures of love and compassion. Continuing to read in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, he is baffled by their behavior.
1Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? 5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.Galatians 3:1-5
Why in the world would I return to following the rules when the Holy Spirit is a awarded because I believed that Jesus died for me?
Because rules are measurable. I can see the checklist and know when the list is completed. If the rule says I shouldn’t go to a bowling alley in order to be righteous, I can clearly know if I’ve been to a bowling alley. It is much more difficult to measure if I am growing in love for others. Rules make our faith objective, measurable.
But rules don’t foster healthy relationships. God is after a relationship with you. I love the example of Abraham. Genesis 15:6 reminds us that Abraham believed God and he was declared righteous because he believed. He didn’t have the law to follow; the law came over 400 years later.
In what ways are you tempted to follow the rules in order to be righteous? Do you reach for the rule book rather than listening to the Holy Spirit who lives inside? Do you trust the rules more than the internal voice? Are you afraid you will get it wrong?
Paul has more to say, so come back tomorrow for more on living without the rules.