You undoubtedly know people who aren’t interested in Christianity because they see it (or religion in general for that matter) as a bunch of rules. A list of dos and don’ts. And most people I know aren’t interested in signing up for some seemingly arbitrary list of dos and don’ts over which they have no say.
At the end of the day, most people want to be free to follow their passions or desires. They want to be the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong or good and bad.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to think of Christianity in these terms. After all, there are at least ten famous commandments in the Bible. Doesn’t that sound a little bit like a list of dos and don’t to you?
Let me offer a few observations about how we should understand the commands and prohibitions in scripture.
First, rules and prohibitions are not what Christianity is primarily about. If that’s what you think it is, I would suggest you have only looked at the Bible superficially. You’ve missed the main point. As we’ve seen over and over again in our study of the gospel of John, the central focus of Jesus’ ministry is the need for people to experience a spiritual awakening. Christianity is primarily about being God and sinners being reconciled. It’s about people having a personal relationship with the God who created them. It’s primarily about knowing and loving and serving and trusting Him, not keeping a bunch of rules.
Second, let’s agree that there are rules and prohibitions that are a part of what our relationship with God should look like. There are do’s and don’ts. That’s true in every aspect of your life and in every relationship you have.
Third, we should own the fact that we are people who naturally rebel against rules. We naturally rebel against anything that attempts to limit our appetites. We want no restrictions of any kind on us. We want to be able to do whatever we want to do or whatever pleases us in any given moment.
Advertisers know this. That’s why they use slogans that talk about “having it your way.” It’s why the Outback Steakhouse slogan is “No rules, just right’ (Think about that for a minute. Does anyone really want to go to a restaurant where there are no rules? Here’s a way to test that theory. Next time you’re at the Outback, after they serve the person next to you, just walk over and take their plate and say “this looks good. I think I’ll eat it” and see how that whole “no rules” thing really works there).
Microsoft used to have an advertising slogan that said “no boundaries.” But anyone who has ever worked with any Microsoft program knows that there are in fact a whole bunch of boundaries and they can be a little frustrating.
Which brings me to my fourth observation. You wouldn’t want to live in a world without rules. That would be horrible. If you doubt that idea, dust off your copy of Lord of the Flies from high school and see what I mean.
Fifth, we need to remember that the do’s and don’ts that exist in Christianity have nothing to do with how we earn or merit a relationship with God. Most people who think Christianity is about having to keep a bunch of rules also think that Christianity teaches that if you keep the rules, God will bless you in this life and you get into heaven when you die, and if you don’t keep the rules, God will make things hard for you in this life and you will go to hell when you die.
That is not what Christianity teaches. At all. Anywhere.
And that leads to the sixth observation. The do’s and don’ts in Christianity are there to help us navigate life and experience the fullness of life God created for us in the first place. Following the do’s and don’ts we find in the Bible will serve us, not hinder us.
Think of it this way. If you were planning a trip to Disney World, you would be helped significantly by going online and typing in Disney Dos and Don’ts. You would find websites full of tips and strategies from savvy Disney regulars about how to make the most of your time in Orlando – which rides to go on early in the day, where to find the shortest lines for food, stuff like that.
That’s how the do’s and don’ts that in the Bible function. They are all about how we can get the most out of our brief visit to planet Earth.
But again, that’s not what the Bible is primarily about – lists of dos and don’ts. There are passages that provide us with sound, godly wisdom for how we can best live our lives as God designed them to be lived in the first place.
But what the Bible calls “training in righteousness” is meant to provide guidance to people who are seeking to live out their faith and to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. I love the way the Apostle Paul helps us see rules in the context of grace. In Titus 2:11–12, Paul says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
Anytime we come across what looks like a list of do’s and don’ts in scripture, remember this: These commands are not designed by God to try to take away our joy in life or to limit us in some way from living a full life. God’s commandments are all about how we can live the kind of lives we were created for in the first place. God’s boundaries are channels of God’s grace for us. It’s why the Psalmist could say “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day!” (Psalm 119:97)
The Bible is not primarily an instruction book with rules for successful living. It’s the story of God’s relentless pursuit of His wayward sons and daughters, even at the cost of His beloved Son.
But the rules we find in God’s word are there for a reason. “In keeping them,” we’re told, “there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11).
Last Sunday, many of you selected ornaments from our Christmas tree at church with information on it about a student at David O Dodd Elementary School. If you did, I hope you’ve already started praying for the child or children who will be receiving a shoebox Christmas gift from you this year.
If you didn’t select any ornaments last week, please remember to get a few this Sunday. Our goal is 285 shoeboxes. Here again, detail.
Each ornament you select will provide you with the following information about the child you’ll be preparing your shoebox for. You’ll attach the upper portion of the label to the shoebox so we know the age of the child your gift should be given to:
Last night was a great time of worship, prayer and thanksgiving as many of our women gathered at Heidi Whitman’s home for our November women’s fellowship. I am told the desert table rivaled a visit to the Cheesecake Factory!
Ladies – make sure you have Saturday, December 14 noted on your calendar. That’s the date of the annual Women’s Christmas Tea. More info coming soon.
Our study of the Gospel of John takes us this week from the encounter Jesus had with a leading Jewish Rabbi to a conversation He had with a woman no self-respecting Rabbi in Israel would have spoken to.
But as we’ll see, Jesus is not like any other rabbi. And his conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar created quite a stir in her life, and ultimately in her home town.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!