A lot of people think that religion and faith are based on rules. If you do all the right things, you are living out your faith and following your religion, right? And when you mess up, then you have somehow failed to live out what you say you believe.
This way of thinking is based on some false assumptions and mistakes in theology. While it may be true that some religions are based on rules, Christianity was never meant to be this way. Over and over again in the Bible, Jesus says that He has transcended all the rules and regulations of religion that existed before. He shows grace and compassion to sinners who are stuck in their ways, while reserving his harshest judgment for the rule-keepers and rule-enforcers of the day, the Pharisees and Saducees.
Jesus even purposefully breaks many of the rules of the day–He heals on the Sabbath, He eats with the unclean, and he tells His followers to treat Samaritans and others considered outsiders as neighbors and brothers. Why does He do this? I believe it’s to show everyone from that time forward what’s really important.
Doing good is important, and doing the right things is also important. But Jesus knew that doing good works on our own strength was a mission doomed to failure. No one has ever been able to do it, from Adam and Eve to today, even with God’s help. To be human is to fail at the ideal of perfection. It has always been so.
I have come to believe that God made us with this inherent tendency to fail at following rules (on our own strength). Why? Because if we could follow the rules perfectly, we might begin to think we didn’t need a relationship with Him. We would be wrong, but what would prompt us to realize it?
Of course, God doesn’t want us to fail. But if we keep all of the rules perfectly and don’t pursue a relationship with Him, then we actually have failed in the very worst possible way. The fact is, we were made to be in relationship with our Creator. The rules are just supposed to show us how much we need that relationship.
Since Lent started, I’ve been pursuing a Lenten discipline. Some people of faith I know are doing so–giving up chocolate, or meat, or some other thing. Others don’t feel the need. After 3 weeks, I’ve noticed some things about these special Lenten rules I’ve imposed upon myself, and even about rules in general.
At first, the rules feel really good. Following them gives me a sense of purpose, and I do really well. But after a while, I get a little bit tired of the rules. I start to question why I’m following the rules, whether the rules I’ve made are really all that important, and whether they have any real meaning or not. That’s only the first step.
Next, I begin to find all the loopholes to the rules I’ve set up. If I want something enough, there are plenty of ways to get around the rules and convince myself that it’s fine, to justify doing what I want to do in spite of the rule I’ve set up to keep myself from doing it.
Pretty soon, I’ve effectively negated the rule. At this point I do one of two things: keep following the rule on the surface so it looks good, while using the loopholes to do what I want anyway, or just abandon the rule as meaningless and ineffective.
If you think about it, Jesus knew that these reactions to rules were built into the very fabric of humanity. When He gave us brains, he had to know we would use them this way! I’m quite sure that this is why rules were never intended to be the be-all, end-all of our faith.
So does this mean we should just go ahead and do whatever we want in life? I don’t believe so. Morality, right and wrong, are learned at a very young age, and they fill important needs in our lives. We just have to realize that we are going to fail at times in trying to live a moral life. Instead of letting our failures destroy us, though, we can turn to our relationship with Jesus to redeem these failures. Our only true failure is to turn away from our relationship with Jesus.
On the other hand, letting our relationship with Jesus change and transform our lives is the key to it all. Even Jesus boiled all the rules down to just one thing–love. Love God and love our neighbor. The more we do that, the more we will be doing what God wants us to do in our lives.
I’m not giving up my Lenten discipline. I believe it has a purpose, even if just to show me how much I fail and how much I need Jesus to be present in my life. To show me what a sham rules can be and how they fail me over and over again. And to show me how knowing Jesus is the way not to fail.
One of my favorite Relient K songs. Please share your thoughts with me and be sure to share this post with your friends. You can also like my Facebook page: Next Level Faith