Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general and I would answer them during later group meetings. This is a part of that series.
Question: Why do Christians have to follow so many rules?
In our last meeting we discussed how our relationship with God could be like our relationship with our closest friends. As we know one another better, we are able to finish one another’s sentences and order ice cream for them because we know how they think. But in regard to this question, you can also think about your relationship with your grandparents as well as your friends.
When I was in college, my brother, Dean, and I got in the car early one morning and drove three hours to East McKeesport, Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) to visit our grandparents. They were both in their eighties at the time and were no longer able to do all the things around the house that needed done. Our Mom had reported that the garage needed painting and so Dean and I picked a day to get it done. Although Grandma insisted on paying us, neither of us wanted to be paid. Sure we drove three hours one way, spent the day sweating and painting in the hot summer sun, and then drove home again, but money wasn’t why we did it. We went because we loved our grandparents and we wanted to make them happy.
Our obedience to God is like that.
In some religions, people work really hard to do all the things they think their God wants so that they can have a chance to go to heaven, but our God is different. Jesus came to Earth, died and rose again to do all that was needed for us to be a part of God’s eternal story. In Romans 10, Paul says that his fellow Israelites were passionate for God but didn’t understand God’s righteousness, so they made up their own rules. Their faith was all about following the rules and people who didn’t follow them couldn’t be a part of their group.
But Christian faith is different.
In Romans 6 Paul says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
When people discovered that Christianity was all about grace and forgiveness instead of following the rules, some people had what they thought was a great idea. They thought, if forgiveness, grace and mercy are wonderful, then the more I sin, the more forgiveness there is and that would make everything even more wonderful. Wouldn’t it? But Paul says no. When we accepted Jesus, it is as if our sins died with him. Through baptism, we were “buried” with Jesus and raised again so that we could have a new life free from sin.
We follow rules not because we have to follow them in order to get into heaven, but because we want to stop doing the things that offend God. Our faith is not about following rules, but in doing things that make God happy. Just like we do things for our grandparents (and follow the rules at their house) because we love them, we follow God’s rules because we want to do things that make him happy. We do it because we love him, not because God has twisted our arms behind our backs.
Does that mean that Christians don’t have any rules? Heck no. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians and a lot of churches, have a lot of rules. There are rules about drinking, swearing, smoking, tattoos, earrings, guns, and a lot of other things and honestly, a lot of them really bug me. When Jesus walked the earth he was in the habit of making friends with outcasts, people who the rule-followers didn’t like very much. Jesus welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors (who people accused of collaborating with the enemy), revolutionaries, Gentiles (non-Jews), foreigners, and even Roman soldiers and the church should still welcome the outcasts in today. We shouldn’t be the kind of people who tell others that they have to stop smoking before they can join, or they have to dress nicer, or change jobs, or… follow a bunch of rules.
That doesn’t mean that some of the things people do aren’t wrong and it doesn’t mean that we should stop teaching the difference between right and wrong. There is a story about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and was about to be stoned to death, but Jesus saved her life. After he did, and all of her accusers had left, Jesus told her to “Go, and sin no more.” Doing what’s right is still important but it’s a matter of the heart.
We shouldn’t follow all the rules because we are afraid that some people at church are going to criticize us (or throw stones at us). We should follow the rules because we have learned what makes God happy. We do things to please God because we are grateful for what he has done for us, and because we love him.
Our obedience should come from the heart…
…not from a rulebook.
Did you enjoy reading this?
Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor
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