Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Keeping the Rules

How many rules do we need? There are those who seem to feel that those who live with the most rules are the most spiritual. But there are others who criticize everyone who has more rules then they do (however many or few that may be) as a legalist. What is the right answer? Now we are not saved by keeping the rules (Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6), but by faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; John 3:16-18). Therefore, our motivation for obedience is love of God for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). Further, we are unable to keep the rules on our own (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8), but only through God's working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But we are still left with the question of more rules versus fewer rules.

The Biblical emphasis does not seem to be on more or fewer rules, but on the right rules (Deuteronomy  4:2; Revelation 22:18,19; Proverbs 30:5,6). While we are warned against thinking it is all right simply to ignore God's standards (Galatians 5:13; Romans 6:15-23; Matthew 5:17-20), we are also warned against inventing new rules to try to show we are more holy than others who do not have such rules (Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 15:1-9; Luke 14:1-6). Underlying this is an attitude of trying to please God by doing what He actually wants us to do. Not trying to cut corners and see what we can get away with or showing that we are better than others by having more rules then they do.

Also, the emphasis in Scripture is not on a checklist of external rules, but on principles and the attitude of the heart (Matthew 15:10-20; 5:21-48; John 4:20-24), the ultimate principle being that of love (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). Now there are commands that are cut-and-dried: this is precisely what God wants, and if you do not do it you are wrong.  But there are other cases where we need to apply the broad principles of Scripture to the specific situation. Far from releasing us to do whatever we want, we need to deal with the complicated issues of considering our weaknesses (1 Corinthians 10:12,13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Timothy 6:11) and the effects our behavior might have on others (Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). This can lead to someone avoiding things that they consider acceptable for others. However, we should not use these principles to produce categorical rules to be imposed on others. Part of the problem is we are much more comfortable with black-and-white rules. They make it easier to judge ourselves and others. But we need to be black-and-white where God is black-and-white and to allow room for judgment where this is required. We need people who can think things through for themselves, rather then just blindly follow a rulebook.

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