I’ve never been rebellious in my life. I’ve never been the one to question the status quo. I like rules. Obedience always came naturally to me. But as I mature in my faith, I’m seeing that God isn’t interested in us blindly following rules. So I started asking some dangerous questions:
What if we could live life without rules?
What if taking away rules made us better people?
What would it be like to remove punishment from all offenses?
These aren’t the easiest questions to answer but I’m going to share my thoughts on this subject in the next two posts. I hope you read with me and join the conversation. Let’s sharpen each other!
First topic: rules
Purpose of Rules
Parents, teachers, employers and institutions all set up rules. Some are explicit and others are implicit. One thing is for sure, you break the rules you pay the price.
Let’s look at their purpose:
1. Rules protect us
When we are protected, we minimize damage to ourself and others. If we don’t know any better, rules provide a wall between us and danger. If a rule is never broken, we may never even know the danger that is out there. Rules keep us safe in a bubble of protection.
2. Rules provide consistency
There is safety in uniformity. The more rules and the less ambiguity you have, the fewer surprises you encounter. With a rule for every circumstance (including exceptions), you will always know where you stand with the rule enforcers.
3. Rules keep order
If there are no expectations on behavior and action, we may be inclined to do whatever we want. Rules ensure that anarchy is not possible. To ensure that rules are followed, a system of punishment is set in place. Punishment, especially publically, ensures that the transgressor and all other rule followers understand what happens when rules are not followed.
Why Rules Aren’t Enough
Rules are good. Rules are helpful. Rules are righteous in the right hands. Rules keep us from becoming animals. But rules aren’t enough.
Let’s look at why:
1. Rules don’t require a heart connection
There are two types of obedience: 1) Obedience of action 2) Obedience of will. Rules can only reveal obedience of action. Is God looking for both? If so, is obedience of action with disobedience of will still a sin?
If our will is not affected by the rules, they will eventually be broken. We are humans, not robots. We will eventually be led by our heart.
2. Rules don’t require faith
We’re told that without faith, it is impossible to please God. If we’re blindly following all the rules without any heart connection, we don’t need faith at all.
3. Rules don’t give you the power needed to fulfill them
Rules are simply a mirror to show you how you measure up. It’s like looking into the mirror and seeing a dirty, scraggly beard. You can see that you need to shave, but you can’t take the mirror off the wall and shave with it.
Since rules have no power in themselves, punishment is required to enforce them. But what happens when punishment doesn’t work? Fear comes in. Subsequently, fear breeds control.
Some of the most heinous acts in history have come about due to fear and control. At the root of the Crusades and even the Holocaust, were leaders that were enforcing rules from a place of fear and control.
Rules aren’t enough. Punishment isn’t a sufficient motivator. But before we look at what is, let’s explore who needs rules.
Who Needs Rules?
As a child, there was nothing more frustrating than these four words:
“Because I said so”
But as a child, there were so many things that I didn’t understand. My parents didn’t need to explain the reasoning behind every rule they gave me. If they told me not to touch the stove or not to put my finger in the electrical socket, I just needed to obey. I wasn’t old enough to understand the repercussions of those decisions.
Children need rules. Before a child has the capability to fully think and process situations for themselves, rules provide concrete limitations. The purpose of rules as they relate to children, work brilliantly.
However, as children grow up they naturally become inquisitive. I believe there is something poignant to the bar/bat mitzva in Jewish culture. It is a celebration of the age of accountability. At 13, children become accountable for their actions. But if they are now accountable, then the “what” can no longer be sufficient. The “why” is now required.
Life Without Rules
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. ~Jeremiah 33:31
You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. ~Romans 13:10 (MSG)
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. ~Galatians 3:23-26
These 3 verses must make the rational, logical mind of a legalist cringe. I’ll admit that with my own background, I had a hard time working through these verses.
What can be more subjective than your heart, love and faith? But if you’re looking for a formula to reach God, it won’t work. If you’re looking for a set of rules to follow, be prepared for some pretty high standards (Matt. 5:17-48).
If you read the Bible like an instruction manual rather than a guide to God’s heart, you remove the need for faith. Worse, you remove the need for Holy Spirit.
Life without rules is life in the Spirit. That’s the only way it is possible. There are absolutes that we must live by. Those are easy. It’s the gray areas that we must learn to navigate.
When we relinquish our dependence on rules, we can invite Holy Spirit to lead us day to day in situation to situation. It’s a lot more effort but there is a lot more freedom. And isn’t that what we all want?
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1
How do you feel about rules? Can we really live life without them? What are the dangers? What does this look like practically?
*Read part 2 of this post: Coloring Inside The Lines