One of the challenges of life in Jesus is that of living in freedom rather than in bondage to rules and regulations. This isn’t because Jesus gives us unnecessary rules and regulations. It is because we often create those rules because we believe they are necessary for Godly living, and then we impose them on others as well. In fact, if you have been around any church long enough, you discover what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and I am not referring to the teaching of Scripture but to the rules we impose.
For instance, growing up, I was not allowed to play outside on Sunday. Not sure why but it was a rule in our household. We also didn’t have a television because they were not conducive to Godly living. Nor did we go to movies or school events where dancing was taking place. In some churches and whole denominations, drinking alcohol is prohibited. The joke in the south, where this is prevalent, is that everyone goes to the next county over to purchase their liquor because they don’t want to be seen purchasing it in their own backyard. In other churches you must tithe ten percent of your income. Some people have a highly regulated set of rules for how you raise your children, ostensibly based on Scripture. Others have rules for how you date or don’t date if you are single.
All of these are personal convictions that are legitimate to hold. But, they are personal convictions and should never be imposed on others. When we do we become legalists who are making rules that Jesus does not make and imposing rules for living that He does not impose. It is called legalism. The problem with legalism is that it moves our faith from a personal relationship with our creator to a set of rules and laws. The former is life giving and vibrant. The latter is dead faith and trying to earn God’s favor with rules and regulations. One focuses on a relationship with Jesus and the other on traditions imposed by men.
Those who make such rules are very good at trying to convince you that you should keep them, and equally good at creating guilt if you don't. But remember Paul’s words. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Paul calls legalism, with its rules and regulations, slavery. We become slaves to rules as a way of pleasing God. Don’t go there, says Paul. He says to the Galatians “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1).
Does that mean that we are free to do anything? Not at all. Paul writes, “You my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:13-15).
Paul is saying three things here. First he tells us not to become enslaved to a bunch of rules and regulations that are not from God. Second, to live in freedom. But third, to not use our freedom to indulge our flesh - to get involved with things that are not good for us. And finally, rather than living by rules and imposing those rules on others, we are to simply focus on loving each other.
Living by rules and regulations creates friction and dissension. The human tendency is to keep adding to those laws and regulations, and lots of energy goes into making sure that everyone is toeing the line. Ironically many people look for rules in their Christian lives. Jesus gives us principles to live by but there are many areas where we make lifestyle decisions based on our conscience. But they are our decisions and not binding on others.
And our decisions in areas of life that Jesus has not specified are based on our freedom. We are free to choose how we live because Jesus has called us to freedom. Our choices are based on our conscience and are not to be imposed on others. Nor can others impose their decisions on you.
Paul actually calls legalism, or the imposition of rules and regulations that Jesus has not specified, another gospel. He calls it this because legalism assumes that if you keep these rules God will be pleased with you. This was the religion of the Pharisees. They had rules for everything and keeping those rules meant that you were pleasing God. Jesus, however, said no! That is not true faith and that is not the gospel. The Gospel is trusting in Jesus for our salvation based on His death for our sin.
Are you living in the freedom that God called you to in Him? Are there lifestyle decisions that you are keeping that someone else has told you to keep but where Jesus and Scripture are silent? Is your relationship with God more about rules and regulations than it is a relationship with Jesus? If so, Jesus invites you to a life of freedom, unconstrained by the rules of others. He really does!
Father, help me to live in your freedom and to use that freedom to serve you and others. Free me from the burden and guilt of man made rules and regulations and give me joy in my relationship with you. Amen.
The question for today: What are the rules and regulations I have adopted because someone told me to? Do I agree with them? Does Jesus demand that I keep them?