For most of my life, I believed that being a Christian was mostly about following rules. And that those rules were primarily about stuff you weren’t supposed to do. It’s not too surprising, really. If you asked 100 random Americans what it means to be a Christian, they’d probably have several “don’t do X” in their responses.
And that isn’t surprising either. The church has consistently supported this thinking by making its most visible public statements about things that people ought not to do. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Don’t _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite “don’t.”)
IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m not saying that there aren’t thousands (millions? Gajillions?) of things that we can do that are displeasing and dishonoring to God. But I am saying that when all the public sees of us is a series of DON’Ts, it’s logical to assume that Christianity is really about following the rules. IT ISN’T.
It is about loving God with all your heart, soul and strength. It is about loving your neighbor as much as yourself. It is about loving and serving all. Including – no, especially – your enemies. It is about living like Jesus did.
What struck me during my bible study today is that this has been an issue since the beginning of the church. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, summed up the issue like this:
I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. – Galatians 2:19-20, The Message.
I’ve been trying to think about how I can show the people around me – through my words and my actions – what Jesus was like. How loving he was – to people who were “unloveable.” How he came to serve. How he enabled people to change from the inside – and not by the force of law.
God’s law provides guidance for us, and shows us how to live his way. As Paul said,
But I can hear you say, “If the law code was as bad as all that, it’s no better than sin itself.” That’s certainly not true. The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, “You shall not covet,” I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it. – Romans 7:7, The Message
We are fools if we ignore the law. But we are greater fools if we mistake God’s law for God himself. I, like Paul, want to be God’s man – not a “law man.”