Are You a Rule-Follower?

God gave this world laws that make it operate smoothly, orderly and predictably. Like gravity—if you jump out of a plane, you will fall (gravity still works), but if you keep your feet and knees together, you will most likely land correctly and without broken bones. (For any more instructions on how to land, you’ll have to ask my husband.)

God created laws that operate the world. He also created moral laws, that when we obey, we know satisfaction. Like the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.

If you’ve ever tried reading the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah by Jews,) you’ll find all sorts of laws. The Jews weren’t allowed to eat pork. They couldn’t do certain things on the Sabbath. (I’ve addressed this law and how it helps us to live productive lives HERE).

I remember asking my dad about that pork eating law when I was younger. I had just read the book None of These Diseases. The author showed by following those laws, the Jews prevented diseases common to people living around them. So, with proper sanitation, isolation of certain sicknesses, and of course dietary laws like not eating pork, they would not have plagues and diseases.

We now know that pork must be cooked hot enough and long enough to avoid worm cysts from using our bodies as the secondary host.

My dad explained God could have told the Jews how to cook the meat to kill the worms, but He chose instead to tell them just don’t eat it.

I can relate to that. Often when I’m correcting one son, it’s easier to say “no,” than to explain the how, when, why and what to make it work.
Then again, we may never fully understand the reason for the "no" ever. And that's okay, too. That's the God-element that makes us dependent on Him.

Even though we, as Christians, don’t follow the Jewish dietary laws, we have incorporated some of the laws, like honoring the Sabbath (only on Sunday). Because it is good to remember God. By following that principle, it makes us remember Him.

Often people hesitate to follow Christ because they think they must follow a set of rules and regulations.
In some ways, that's true.
There are consequences to excessive drinking that make it easier not to start drinking than try to stop when it controls you.
Proverbs speaks a lot about the man who is controlled by alcohol.
But drinking is not wrong.
Jesus turned the water into wine.
But alcohol can control you.
If you totally abstain, then it’s easier to control. (Similar to watching television. Television is not evil of itself. But if all your time is consumed watching it, TV has become your master. If you don’t have a television, you can’t watch it all the time. That helps you not to be controlled by it.) See the difference?

We have explained to our boys God has given all things for us to enjoy: alcohol included. But we choose not to start to avoid that issue of control.  

Smoking is another of those “not allowed by Christian” rules. Why? Smoking is bad for your health. The principle behind that “law” is that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

That principle of God owning our bodies can be applied to many other things. (Like too much Pepsi?)
What you do with and to your bodies effects how others view God. You are God’s representative.
You’re no longer free to do what you want.

Growing up, piercing ears was considered pagan. My dad would say, “If God wanted holes in your ears, He would have given you them.”
We didn’t get our ears pierced. Of course, our bodies are God’s temple, but also because my dad said, “no.” And I'd honor my dad’s wishes while living in his home.
I remember my shock when I began attending an interdenominational high school.
People could love Jesus without all my add-on rules!
I understood better the joke about Baptists having their own little room in heaven, because they thought they were the only ones who got in.

I came from the East. Back in my conservative, law-abiding days, if a man wore a necklace, there was something wrong with him.
The morning I met my future husband, his necklace broke.
I would not have married him if I saw him wearing a necklace.
Was he less of a Christian because he wore a necklace?
No. But I had my standards. (Obviously not God’s standards.) And I would have missed marrying my best friend because of a necklace.
God has since worked on me about some of my rules…it’s a slow process, because of my pride.

We are saved by the blood of Jesus.
Nothing we do can change our unworthiness and make us fit for God’s presence.
He must intervene.
He did.
He sent His Son to be our substitute.
When we recognize our unworthiness and accept what Christ did for us on the cross, we become followers of Him.
We are no longer slaves to sin.
Christ is our new master.
Paul says it well,
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. .. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Romans 7:17-25.
If we must do right on our own, even as Christians, we are in trouble.

As followers of Jesus, we make our list of do’s and don’ts, checking the boxes of what we do and don’t do that prove we’re Christians.
In some ways that’s true. Because you follow Christ, you choose to do some things: like go to church, and you choose not to do other things: like not to smoke.
But that doesn’t make you a Christian. That may show others you are one.
But not necessarily.

Confused yet?
Christians should act differently than others, but not because they follow a list of do’s and don’ts.
As you know Christ better, He will show you things in your life, like gossiping or sarcasm, that you must stop. (That wasn’t on the check list of do’s and don’ts for being a Christian.)
The Holy Spirit convicts you of things that are unkind. He wants you to be loving.
That’s not a rule you dictate to others to prove their salvation.
It’s “others may, you cannot,” because you want to follow Jesus.

Many of Jesus’s disciples left him when he taught about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The teachings seemed to go against the Jewish law.
Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” John 6:53-66.

When Peter visited Cornelius, God gave him a dream: a sheet holding unclean animals floated in front of Peter.
God told him to eat.
Peter was a Jew.
These things were unclean—he’d been taught since he was a baby he couldn’t eat these things.
Now God was telling him, “Eat.”
Peter’s response? “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”
Interesting response.
Lord means master.
Peter’s telling God, who is Lord of everything, that he would not do what God told him to do.
Peter had to re-think his rules.
God made the food clean. It was no longer unholy.
This sheet drifted before Peter and he was told to eat three times.
While Peter was disturbed by the vision, God told Peter to go, eat with a Gentile, and tell him about Jesus. (All against the rules.) Acts 10.
Peter had to disobey the rules he had always been taught—to obey God who had changed the rules.

Missionaries ran into problems when they started dictating rules to tribes who had come to Christ. When the chief of a tribe became saved, they expected him to be a husband of one wife. He had many. What would happened to his other wives? If he cast them out, they would die. Instead the missionaries allowed the chief and the Holy Spirit to work out his own salvation so the solution was pleasing to God.

Principles don’t change. Gravity still works.
But sometimes the rules we have hung onto restrict us from doing what God wants us to do. They may not even be God’s rules, but what man has made to give an appearance of godliness.

Hudson Taylor, a missionary to the Chinese, went against the principles of the missionary society and the Christians of his time. How? By dressing like the Chinese, complete with a pigtail.
Why? So he could reach the Chinese with the Gospel of Christ.

Missionaries in the past tried to change the people they reached by making them wear what the missionaries wore. Was their dress pattern found in the Bible and sanctioned by God?
God clothed Adam and Eve with skins from a sacrificed sheep. Should we all go and do likewise? The principle of modesty is there. The method changes with climate and availability.
By keeping to our rules, we lose sight of what God desires.
By keeping the form of godliness, we lose its power.
By following a list, we feel righteous.

We are like the Pharisees and scribes whom Jesus told,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves…

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provision of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:15-28

Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation. Mark 12:38-40

They made lists of what everyone should do to be worthy of God, but they did not know God.
As Christians, we must guard against imposing our list of rules on others as a measure of their spirituality.

God’s Spirit directs each one down their own path toward becoming like Him.
I have rules for my house, like eat at the table.
I do not enforce my rules at someone else’s house. It’s their house, their rules.
When my children became teenagers, they don’t obey all those rules. They may eat in the living room.
I could enforce the written law of my house, “Eat at the table.” But the reason for the rule was so I didn’t have food and messes everywhere.
My teenage sons obey the spirit of the law by cleaning up spills and taking care of their dishes. They respect me enough to obey my desire. They honor the spirit of the law not merely the letter of it.
That is what Christ wants from us.
He wants us—not to follow a list of do’s and don’ts to make us feel good, but to honor what He desires.
That’s what working out your own salvation means in Philippians 2:12.
As we do that, He conforms us to His image.
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippines 2:12-13
We follow rules, not because we are rule followers, but because we want to please God.
The Spirit makes us like Him.
We become what we were made to be: His Image bearers.
People shouldn’t see the rules we do or don’t follow. They see God.

Displaying 1 comment

Very good, honest and humble article Sonya! As we mature in the Lord, we becomes less legalistic as we find that we don't know as much as we thought we did when we were younger! Thanks for sharing this article and your heart. Our dogmatic rules for what a Christian looks like, etc. may not be God's rules at all. This is where love comes in 1 Cor 13 comes into play. If we have all knowledge, (like I KNOW what a Christian should look like!), but we do not have/show love, we are nothing, zero, zilch. Keep up the good work! xoxoxo Helen

I write about what you---
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               Sonya Contreras

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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