Separating Jesus from the Rules

What does it mean to follow Jesus if there are no rules?

As I have asked people this question, I find that most are at a loss. For most of us in western culture, Christianity is a structure of moral guidelines. Those who choose to follow Jesus are seen as people who decide that they want to live within this system of rules: don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t have sex outside marriage, don’t watch rated R movies, and don’t have too much fun. We have no idea what remains of Christianity without the rules. We have no idea how to define Christianity without the guidelines. We have no idea how to be a Christian without a structure of do’s and don’ts.

Throughout much of the New Testament the authors argue that following Jesus is not compatible with a structure of laws. In one memorable passage (Galatians 5) Paul remarks that he would like those who try to attach law to the Gospel of Jesus to chop off their private parts. Equating Christianity with law was seriously offensive to first century church leaders.

So, why do we have such a hard time living as a follower of Jesus without equating this lifestyle to a system of rules? It is because rules are easier. It is easier to live by rules than to foster a deep relationship. It is easier to urge society toward morality than to show them that a life of following Jesus is the best kind of life. It is easier to teach our children to follow the rules than to guide them to Jesus each day.

What does it mean to follow Jesus if there are no rules?

That is a question every one of us has to struggle with if we want to be true Christians. Wrestle with it. Consider it every day. How do you behave as a Christian if there are no rules? How can your life demonstrate following Jesus? How do we teach others a religion that is truly about relationship and not rules?

About JasonWiedel

Jason is a writer who want to help others understand the best way to live. He also works for Habitat for Humanity.

11 Responses to “Separating Jesus from the Rules”

  1. You raise a deep, th0ught provoking question. Often, it is the very ones who live “by the rules” who judge others as non-Christian if caught not “rule following.” You are right, relationship is the ultimate goal and the “new rules” are discerned for us through that relationship. People claim to believe in God’s plan for their life, but then also brag about having the power to make decisions- based on our free will. Do we really have free will? Don’t we pray thy will, not my will be done…shouldn’t we always endeavor to choose what God wants for us? Don’t we abandon our “free will?”
    I think that God is so big we can’t begin to grasp or explain the concept or the rules. Can you be a witness for God as a smoker in the smoking area? Who else is going to be there? Are all drug users non-Christians who don’t know the Lord? Oh, we shake our heads and say, tch, tch, tch, but sometimes those who don’t obey the rules know the Lord and have a deeper relationship than the Bible/ Bible badge thumpers. Lots of pride and arrogance in the rule following. Lots of love and freedom in Jesus following.
    Rules to follow: love, forgive, minister, comfort, witness, be real, look for God, hear God…laugh, hug, use words to edify not tear down, help those who are less fortunate than you, take care of what God has given you to care for, enjoy, feel joy, show joy, feel, cry.

  2. J dog!
    Man, if the purpose of a blog is to get people to think, you did it. I sat here and typed on my laptop for over an hour last night in response to this blog, didn’t like what I wrote and erased it. That was after thinking and praying about it all day yesterday. Now, I woke up a little after 43o and I didn’t need my snooze but because this blogged made me want to jump out of bed and come try again to express my… unease… maybe just disagreement…

    Why does James say in Chapter 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

    Why was nearly every OT prophet killed or threatened to be killed? Why was Stephen killed? Why was John the Baptist killed? Why did Herodious want him dead?

    The reason for all of this hatred is because followers of God proclaim the absolute necessity for repentance. Does this mean we are to stand in judgement of our fellow human beings? Absolutely not! Are you commanded to love the sinner and hate the sin absolutely! In this conundrum is there a door that swings open that allows, no welcomes hypocracy?? YES!!! This message that I have been hearing uttered in churches, on internet messages, by the water cooler, the message of tolerance and unconditional love for sin or sinner??? The message, it’s ok to watch a moving making extra marrital or pre marrital sex a normal thing. It’s ok because the movie has an overall redeaming quality> GAG!!! I lie of satan. It’s ok to read a book that romances whichcraft or vampirism. Shall I keep going? It’s ok ty watch a movie that blasphemes God because it has an overall redemptive message. There is an even better verse than this one but I can’t find it but it says we are to guard our hearts and minds but in 2 Pet 3 it says: 1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking… IT”S NOT OK. And when we christians endorse or rationalize these types of behavior or especialy take part in them it cause the unbelievers, semi believers, seekers, utter confusion. The Bible is absolute truth. The bible clearly defines what we should and should not put in our eyes and ears and it even tells us why. Now, can we still love people who partake in sin, absolutely! We can be in there lives to the extent that there sin does not cause us to sin whatever extent that is. Yes, we are called to forgive and love to the extent that we are forgiven and loved by God. However, there are battles raging at the levels of institution. For example, some denominations are voting in homosexual leaders. THAT IS an abomination to God. Do we Christian sit on our tongues or say “That’s between them and God” I say absolutely not because they are teaching, setting examples, teaching doctine that is anti-christ. Oh I can go on and on with this but I need to go to work. My point… Isaish’s message: Repent or die. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Christ himself said go and sin no more. He said to a man he just healed, go and sin no more or your sins may cause something worse to happen to you. He said, follow my rules or else… You will die.
    So, I know that the relation causes the following of the rules, however, “tolerance”, culture, and a weak liberal message of “it’s ok, everybody sins” is giving the enemy victory on many battle fronts. I for one do pray I love people into the kingdom while not causing them to sin. In that effort I anticipate much anomisity and persecution because that is what Jesus tells me to expect. I love you man!-Bill

  3. The problem between Christians and those who do not believe is not that they do not know what we stand for. They know (for the most part) perfectly well. Christians have made it abundantly clear what we stand for (or stand against). That is why the world sees Christianity as a religion of rules.

    It seems to me that you have lost the point in the middle of defending a holy lifestyle. Not participating in things that are bad for our soul is absolutely good. Here is the point though . . .

    What does following Jesus look like when we strip away the rule following?

    If we cannot conceive of a Christian life that is not dominated by the behaviors of right living, then we are not really following Jesus. We are following a system or right and wrong.

    Most people do not reject Christianity because they are offended by Jesus, they are offended by Jesus’ people who offer a religious system of morality rather than introducing them to the life-giver. Christians in America are not persecuted for righteousness sake, they are persecuted for being rude and arrogant.

    We often hear that the Bible is very clear about the way a person should live. The Bible is not clear. If we think it is, then it is time to go back and read without any preconceptions. The Old Testament is chock full of people who behaved in incredibley unethical ways (that is what we would call it), yet the Bible never condemnes these people, God does not punish them, but continues to bless them.

    Jesus says, “sell all you own and give the money to the poor.” He tells those who follow Him, “Unless you hate your father and mother, you have no part of me.” How many of us consider those to be guidlines for the average Christian? We tend toward rules about drinking and smoking rather than selling all we own, and yet the above commands of Jesus are much more direct than anything the Bible ever says about drinking, smoking, or listenig to secular music.

    What about divorce? What about women speaking in church? What about eating bacon? What about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek?

    We could also look at Jesus’ example. We know that He lived a perfectly blameless life, but His life was about far more than following religious precepts. Jesus provided large amounts of wine for a party so that the people could get more drunk than they already were. Jesus diregarded accepted social and religious statutes. Jesus taught things and did things that were more subversive to the religious culture than most of us realize. Jesus was a trouble maker, not a rule follower.

    Let’s, once agin, go back to the heart of this discussion. What does it mean to follow Jesus if there are no rules? If we cannot answer this question without defending rules, then we must make some adjustment to our Christianity.

    I think the song Heart of Worship by Matt Redman puts this into beautiful perspective.

    When the music fades
    And all is stripped away
    And I simply come
    Longing just to bring
    Something that’s of worth
    That will bless your heart

    I’ll bring You more than a song
    For a song in itself
    Is not what You have required
    You search much deeper within
    Through the ways things appear
    You’re looking into my heart

    I’m coming back to the heart of worship
    And it’s all about You
    All about You, Jesus
    I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
    When it’s all about You
    It’s all about You Jesus

  4. Don’t have to much time to delve into this but I am reading this book about raising kids – its called Loving your kids on purpose… its all about how we raise our kids in christian culture based on fear of sin. God already dealt with the issue of sin- he isn’t afraid of it and neither should we be. The premise of the book is based on teaching your kids to make right choices and your job as a parent is to control yourself and protect your heart to heart relationship with your child. Its all based on relationship. parenting from the inside out rather than the outside in.

    I think you could take a lot of the same concepts into what you are talking about. God is not afraid of sin… he doesn’t care how much cussing, sex, drugs, envy etc that we are involved in. Those things are by-products of culture. People are raised in a culture without a relationship with God and so habits, patterns… sin fills them. We are suppose to restore a relationship with God. We need to focus on having a relationship with Jesus that is inside out and then people will want that.

    I guess thats my 5 min answer that I wish I had 30 to write.

    always have loved you perspective Jason.

  5. Why, in Chapter 5 of Acts did Ananias and his wife drop dead? Who killed them and why?

  6. That is a story that I struggle to understand sometimes. The way we interpret it depends on if we believe that the wrath of God toward sin was propitiated and the payment completely satisfied in Jesus death.

    The question, though, is what does it look like to follow Jesus if we strip away the rules? Do you think there is no following Jesus without rules?

    Through most of the New Testament I see Paul railing against the idea the gospel of Jesus can coexist with any kind of Law. Paul even gets in a big fight with Peter about this issue.

  7. In Matthew 22, the parable of the wedding feast, the noticed a man who was not wearing propper clothing for a wedding. The king said bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and nashing of teath.

    What does this mean? What is the propper attire for the wedding reppresent?

  8. This story about the wedding feast has some elements that confuse me, but here is what I see. Scripture relates garments to righteousness several times, so I think it is safe the use this as an explanation for the clothes in this parable. The thing that brings us into the presence of the Lord, though, is never, ever any righteousness that we can manage on our own. Scripture refers to our righteousness as filthy rags. That means that any attempt to live right on our own is completely disregarded by God. Only the righteousness of Jesus counts.

    If we think there is any behavior that we can do that brings us into better standing with God, we are absolutely and utterly wrong. Only Jesus righteousness can do the job.

    Once again, what about the question? What remains of Christianity without the rules? Don’t get distracted, Bill. Just try to answer that question.

  9. Oh my gosh I want to scream!!! I just typed for an hour for the second time while writing this blog and hit some button I don’t even know and poof, gone!!!

    Man it was good too.

    I don’t have the time or the patience to do it all again right now. But to answer your question I will say that you are asking a question that cannot be answered because as you said yourself in a different part of this blog: Early christian were called such because they looked different, they smelled different they sounded different why? Because they followed a set of rules. There leader, that they followed, told them this is how you treat people. This is how you carry yourself. This is what comes out of your mouth and this is what goes into your eyes and your ears. Yes the relationship cause a desire to adhere closer and closer to the rules. But the rules and relationship are both symbiotic and dependant upon eachother. This is evident by exactly what you say. People go to church. People even ask Jesus into their hearts. People say I am sorry (and most don’t repent because that message is not being spoken) for sinning. BUt the relationship is failing because people are not being taught that God requires us to make some sacrifices for Him. A relationship is a two way street. Okay way more simple with way less info then my last attenmpt. Gotta go get ready for worship practice but let me ask you this. Every pastor I have ever been a part of has challenged each member of his flock to get an accountability partner. Davis Hawkes made that challenge at a men’s breakfast last year and pastor Gerry asked us to do it less than two months ago. Why?

  10. Okay, I think this has to be the last post on this topic. We just gotta move on.

    Here is the bottom line. What is left of Christianity if we strip away the rules? Here is my answer.
    -Being in tune with the voice and flow of the Holy Spirit
    -Always endeavoring to please God in our lifestyle because we love Him
    -Representing God to the world which He loves but does not know Him.

    The reason that people reject Christianity is not because they are opposed to any of those actions or behaviors I just listed. Most people do not reject God when they reject Christianity. They reject the system of rules that they see in Christianity.

    Relationship leads to a lifestyle of living within certain boundaries (I do not romance other women, not because it is a rule of marriage, but because I love my wife.) Rules never lead to relationship. If they did, slaves would love their masters, we would love the makers of Monopoly, and American’s would love the government.

    Your thought, Bill, about rules and relationship being symbiotic is interesting, and has some truth to it, bit it has a flaw. Rules can never lead to relationship.

    Many, many Christians have taken a backwards approach when trying to extend the reign of the Kingdom of God or trying to improve society. We try to impose a system of morality, that we relate to Christianity, and think that it will lead to a love for God. The process does not work in that direction. This kind of behavior on the part of Christians leads to a rejection of the system of morality and a misunderstanding of what the Christian life is intended to be. The process only works in the opposite direction. When people are introduced to Jesus, and they choose to follow Him, then they begin to adjust their lifestyle.

    I would argue that much of the barrier between religious and secular people has been created because we have misrepresented God, as a God of rules.

    I said it in the original post, rules are easier. They are black and white. They are clear. Many Christians like a religion that is black and white. Being sensitive to the voice and flow of the Spirit day by day is not nearly so clear cut.

  11. Jason, I’ve read all I could access on your website, and it brings tears to my eyes. Your insight is refreshing. When I was younger, I’m ashamed to say, had shuttered at, and shunned the Christian title because to me seemed impossible to follow the rules of the church. And like you said, I had come across Christians to me had come off as rude and judgmental! It was really discouraging to me as a young Christian because I thought you really did have to live the “holier than thou”, lifestyle and I couldn’t pull it off. I have since realized that it really is a relationship between you and God. I still don’t go to church, because I haven’t found one that I’ve been comfortable in. [I mean seriously, look at me. :)] Somehow throughout life, I’ve still been able to find people who share my beliefs, and love.

    It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round. As a Christian, it’s not your job to judge, but to accept people for who they are, and to nurture other people’s relationship with God. After all, there are “no rules to parenting” [or so I've been told..if there are, I would sure like a copy] and that’s always how I’ve looked at MY relationship with Jesus-he is the ULTIMATE mentor.

    I wish I could add more to the discussion, I really just wanted to tell you that I love to read your writings. And If you ever become a preacher let me know-I’ll be there with the loudest of Amens. :)

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