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Monday, February 02, 2009

Beyond Rules

I am hanging out in the MSP airport this morning after a nice flight into the Twin Cities from SeaTac. I always appreciate how quiet and laid-back the Seattle Airport is in the middle of the night, even if it means I am about to board the red-eye!

Yesterday at church, I spoke about why the Bible has so many rules. We see Jesus in John 12 telling us that he says not only the exact words God tells him to say, but he says them in the way God tells him to say them. If we had to do the same, such as speaking for our boss at a meeting, we would feel confined- forced to behave like a robot. When it came to his relationship with the Heavenly Father, though, Jesus found this arrangement to be the true source of eternal life. (12:50) Jesus was free because he was in complete obedience to the Father.

So also, we can follow Jesus into freedom by living in obedience to the Father. As I read my class text for an upcoming Ethics class, I was reminded of a further development in our attempt to keep God's rule. In her book, Reviving Evangelical Ethics, Wyndy Reuschling argues that a truly Christ-centered ethic must go far beyond rule keeping. As an example, she holds up the third commandment (out of ten, for any that are uncertain of that reference) which tells us not to take the Lord's name in vain. In her view, it is unfortunate that we often reduce this grand call to the simplistic instruction not to swear by using God's name. (Or any derivative of it- we couldn't say "gosh" in my conservative home because that was only one step away from breaking this rule)

Reuschling goes on to point out that God gave this instruction to a group of people that had already committed themselves to him. He invited them into a relationship where they refused to use God's name lightly by invoking it in situations where God and his name were merely being used for the benefit of the speaker. In other words, God was telling Israel not to use him like another one of the house gods common in the world at that time. Other nations had gods, whose names they would invoke for any need. The gods were there to serve them. Jehovah God was reminding His people that their proper relationship with God was to serve Him in humility and fear, only using his name rightly in worship and adoration of Him.

All this is to say that when we set out to keep God's rules, we ultimately fail if we see these rules as nothing more than a checklist of spirituality. While Christian men might think it simple to check-off "do not commit adultery", we need to make sure we have enlarged this rule to encompass all of our heart attitude and actions as it comes to marriage. When we tithe, we can't automatically assume we have been generous. The rule God gives is like the base-line, the starting point for obedience. But if we stop here, we miss the true freedom that God invites us to through giving Him unconditional obedience.

On your journey today, may you see all of God's rules as invitations to know Him more and walk in freedom in this world He has given us.

Nick

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