I am not a fan of rules and bureaucracy. Many times the rules of some organizations seem stupid or even worse those rules can just infuriate when one accidently gets caught up in them. Many religious rules can seem this way. The rules are there to try and control or guide people on a path that has been deemed acceptable by the majority. When the rules get complicated and when the rules start touching on every aspect of life then people start to rebel against the rules and will inevitably start calling the enforcers of those rules hypocrites or make claims that one cannot legislate morality. While both of those charges have some truth in them the reality is that every law or rule ever created is based on someone’s morality and every person that has ever lived has broken some part of some law that they hold dear thus becoming a hypocrite.
While we get caught up in rules and shaking our head at others that seem to ignore the rules people try to use Jesus to justify their rules. The problem is that while there is right and wrong Jesus was not focused on the rules. His laws are written on our hearts and our own conscience answers the questions about right and wrong if we stop to listen.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them Romans 2:15 ESV
Jesus was focused on changing who we are, our focus, our motivation, and our desires. Rules and laws are used by others as a way to enforce some larger goal. Jesus did not come to justify rule followers and condemn rule breakers Jesus came to give new life to those that turn to follow him.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-2 ESV
Many people ask me questions about situations waiting to hear my opinion yet I have found that my answer only serves to justify their actions or give them a point of rebellion to continue on in their path. I have found it better to point to Jesus and ask if they are willing to give up their life so that they can find the life that God created them for. To prove the point here are two examples of Jesus interacting with a rule follower and a rule breaker.
The Rule Follower
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22 ESV
Jesus loved this man. He knew this man had lived a life that kept the rules a life that everyone around him must have envied. God blessed this man and he must have been a benefit to the community. A man who says he has kept all the rules from his youth and Jesus does not challenge the claim. In fact Jesus upheld the claim and agreed with it. I could not make such a claim and I do not know very many if any people who could claim the same for themselves. Jesus looked at the man and told him that there was just one thing more that needed to be done. It is an interesting request from Jesus to give all his wealth away. By asking this man to give away his wealth he was asking this man to give up his life. Because of his wealth he was earth bound, he loved this world more than the eternal life he was asking for. I often ask youth if they would give everything up and go to the ends of the earth if Jesus asked them to and the response I almost always get back is “It depends on where He would want me to go”. Where is the line drawn? Just how far are you willing to go to follow the rules?
The Rule Breaker
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. Luke 15:11-13 ESV
Here is another rich young man who in place of following all the rules lives recklessly, abandons his family, and seeks only selfishness giving no thought to tomorrow. The rule follower would look on this young man with contempt and everyone on the outside looking in knows that the train wreck is coming. Interestingly the father, a representation of God the Father, allows the young man to leave. The father knows it would be better for the son to stay yet he allows him to break the rules without condemnation.
And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Luke 15:14-19 ESV
Jesus tells us in this case the rule breaker, who might have just died in his recklessness came to his senses and resolved to return home completely broken and worthless. This man is changed. He is no longer the man he was before. He returns to the place he left to beg for forgiveness and for the chance be at the servants table.
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 ESV
Regardless of following the rules or breaking them Jesus is searching for men and women who are turning to him to be transformed, to be born again. Both the rule follower and the rule breaker have the opportunity to be loved by God, but only one in these examples desired change. Both were loved. Jesus loved the rich young ruler, the Father loved the son that left, but only the one that became humble and turned toward Jesus was embraced and forgiven forever changed.