This began as a comment in response to Following the “Rules”, posted this morning by Don Merritt on Life Reference. It grew into its own post, though it starts as a note to Don. I hope it edifies.
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“Rules”… one of MY favorite subjects, as you probably know. Fought them all my life, ultimately had to have rules grounded in the sovereignty and obedience to God. Only comparatively recently has He managed to show me their “positive” side… the “grace” involved in “Rules” and keeping them.
What’s “wrong” with Rules? Exactly what you have so beautifully observed… (1) lots of rules are touted as “scriptural”, despite the fact that scripture specifically decries them. (Romans 14, “not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man…”, “sabbath made for man, not man for sabbath”, etc. etc. (2) we mistake “righteousness”, scripturally defined as life in faith, as being behavior according to rule keeping. (3) We love to “keep score” because we can then proudly point to our “Report Cards” and say, “Look! Look how well I’m doing, how many rules I keep. I don’t… kill, steal, lie, cheat, injure people, I go to church, tithe… ” etc. etc. We love score keeping, and comparing our “A’s” to the “C’s” of other kids.
My heart rejected that long ago, when the Lord made abundantly clear to me that the only “Report Card” to which I was entitled to pay the LEAST attention was my own. From the time I was a kid, God set the simple and singular Rule in my life, to “obey my conscience”. That was reinforced again later in my training with the One Rule. I whined, countless times, both as a kid and later as an adult, about how “unfair” God was in this. “Why, Lord, do you require THIS standard of me… when… when… well, just LOOK! LOOK at THEM!!! What about THEM?? This isn’t FAIR!!” (ever been there?) And Jesus’ consistent response that, “Nope. I’m not fair! Aren’t you glad? ‘Grace’ isn’t anything LIKE ‘fair’. Now how you behave is between you and Me. How THEY behave is between THEM and Me. End of discussion.”
But FINALLY, really in just the past couple of years, God has been able to make some progress with me understanding the affirmative and positive value to rules. It is not that “God loves us more when we keep the rules, and loves us less when we don’t.” It has nothing to do with Him, with what I call “His side of the equation… He loves us, totally, infinitely, all the time.” But rather, when we honor “conscience” and “walk in the light, just as He is in the light”… we experience peace, joy, beauty, truth, love… all the elements and fruits of eternal life. When we defy conscience, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we experience all the discomforts of walking in darkness.
You recently did a great series of posts dealing with the “intuitive” versus “counter-intuitive”. Some of us may use different terms, but I can admit in my own life that there are times when “I WANT something that I know is not right, or good for me”. I have a “natural” inclination, from time to time, to satisfy some desire, some appetite, that may not treat others as sacred… or treat myself as sacred. To yield in that desire may give me a short-term payoff, but later leaves me empty. Scripture speaks of things that melt like honey in the mouth, but then leave bitterness in the stomach.
What God FINALLY let me figure out about the “value” of “Rules”, was when I realized that I live a disciplined life, I “follow rules” without codifying them, and at times across my life I’ve been “subject to codes” to which I subscribed voluntarily and intentionally, not by passive cultural inheritance or because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”
God showed me two simple things about all this:
(1) In order to have the “freedom” to respond comfortably to urgings of the Holy Spirit in conscience, I need to be able to say “yes” to Him, and “no” to appetites contrary to His leadership. The more “free” I am, the more “indifferent” to “intuitive appetite”, the more “comfortable” I am in obedience. Like an ice skater, gliding smoothly from point to point, rather than trying to run zig-zag among orange cones touching flags.
(2) “Rules” give me an “external framework” for exercising my own free will to direct my attention and behaviors. Rules are like “training wheels”, that allow me to acquire skill and control over my vehicle, myself, without succumbing to gravity or other balance challenges I’m not yet skilled enough to overcome.
(3) Once I learn not to “kick against the traces” in a disciplined life framed in a voluntary covenant of rules, I can develop the self-control needed to respond to the much more subtle promptings of Spirit. In time, the need for “Rules” falls away. as desire moves into focus with God’s will in and of itself.
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Bottom Line: I figured out that “learning to follow the Rules” (like coloring inside the lines), has eventually allowed me to develop the interior self control to “say ‘no’ to myself, or ‘yes’ to conscience’ regardless of momentary passing desire or gratification. The point is not to learn to color inside the lines for its own sake, but to learn to control the crayon… eventually to master the skill to create true Art.
Gentle Reader, I hope this post makes sense. But “Rules” were never my favorite things in Kingdom, and it really took me a very long time to see their value. FINALLY, I did… but only when I came to understand them as a “means to an end”, NOT an “end to themselves”.
Blessings and grace to thee! The Little Monk!