Rules and Freedom

Freedom Requires Rules

On Monday, I wrote a bit about salvation, and this post continues along that theme. Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about the Christian faith is that the defining characteristic of Christians is “being good” (and following, salvation depends on how “good” one is). A common objection to following Jesus Christ involves an unwillingness to follow the “rules” (some of which are merely rules that people popularly associate with the faith, and not a commandment actually found in the Bible). God’s rules do serve a purpose, though, and we can see that if we can only manage to change our perception a little bit.

Think about it. Are there any among us who can truly say they’d be happy living in a world in which murder, theft, rape, infidelity, and lying were commonplace and accepted? Does any good ever come from dishonoring our parents? Do we get anywhere when we envy others, whether for their spouse or their possessions? Can anything but disaster come from cheating on one’s spouse? When we start to think about things in terms of their consequences—on both ourselves and others—we start to see that the rules establish an environment in which we are protected from certain things—being killed or having to constantly worry that someone will take our belongings, for example. Our happiness is protected in a marriage where fidelity is the rule. We can trust our friends when we know they won’t lie to us.

I once read an analogy that sticks with me to this day (though, unfortunately, the author does not—it may be Brennan Manning). The illustration involves a youth soccer game without a coach; the father of one of the players steps in to fill the absence but, unfortunately, he has no knowledge of the rules of the game. As you might imagine, things quickly deteriorate into utter chaos. No longer was there a fun game that the young players could enjoy, because the lack of organization opened the door to injury and made the game a pointless—and potentially dangerous—free-for-all. In the same way, the rules established by God, starting with the Ten Commandments, give us a framework within which we have an opportunity to experience joy.

In itself, though, the Law is unable to bring that joy to us. Freedom requires rules, but those rules don’t provide freedom.

The Law Does Not Justify Us; Christ Does

Following what the Law prescribes can not save us, because we can not follow the Law. No matter how hard we try, we will fail, because we are incapable of keeping the Law. That is why Paul taught the Galatians that, “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal. 3:10): because “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20).

There is, however, one man who was able to follow the Law, though he was subject to all of the same temptations, frustrations, and emotions that any of us might experience. Because Jesus Christ kept the Law, because he was the spotless and innocent Lamb of God, he—and only he—could take away the sins of the world: my sins and yours. If ever we lose sight of this fact, we start down a slippery slope; we must always remember that our sanctification is dependent on what Christ has done, not anything that we can—or ever could—do.  Mars Hill’s Matt Johnson writes, “Rather than seeing sanctification as a linear progression from bad to better, the Christian life is more accurately described circularly; we return again and again to the cross.” (“Moralism’s Cruel Stick and Carrot”). This is the key: rather than relying on ourselves, we must be humble enough to repeatedly go back to the Cross (because we are in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus gives us there), in confession and repentance.

We are justified by Jesus Christ alone. It sounds so simple and easy, but it presents such a challenge…

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