The kids are back in school and it’s been a year since I worked for anyone else. I’m in the process of paving my own trail as an entrepreneur and the Freedom Tower is visible from my walking path every day. I’m learning to be led exclusively by the Holy Spirit and the autumn winds are bringing in change. All of these things have me thinking about things we have to do and should do and could do and may do, and what it means to play by the rules or to be totally free.
So let’s talk about the rules. You know, the don’ts and the shoulds and the have tos that are meant to keep us out of trouble and make us ‘good’ Christians.
Off the top of my head, the rules that I dragged around the longest in my life included; don’t dance, you must go to church every Sunday, don’t watch TV, don’t drink, only date ‘godly men,’ stay away from the ‘troubled’ kids, no sex before marriage, wear modest clothes and just say no to tattoos. To name a few.
If you’re from a conservative Christian home, some of these will sound familiar. I’m not saying they’re all bad and should be tossed out in favor of the opposite extremes. But I am saying that we are each responsible for being joyful, grateful, good news bearing witnesses of His grace, and it’s hard to do any of these things when we’ve got our noses in an old, musty book of man-made rules. Or in the dirty cracked mirror of guilt and shame for having fallen short of said rules.
Don’t misunderstand me. Are rules important? Hello, yes! There are 10 very important ones. So important that God commanded them to be written down. Twice. But remember that the commander was the God of creation and of rest, in that once He creates something and sees it as good, He rests. And yet somehow, in between when God gave his 10 (and only 10) direct commandments, saw that they were good, and stopped issuing commands, and when He sent his son to the cross, His creation (probably most of them well-meaning Christians) managed to invent hundreds of new rules. And we haven’t stopped since!
But Jesus came to set us free. He came for your freedom, and for mine. He is the dividing line in history between the rule of law and the rule of love. He loves so fully and unconditionally that He pursues us to grant us freedom in our whole hearts and minds and wills. And in that process of granting us freedom, He also showers us in grace (undeserved favor) and blessings. Not just in the places that are easy to understand and praise Him for (new job! new husband! new house! new baby!) but everywhere. Even in the places where we are stuck on repeat or in a negative mindset, or blind to our own lack of freedom and joy. He is Lord of the journey, and the journey leads toward freedom and the guidebook is His one-of-a-kind blueprint for our time on earth that will give Him all the glory.
In the process of inelegantly breaking apart my own life and reaching for God’s hand to help me put it back together again – in short, becoming a God-fearing-and-loving adult – my journey to understanding His specific and divine plan for my life caused me to come face to face with the freedom offer, which challenged my rote Christian thinking. I had to discover for myself what He really means when he says, “He has sent me to…proclaim freedom for the captives…” (Isaiah 61:1). Turns out, God can use everything for our good (Romans 8:28). Turns out, God’s plans are waaaay higher than our ways and sometimes we’re too stubborn to understand how he orchestrates the miraculous because we’re thinking too small. Like a human. Turns out, I lived in a bubble and I wasn’t very effective for His kingdom while living inside of it.
Is my life a wild party now, where I choose to do anything I want to do and just go, ‘sorry-not-sorry’ when it all blows up? No! But it is a wild and free space where I know I am being lead by God’s spirit alone (2 Corinthians 3:17) toward completeness, and where there is joy and trust based on my relationship with Him.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says, “…until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, MSG). He didn’t say the greatest of these was follow-all-the-rules-we’ve-invented-since-Jesus-left. Jesus came to earth and loved and left and things were never the same again because His love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).
So let’s talk about the rules. I mean, let’s talk about why we make them, insist on them and feel guilt about them. Let’s talk about the weak and the strong of Romans 14, and how we can be less judgmental and more supportive and loving. Let’s talk about what we would do if we were truly free because we were walking in step with the Spirit of the Holy God, creator of heaven and earth (and freedom), whose preferred method of leadership is one-to-one coaching rather than one-size-fits-all lawmaking.