We expect non-Christians to rail against rules. Most want to be free to do whatever they desire, and they look upon rules and laws and the like as constraints on their “freedom”. They want the maximum ability to do as they please, and they look at rules and regulations as an impediment to fulling their dreams.
Yes, I get that non-Christians would think this way. But sadly there is far too much of this mindset in the church as well. Far too many believers have this mistaken notion that somehow Christianity is just about love (however loosely defined – if at all), and anything having to do with rules somehow goes against love.
The so-called emergent church movement has often been pushing false antitheses here: we either love God and have a relationship with him, or we get bogged down in rules and regulations. I prefer the biblical emphasis which says both are important. See more on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/06/27/on-emergents-and-false-dilemmas/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/31/959/
Just the other day I had one person sending in a comment claiming that Christianity was simply and solely about “loving everybody”. Um, not quite. Biblical love is far more carefully defined and nuanced than that. And biblical love is always seen in the context of rules and commandments.
The simple truth is, loving God means keeping his commandments and loving the rules he has established. Since I am reading through the Psalms again at the moment, let me simply offer a few passages from the psalter. Here are just a few of them:
Psalm 18:22 For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.
Psalm 19:9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
Psalm 147:19-20 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord!
I think you can start to get the message here. And Psalm 119 is completely full of verses on how the child of God delights in the law and relishes God’s rules. Consider some of these verses:
Psalm 119:7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.
Psalm 119:13 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
Psalm 119:20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
Psalm 119:30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
Psalm 119:39 Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Psalm 119:43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules.
Psalm 119:52 When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord.
Psalm 119:62 At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.
Psalm 119:75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Psalm 119:102 I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
Psalm 119:106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.
Psalm 119:108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules.
Psalm 119:137 Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules.
Psalm 119:156 Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your rules.
Psalm 119:160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Psalm 119:164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.
Psalm 119:175 Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.
“But, but” some people will protest. “That was the Old Testament. Jesus changed all that and now all we need is love!” Nothing could be further from the truth of course. Whenever Jesus spoke about loving God and loving others it was in the context of obedience.
No one reading the gospels could get any other impression than that. Simply examine the gospel of John for starters and listen to what he says:
John 14:15 If you love me, keep my commandments.
John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.
John 14:23-24 Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
John 15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
Those words of Jesus sound pretty clear to me. And John in his epistles says exactly the same thing:
1 John 2:3-6 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 5:2-4 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
2 John 1:6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.
For the biblical Christian, love and rules always go together. And what God had brought together, let no man put asunder. There is nothing antinomian about biblical love. The idea that we can love God and do as we please is simply a complete distortion of biblical truth.
Our love relationship with God is seen in terms of how we love his law and desire to obey him. The idea that we can do our own thing and go our own way, yet claim to love God, is simply bogus. And all the great saints of the past have believed this and taught this.
Let me close with some quotes on this from some terrific believers of the recent past:
“Love is the root; obedience is the fruit.” Matthew Henry
“Only he who believes is obedient,.. only he who is obedient believes.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Love is not just a sentiment. Love is a great controlling passion and it always expresses itself in terms of obedience.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“I was not born to be free – I was born to adore and obey.” C. S. Lewis
“You do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but you have lost love because you never attempted obedience.” C. S. Lewis
“The final test of love is obedience.” A. W. Tozer
“We obey God’s Law, not to be loved but because we are loved in Christ.” Jerry Bridges
“It is Christ who is to be exalted, not our feelings. We will know Him by obedience, not by emotions. Our love will be shown by obedience, not by how good we feel about God at a given moment. And love means following the commands of God. ‘Do you love Me?’ Jesus asked Peter. ‘Feed My lambs.’ He was not asking, ‘How do you feel about Me?’ for love is not a feeling. He was asking for action.” Elisabeth Elliot
“The Christian life is here viewed from the standpoint of commandments. . . . Christian liberty is not inconsistent with law any more than love is. True, the Christian is not ‘under law’, in that his salvation does not depend on obedience to the law. Yet this does not relieve him of the obligation to keep the law (Mt 5:17-20; Rom 8:4, 13:10). The freedom with which Christ has made us free is not freedom to break the law, but freedom to keep it. ‘I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought thy precepts’ (Ps 119:45).” John Stott, commenting on the epistles of John