Three Cheers for Rules (and For Keeping Them)
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
4 Replies to “Three Cheers for Rules (and For Keeping Them)”
I recently heard that only the Ten Commandments are God’s Law for us to follow.. Well, if ONLY the Ten Commandments are God’s Law, which one is the right set? (Exodus 20 or 34?).
Also, if the Law of God (10 Commandments – Exodus 20 or 34???) is different than the Law of Moses then why did Jesus, James, Ezra and Nehemiah never differentiate between them?
Here’s the proof!
Acts 15:21 – James said, “For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”
John 7:19 Jesus said, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”
Luke 24 – on the road to Emmaus the writer calls the commandments “Moses”.
Ezra 7:6 “Ezra… a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given”
Nehemiah 8:1 “bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel”
Nehemiah 9:13-14 uses the terms interchangeably.
Nehemiah 10:29 “walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses”
Ok ok. Not convinced?
If only the Ten Commandments are God’s Law, which set is the right one??? Surely it would matter!
Exodus 20 – (never called the Ten Commandments by God); spoken by God, “And God spoke these words”. Exodus 20:1.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
Or is it Exodus 34? – written by God (verse 1) and ACTUALLY called The Ten Commandments (verse 28).
1. Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.
4. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
8. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
9. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.
All commandments are God’s Law. But we failed massively and our putrid efforts will never be good enough to redeem our own salvation. We need a Saviour.
So what is the point of commandments now?
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work”. (Eep, he said the “work” word).
II Timothy 3:16?-?17
And “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
I John 5:3 NKJV
Thank you for the quote from Elisabeth Elliot. Plenty of food for thought there.
I thought the article on following, or seeking to follow, God’s commandments was very good. I plan to show it to others.
Take a closer look at scriptures and you will see that Exodus 34 is specifically related to the tribes of Israel but we know Exodus 20 relates to all people because God tells us it was for doing these things that He cut off those nations who broke and opposed these morality laws. God did not require other nations nor the patriarchs who lived before the Exodus to to do the procedural and structural commands specific to the nation of Israel. This is why we are called the sons of Abraham and not the sons of Jacob. We are fortunate because the Apostles made it simple for us and reiterated those parts of O.T. law that relate to all and define sin and morality and those parts which are specific to Jews. Christianity says clearly you do not need to become Jewish to be saved. Jews have also been released from these specific requirements and Gentiles were never under those specific commands but if you want to go into the law you need to approach it with the same wisdom the Apostles had.