Are You a Rule Follower or a Rule Breaker?

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Colossians 2:20–23 NRSV

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

CONSIDER THIS

Rules don’t work. Of course, they are necessary and they have value, but if they are all we have, we don’t have much. Rules can protect us from ourselves and each other. They can create some semblance of external order, but they do not change people. Rules can govern human behavior, but they have no power to order the affairs of our minds and hearts.

People often identify themselves as being either rule followers or rule breakers, and both with equal degrees of pride. We do not need rules. What we need is a Ruler. The lordship of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with following the rules and everything to do with following the Ruler.

This way of following the Ruler is the way of the cross—the path of death and resurrection. Note how today’s text begins, “If with Christ you died . . .” (v. 20a NRSV). To die with Christ means we have renounced self-rule and surrendered ourselves to the person of Jesus. FULL STOP.

Most self-avowed Christians have never done this. They have, instead, adopted a form of Christian faith without the power. Consider how we talk about becoming a Christian. We speak of one accepting Christ, as though we were accepting a software agreement online. Where is this in the Bible? It is minimalism.

If one was a rule keeper before they accepted Christ, then they become a legalistic Christian. If one was a rule breaker before, then she becomes a licentious Christian. Neither has changed. No, they have merely baptized their way of life in Jesus’ name. There is no orientation to the Ruler, only the rules.

Paul is dealing with a community of people who want to be real Christians but who are getting caught in all the predictable traps. These traps are as operative now as they were then. There are the philosophers and their fine-sounding arguments; the super-spiritualists and their special revelations; the rule followers and the rule breakers; the conservatives and the liberals.

Paul knows we are dealing with something far deeper than human behavior. He knows the rules hold no power against self-indulgence and the seductive wiles of our appetites. He knows only the presence of the Ruler himself in the depths of our innermost selves can transform the human mind and heart. He knows death and resurrection is the only way.

Domino #2/20 moves us from the rules to the Ruler, preparing the way for mountain-moving movement. 

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who leads us in the way of death that we might find truth of resurrection and live from the depths of the very life of God in our deepest selves. I cannot find this way apart from you. Please take me by the hand and lead me in this way, every day of my life. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. So how about it . . . are you a rule follower or a rule breaker? What do you learn about yourself from that? Ever notice how rule breakers and rule followers each think they are superior to the other? Why is that?
  2. What do you make of this difference between death-and-resurrection Christians and those who merely baptize their old way of life in Jesus’ name?
  3. Have you renounced self-rule and surrendered your life to the person of Jesus Christ? Is it time to get back in touch with that surrender?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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6 COMMENTS

  1. #1) If I’m honest, I’d have to confess that I strive to be a “rule follower “. My problem is trying to understand how trying to be obedient to Christ’s commands is any different than being a “rule follower “. Both require an action on our part, the difference being the Source of the rule or command. Because of the weakness of our flesh, we can do neither in our own power and strength. I would agree that to become obedient requires a death of our old selves and a resurrection to new life, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. You are very correct in stating that rules cannot change hearts, but then God’s law can’t either, it can only convict us of our deep need for a savior.
    #2) The difference between the two examples of Christians in their attempt to live a Godly life is in their source of enabling power, self will won’t cut it.
    #3) I find that to surrender my own self-will to Jesus to be the Lord of my life is a daily struggle. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, Lord help me.

  2. Naturally, I’m pulled in both directions. I want to follow the rules, but I also want to think, speak, and live spontaneously from my heart, so I tend to be a stretch for people. I especially have trouble with protocol–rules that have nothing to do with morality. I’m not good at following religious rules and programs. As a pastor in a denomination that printed a Sunday “order of worship,” I had trouble properly following the rigid program every Sunday. Sometimes I would throw in an unprogrammed comment or activity. I would unintentionally get things out of order during the service. Once Sunday morning I got so frustrated that I tore up the bulletin in the pulpit and said, “Let’s just be led by the Spirit this morning.” Afterwards, many in the congregation weren’t too happy with me.

    Rules require choice. They often threaten our desires and our comfort zone. They compel us to decide to either obey or disobey them, but even when we choose to obey rules, they don’t have the ability to empower us to align our heart to them. Thus, even our obedience is reluctant and less than whole-hearted.

    I’m so glad that Jesus gave us an alternative to rule following and self-choice. He says, “Follow Me.” I think He means for us to live 24/7/365 by playing “follow the leader” with Him–to observe what He says and does in your heart (often through your conscience) and obey Him. To do that, we have to die to our own wants, opinions, and feelings and follow Him instead. Fortunately, He does much more inside crucified believers than just show and tell us what to do. he lives in us and releases His supernatural power through us, unless we quench His Spirit.

    The Christian choice is between obeying or disobeying rules. It’s between self-rule and surrender to the rulership of the living Jesus. Unfortunately, that isn’t a once-and-done, like the sinner’s prayer. Paul said, “I die daily.” To be led by the Spirit of Christ, we must look beyond the rules, continually die to our own wants, opinions, and feeling, and then actively obey Jesus instead. For me, that means an ongoing challenge to faithfully surrender to my Ruler, the risen Jesus, moment-by-moment.

    • Rules require choice. They often threaten our desires and our comfort zone. They compel us to decide to either obey or disobey them, but even when we choose to obey rules, they don’t have the ability to empower us to align our heart to them. Thus, even our obedience is reluctant and less than whole-hearted.

      Naturally, I’m pulled in both directions. I want to follow the rules, but I also want to think, speak, and live spontaneously from my heart, so I tend to be a stretch for people. I especially have trouble with protocol–rules that have nothing to do with morality. I’m not good at following religious rules and programs. As a pastor in a denomination that printed a Sunday “order of worship,” I had trouble properly following the rigid program every Sunday. Sometimes I would throw in an unprogrammed comment or activity. I would unintentionally get things out of order during the service. Once Sunday morning I got so frustrated that I tore up the bulletin in the pulpit and said, “Let’s just be led by the Spirit this morning.” Afterwards, many in the congregation weren’t too happy with me.

      I’m so glad that Jesus gave us an alternative to rule following and self-choice. He says, “Follow Me.” I think He means for us to live 24/7/365 by playing “follow the leader” with Him–to observe what He says and does in your heart (often through your conscience) and obey Him. To do that, we have to die to our own wants, opinions, and feelings and follow Him instead. Fortunately, He does much more inside crucified believers than just show and tell us what to do. he lives in us and releases His supernatural power through us, unless we quench His Spirit.

      The Christian choice is between obeying or disobeying rules. It’s between self-rule and surrender to the rulership of the living Jesus. Unfortunately, that isn’t a once-and-done, like the sinner’s prayer. Paul said, “I die daily.” To be led by the Spirit of Christ, we must look beyond the rules, continually die to our own wants, opinions, and feelings, and then actively obey Jesus instead. For me, that means an ongoing challenge to faithfully surrender to my Ruler, the risen Jesus, moment-by-moment.

  3. I absolutely agree that law can only change external actions and only God can change how we perceive/relate to each other. Pilip Yancy does a stunning job of making that case in his book “What Is So Amazing about Grace. However, I also believe that the church in America is currently such a mess because it has forgotten how to balance law with grace and grace with law. It is why the church now runs the gamut from rigid traditionalists to unbounded progressives.

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