walk in the word
5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we are no longer under the old, written code, but in the new life of the Spirit. 7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” —Romans 7:5-7
The first three change strategies that we reviewed are primarily examples of human beings trying to answer the longing for change without reference to God. But that doesn’t mean that those secular change plans haven’t saturated the church at times. We also have our internal systems for handling change that rise from misunderstanding God’s Word. One of the persistent faulty plans for change among Christians is the idea of change by the rules. Change by unbending, merciless, military following of orders. Picture the drill sergeant barking out orders right in the face of the recruit. Well that’s the way a lot of churches are. This is the kind of church I grew up in: change by the power of the rules. This is not a new problem for the church of Jesus Christ—it shows up already among Christians in the New Testament.
Change by rules means strict adherence to a list of some kind. Keep the list and you will change. And don’t overlook the importance of making sure others are keeping the list too. Life becomes a daily nightmare of tracking rules and desperately trying to compensate or cover-up for the rules we’ve broken. That’s Christianity? A bunch of rules? Really!?!
I’m a Christian. I don’t do these five things. You know, the Filthy Five, the Dirty Dozen. Whatever they are; it depends on how fired up your church was. But there’s a list. Rules! Rules! Rules! The problem with that, as Romans 6-8 makes abundantly clear is that it reduces God’s work of life-change to a heart-hardening, mind-numbing, soul-stifling not-so-merry-go-round of effort and disappointment.
Read again the passage above from Romans 7 and note how the rules inflame your desire to sin. Legalism just makes you want to sin. Sin has power; rules have no power. Rules bring sin to the surface. I don’t want us to be a church like that. God hasn’t offered us a life like that! Some of us need to get off the rule-keeping treadmill and leave it behind. Otherwise, we will never change!
Prayer: Father in heaven, forgive me when I turn Your Law into a live-by-the-numbers nightmare rather than allowing the glimpses of Your perfect character to drive me ever deeper into Your grace and mercy to help me live. Free me to live righteously out of gratitude rather than under the fear of knowing I cannot measure up to a list. Thank You that Your Son has made that freedom available to me. I pray in the strong-to-save power of Jesus’ name, Amen.
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