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Ruled Out

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6, esv).

What are the five things Christians aren’t supposed to do?

Maybe for you and your church, it’s more than just a Filthy Five. Maybe it’s more like a Dirty Dozen. Depends on how fired up you are.

Change comes through an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus who lives His life through us by His Spirit within us.

But these lists do exist out there, right? Rules for what to do. Definitely rules for what not to do. Rules, rules, rules, and more rules!

The problem with rules, however, is that rules only inflame our desire for sin.

I remember playing in the backyard with my brothers as a kid, having all kinds of fun doing whatever we were doing. Then Mom would come out onto the porch and say, “I’m going to the store. Don’t you boys leave the backyard.”

In that moment, the fence I hadn’t even noticed being there before took on the appearance of a forty-foot wall. Suddenly I became oddly aware of hearing my friends’ voices carrying from a distance, as if their hands were cupped around their mouths, shouting, “Come over and play! Come play with us!”

That’s like what legalism does. It just makes you want to sin.

Paul said it this way: “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.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7–8).

If you’re like most people, there are things about yourself that you want to change. And you’ve tried to change them. But the reason we fail is not because God doesn’t want to change us. The reason we fail to change is because we use faulty methods for doing it. We think God has failed us when in reality we haven’t even attempted to change God’s way.

Rules are not God’s way—rules that we’ve boiled down into a system, rules that we’ve elevated to mean everything while we’re missing half the things the Bible actually says. Rules only force our sin under the surface. They don’t really change anything.

But God’s way does.

And here it is. Real change, biblical change, comes first from admitting we have a heart problem. “Wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24)! “Wretched”—distressed and miserable through exhaustion from hard labor. “Wretched”—exhausted from the work of trying to change ourselves without 100 percent submission to God. Change begins with admitting we’re broken because of our sin.

Then, turning. Only God can change a heart. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25)! Change comes through an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus who lives His life through us by His Spirit within us. It doesn’t come from panting and straining to keep up with somebody else’s list of rules.

Enough with rules! “We are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive.” Instead bring your sins—all of them—to the One who can change you. Not by forcing you onto the straight and narrow, but by offering you a life beyond legalism, “the new way of the Spirit.” The kind of life that actually makes you want to obey.


  • What particular rules do you think are most essential to Christian living? Why do you think you’ve chosen to place priority on these areas above others?
  • What have you noticed about your heart and attitude when your focus is on following rules?

Lord, I desire for my life to line up with what Your Word says. I want to be a person of character, purity, and total obedience to Your way. Thank You for making the path to change possible, and help me see that any experience of abundant life will never come through a deeper commitment to strict rule-keeping. Please give me greater glimpse of Yourself, and let my obedience flow out of knowing that I’m dearly loved by the God of the universe. Thank You for making redemption possible through the gift of Your Son, Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.


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