“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27)
I grew up in a church tradition that had some pretty strict standards on the “things Christians shouldn’t do.” Somewhere there must have been a carefully constructed list of do’s and don’ts… mostly don’ts. “We don’t do this. And we don’t do that. And we don’t even think about doing this other thing here.” I assumed that’s how all Christians lived – and I had no reason to distrust those who were instructing me in “the narrow way.”
Now, I thank God for these folks – for it was through their faithful teaching of the gospel that I came to know Jesus. They got that part right. But just imagine my surprise (as I got older) when I discovered that a lot of the “do’s and don’ts” were never backed up by chapter and verse. In other words, all the rules that were placed upon my life (what good Christians do and don’t do) weren’t from the Bible. They were just someone’s idea of how to go about doing what the Bible did say. They were interpretations, or convictions, about what God said. In the end, they were standards that were not the Bible’s standards. And their rules were there to help define the Christian faith. At least, that was their well-intentioned intent.
Why does this happen? Why do churches (and denominations) take the good of the Scriptures and try to improve upon it (or at least, break it down into some well-thought-out rules of “good Christian” behavior)?
It all boils down to religion. Religion likes rules. It is so much easier to follow a checklist of rules, than to be guided by something so subjective as love. Plus, rules allow us to keep tabs on everyone else, and to keep track of how they are doing. To try and determine if someone loves God and loves their fellow man is hard to monitor. Love is broad (and somewhat vague). We want to be able to look at our situations, and check people out, according to the rules – and make our determinations (about ourselves and others) based upon the cold, hard facts.
Easy: “Brother Cecil did A, B, and C… but did not do D. We’ll have to address that situation, so D always gets done too.” Hard: “Brother Cecil spent the day helping his neighbor move (and who knows what kind of [questionable] activities and conversations took place in the process!).”
Did I mention that most of us kinda like religion too? It not only gives us a way to see if we are doing okay – but also gives us a means of comparison with others. “I may be doing this… but at least I’m not doing that, like so-and-so is.” Part of human nature loves to be comparative. As long as I can find someone else that is a bigger mess-up than I am – then I’m okay. Human nature loves rules, and comparisons…
But, the true Christian life is about neither!
God calls us each to live by a new nature – one that He has freely placed within us, when we devoted our hearts to Jesus. And that nature has its pattern in the love of God (as we saw so vividly displayed in Jesus). Jesus just loved God… and He loved people. And that always got Him in trouble with the religious rulers of the day.
Christians are simply called to love – to love people as God loves people. And to represent God, as Jesus did, by being defined by how we love those that God loves.
As the apostle said: “Love is the fulfillment of the (God’) Law.” (Romans 13:10)
Religion always demands human effort… true Christianity always defers to the God-led human heart.