We all need rules to live by – standards that govern our actions, and are unchanging during the shifting sands that make their way into the tiny spaces between our toes as we walk the stormy beaches of life. Rules and standards and lists of behavior are absolutely critical, because without them we are adrift at sea, with no awareness of true North, or South, or any other direction for that matter. Without rules and standards, we can become people whose morality is situational – a system of rules we hold ourselves to depending upon our situations. And truly, this type of morality is masquerading as some not-too-deep conviction we possess that would rather hide than go public.
SITUATIONAL MORALITY IS ANY SHALLOW CONVICTION WE HAVE THAT WE’D RATHER HIDE THAN GO PUBLIC WITH.
You would expect me to be proclaiming a different message here, especially if you had walked with me through my upbringing at my conservative Baptist church. It would be easy for me to dismiss any life of rule-following as “legalism”, and just spend my days getting drunk and having sex with prostitutes and lying to everyone about everything that might make the truth about me known to the people who are watching. But that’s not how I feel about standards and rules.
Not at all.
I have discovered that rules and standards and behavior absolutes are essential to this life we live. And if you’re looking for Jesus to shy away from these behavior standards, you’ll have a really hard time. Whether He was drawing a hard line with His disciples, or doodling in the sand with a prostitute and some would-be stone throwers, personal holiness was absolutely essential to Christ and to His teachings. Morality was never situational with Jesus. And with Paul, it sometimes seems like all he cares about is planting churches and obeying the rules. I bet I’d walk on eggshells around Paul, if I’m honest. Pretty cut and dry – or at least it sure seems that way.
So the problem I have with rules and standards has nothing to do with the rules and the standards. The problem comes when we have the courage to honestly observe what Christianity has done with those rules and standards. And by “Christianity”, I really mean you. And me.
It seems to me like we’ve put the cart before the horse. It seems like we’ve made rules and standards the foundation of a life with Jesus. Rules and standards have become the bedrock of our faith. And then it gets really bad because, knowingly or unknowingly we teach others to do the same. The problem has been Christianity’s absolute obsession with pursuing the rules for the sake of pursuing the rules, and leaving an intimate relationship with God in the dust.
When living this kind of a life, the goal of our lives with Christ becomes box-checking – in getting the daily exam correct. The bottom line becomes sinning less – what Dallas Willard calls “the gospel of sin management”.
We make the logical RESPONSE of knowing God (living a high-standard life) into the GOAL of following Christ.
WE PURSUE THE PURSUIT OF RULES, RATHER THAN LEARNING TO SLOW DANCE WITH THE MYSTERY.
This is very personal and broken for me, mostly because I have searched and searched and searched for life through standard-keeping and rule-following, only to discover that the life I found at the other end isn’t really life at all, and that’s because the gospel I’m pursuing isn’t really the Gospel at all. But the surprising part of this pursuit is actually quite funny for me. I’ve discovered that pursuing rules and standards is both devoid of life, but is also really easy.
PURSUING RULES AND STANDARDS RATHER THAN PURSUING INTIMACY WITH JESUS IS EASY, AND THEREFORE ATTRACTIVE.
It’s easy because I no longer have to concern myself with the twists and turns and unknown detours of following in Christ’s footsteps, and I can concentrate instead on not smoking or cussing or drinking or lying or cheating or…
Or whatever is on my not-to-do list at the moment, depending on the popular sin of the season.
Most marriages start out with two people who have crazy dreams of loving, and laughing, and looking deeply into each other’s eyes, and making passionate love. But then so many marriages end up with the husband just trying not to piss off his wife. What started out as a dance turns into law-keeping. And we all know those marriages that are just lifeless and boring and predictable.
And my heart goes out to those couples.
And I guess I’m wondering out loud here if we’re doing the same thing in our relationship with Jesus? Have we settled for just not pissing Him off, when He’s inviting us into a daily dance on an unknown but rock-solid dance floor?
If Jesus endured the pain and the agony of the cross just so we can get the rules right, and if that becomes the whole of the Christian faith, then I quit it altogether. Where’s the good news in that? In that version of faith, we’re simply trading one set of rules for a new set of rules, and calling it “great news”. And then, in our evangelistic efforts, we become folks who try to invite others into that version of great news, when there’s nothing great about it at all. It’s like trading a set of stones for a new set of sand, and proclaiming how much better the sand is.
This is not an either/or proposition – follow the rules OR dance with the Mystery. I’m convinced that it’s both. But my primary question here is a simple one.
WHAT ARE WE PURSUING WITH OUR HEARTS AND SOULS AND MINDS?
We either pursue the rules and drag Jesus into that pursuit as an authoritative voice, or we pursue an unpredictable and intimate relationship with Him, and let our absolute convictions and standards flow as a consequence of the intimacy we’re discovering along the way.
I do the things that please my wife because I’m in love with her. I’m not trying to earn her love. I’m responding to a love that is deep and intimate and growing, and one of the ways I do that is by following certain guidelines that are really important to her.
Like moving the dirty dishes from the sink into the dishwasher – the entire three and a half feet.
Or flushing the toilet.
Or picking up my underwear off the bathroom floor.
Of washing my razor clippings down the sink.
But those things happen as a RESULT of dating and romancing and dancing and forgiving and letting her share my dessert even when she swore that she didn’t want any dessert before I ordered mine.
Following Jesus is all about intimacy.
Bold it. Highlight it. Make it a part of your Twitter description.
FOLLOWING JESUS IS ALL ABOUT INTIMACY.
That’s why the Gospel is such great news. Just let this sink in for a minute, even though you may have heard it all your life.
Can you imagine a reality where the great and holy God of the heavenlies does the only thing He must do so that He can be near to you? He endures a bloody execution where He’s beaten and humiliated and tortured and stripped and abandoned by everyone. Can you possibly envision a truth that, in some unexplainable and insane way, proclaims over and over again…
That you are worth THAT?
And that by choosing you, He chose THAT?
That, my friends, is great news. That is the Gospel.
So let there be rule-following, I say. Let us quit making rule-following equivalent with legalism, and using the terms interchangeably. They are not.
But for the literal love of God, let the rules all flow as a result of an intimate dance we learn to engage in daily, where He leads, and we follow.
We follow Him into the next thing, whatever that is, wherever that leads us, and to whom that leads us to.
SO STEP ON HIS TOES AS YOU LEARN TO DANCE. HE’D RATHER HAVE BRUISED FEET THAN FOR YOU TO BE A WALLFLOWER AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL JESUS PROM.
It’s a much more difficult and challenging life to live because it requires seeing the Unseen, hearing the Unheard, and touching the Untouchable.
How much easier simply not to cuss.
But it’s the only thing that will make the world take a more serious look at what “good news” really looks like. And I’d rather them watch me dance poorly, than get every rule correct and miss the dance altogether.