While “rules” or “religion” have connotations of stuffy, outdated, legalistic, overbearing control, relationship seems to open and inviting, doesn’t it? While the former might carry the image of an angry nun with a ruler, ready to rap your knuckles, the latter looks like Jesus holding his arms out for a big bear hug.
If there’s one phrase modern Christianity has embraced, it’s that one. We have moved past religion, and now we have relationship.
And I wonder how much damage that phrase has caused to the relationship we have with God.
No Rules, No Relationship
David Petraus is proving, once again, what is blindingly obvious, and what no one wants to admit:
That relationships and rules are not opposites, or are somehow mutually exclusive.
Relationships, by their very nature, are predicated upon rules. When rules are broken, so is the relationship. Right now, Petraus is fighting for his life by trying to cling to the fact that his affair did not start until after he was out of the military (which hands down significant punishments for adultery.) But the point is that a rule (fidelity) was broken and so a relationship (his marriage) has been damaged, just like every marriage which has endured infidelity.
Is it any wonder that over and over, the prophets use adultery as an illustration of how people act with God? People break the boundaries and rules of their relationship with God, and so their relationship with God is damaged.
Every relationship is built on rules. Even two friends have expectations about time spent together, phone calls, or any number of things which both people have to fulfill in order for the relationship to survive. Every relationship can be boiled down to a set of rules. Two people with no rules or expectations between them are…strangers.
God is a Legalist
But wait! you are thinking. You run the risk of being a legalistic Pharisee jerk by emphasizing rules!
That may be true, but do you know who the biggest legalist in the world is?
Jesus made it clear that even when people thought they were obeying the rules, the real rules were so much higher than where they were aiming. God cares about each and every rule He has set. In fact, according to Jesus’ words, Petraus’ career-ending affair did not begin when we consider an affair to begin. It began when two hearts entertained lustful feelings for the other. And God only knows when that happened.
In fact, God is such a massive, overbearing legalist that the death of Jesus was the only thing which would repair the ruins of our relationship with God.
The Rules Have Changed
It is not that God has moved past rule-making with us and just opened His arms up for a big bear hug. We still have rules because we are still sinful people.
It’s just that the rules have gotten less concrete. And maybe a lot more difficult at the same time.
Instead of a checklist of specific behavior, we are told to love God above all and our neighbors as ourselves.
Instead of making sacrifices to compensate for ourselves, we are told to trust Jesus in faith.
Yikes. Those are steep rules. And our relationship with God is absolutely built on that foundation. Breaking those rules is the same effect that it was in the Old Testament: idolatry. Try it and see. I promise, you will be practicing idolatry!
So we are telling people a terrible lie when we lead them to believe that following Jesus is not about rules. Following Jesus is still about rules; maddeningly abstract, endlessly difficult, insanely beautiful rules. If you are following no rules with God, then you are strangers with God.
We have relationship because we have rules.
What do you think? Is it time we stopped lying to people and told them the truth about rules and relationships?