Being rule-centered may bring pseudo comfort because you are living within a “secure structure of codes,” but it will suffocate the life that God could give you if you were willing to walk in the Spirit. Rule-based living is a self-reliant way that leaves you in charge while restricting God’s work in your life.
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The rule-keepers (Pharisees) of Christ’s day had a hard time with Him because there was always a conflict between their rules and His behavior. And it was hard to pin Him down because He—seemingly—kept changing the rules.
- One day He would hang with a Pharisee (John 3:1-7), and the next day He would lambaste the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39) verbally.
- One day He would have a deep affection for His mother (John 19:27), and the next day He would marginalize her if she did not do the will of His Father (Mark 3:33).
- One day He would say hard things to the lost (Matthew 19:16-26), and the next day He would show empathy for the lost (Luke 19:5).
Right when you thought you had Him figured out, He would do something that appeared to contradict your expectations for Him. For a rule-loving culture, Christ was counter-cultural. His life was under the influence of the Spirit rather than a black and white code of conduct of the legalists (Mark 1:12).
Walking in the Spirit
The Spirit-led life cuts against the grain of rule-bound hearts because the Pneumatically-led person is submitting to the authority and directives of Someone else (Ephesians 5:18, 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19).
- He would hang with an adulteress (John 8:11).
- He invited Himself to a hated tax collector’s house for dinner (Luke 19:5).
- He invited another tax collector to be in His private group (Mark 2:13-16).
- He let an immoral woman wash His feet (Luke 7:37).
- He allowed an unworthy and untrusting man to be part His group (Matthew 26:47-50).
- He spent time teaching a divorced fornicator (John 4:8).
- He allowed a secret rendezvous to go down with a member of one of His rivals (John 3:1-10).
- He seemed to be glad when His good friend died (John 11:14-15).
- He told His followers to hate their fathers and mothers Luke 14:26).
- He seemed to diss His mother (Matthew 12:46-50).
- He was not inhibited to tell his friends to do impossible things (Matthew 12:29).
- He would rebuke His friends when they did not succeed (Matthew 14:31).
- He never sinned (1 Peter 2:22).
- He obeyed the laws of His culture (Mark 12:17).
The reason for the radicality of Jesus was because of His God-centered and Spirit-illuminated approach to life, which made Him appear to be out-of-step with everyone else—especially with the religious people. His call on our lives is other-worldly—a call that begins with a cross (Luke 14:27, 33). And just when you become comfortable with how things are, it feels as though the Lord is stirring the nest again (Deuteronomy 32:11; 1 Kings 17:7-16).
You cannot mature in Christ if you are unwilling to flex, and that was the problem with the Pharisees: they were not willing to grasp the “theological concept of walking in the Spirit,” and because of their stubbornness, they missed out on a wonderful life.
Living a New Way
The Pharisees were too self-determined and self-reliant to yield to anyone else. Thus, they had to live by a prescribed set of rules. On the contrary, Christ chose to walk in the Spirit, and the irony is that He never sinned, something their rule-based life could never accomplish.
- They lived by the rules while neglecting the heart (Matthew 23:27-28).
- Jesus focused on the heart, which determined His “rules” (Proverbs 23:7).
A right heart attitude will create the right behaviors, while all the rules in the world will not create a right heart. Christ had a gospel-saturated, gospel-motivated, and gospel-empowered heart! And that made all the difference in the world.
- The gospel is better than the law.
- The gospel influences and informs the law.
- The gospel determines how you are to live.
- The gospel frees you to live a Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life that is fuller, richer, broader, deeper, and more satisfying than any rule-based lifestyle.
Free to Choose
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1
The text begins with a clear and refreshing statement of Christ’s will for our lives. Sometimes we get bogged down in a quandary about God’s will. And often we worry about decisions which are simply not a great issue with God (where to go to school, what job to take, where to live, etc.).
We need to orient our lives on the clear statements of Scripture regarding God’s will. And here is one: “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” Christ’s will for you is that you enjoy freedom. Where you go to school, what job you do, where you live, etc., are not nearly so crucial as whether you stand fast in freedom. If they were, the Bible would have commanded those things as clearly as it here commands freedom. But it doesn’t.
So your enjoyment of freedom is much more important to God than many of the day-to-day decisions that fill us with so much concern. A good test of your priorities in life would be whether you are just as concerned about the command to enjoy your freedom as you are about other pressing decisions in your life.
It is a clear and unqualified command: “Stand fast and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This is the will of God for you: your freedom. Uncompromising, unrelenting, indomitable freedom. For this, Christ died. For this, he rose. For this, he sent his Spirit. There is nothing he wills with more intensity under the glory of his own name than this: your freedom. – John Piper, For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free
What Piper is saying is a critical thought regarding how we should live. Because Christ was free, He was not bound to expected traditions. He did not sin, and He did not conform, which released Christ to be open to pick and choose how He wanted to live as long as His choices were under the influence of the Spirit and informed by God’s Word.
You are just as free as Jesus was free (John 8:36). You can pick and choose how you want to live as long as you are under the illuminating and empowering influence of the Spirit of God.
- Are you free to pick and choose how you want to live?
- Would you be more comfortable if you had a list by which to live?
- Are you free to do something one way today and a different way tomorrow, like Jesus?
- Are you enjoying the freedom that Christ bought for you through the gospel?
But the Christian responds, “Can I do anything that I want to do?”
- Yes! You can do anything you want to do.
- And, no! The Spirit of God will never lead you into sin.
Parenting with Structure and Support
How Are You Training?
Now, let’s apply this to parenting: What are you training your children to do?
- Obey the rules that are laid out before them, which are shaped by family, tradition, and biblical preferences?
- Walk in the illuminating power of the Spirit of God, which releases them to respond in freedom?
What Do You Hope?
What are you looking for from your children as far as how they are in their day-to-day deportment?
- Are you looking for are attitudes of the heart, which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?
- Are you looking for behaviors that outwardly appear beautiful, but within their hearts are all kinds of uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).
If your children are growing in (1) affection for Christ, (2) a desire to honor people, especially their parents, (3) gentle spirits, and (4) grateful attitudes, you’re on the right path. (This list is not exhaustive.)
If your children are learning the rules of Christianity, but inwardly are not gentle, kind, conscientious, and maturing with discretion, it’s imperative that you reconsider how you are parenting them.
Training behaviors into your children will work while they are young, but when they become adults, it’s imperative that Christ is the Shepherd of their hearts rather than the rules that you parented into them.
Call to Action
- How would you characterize your parenting: (1) more rule-based; (2) or more Spirit-led?
- Are your children growing in freedom, while maturing in the responsibly in that freedom?
- Do you still use “containment policies” (rules) to guarantee compliance, even though your children are teens?
- Are your children’s decision-making based on a list of rules or have they been taught to make Spirit-led decisions?
- Do your children know how to make responsible, Spirit-led decisions that put the fame of the Lord on display (Matthew 22:36-40)?