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Rules or Relationship

Rules or Relationship

Editor’s Note: It’s Sit & Listen Saturday at Devotionals Daily. Enjoy reading as well as listening to this devotion from Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman – and don’t miss our exclusive $5 deal on the book! Listen on the blog below or on your Alexa device by enabling the skill and then prompting, “Alexa, ask devotionals to read today’s devotion.”

Jesus gives a number of indicators that the outside has become more important than the inside. The first one comes in Matthew 23:13 where we read:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

They made it hard for people to come to God. They taught that God’s favor and salvation was something that had to be earned, not just by keeping God’s law, but also by keeping a bunch of other laws they added to it. For example, God commanded his people to

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

That was a law established by God so His people would have a day of rest and spiritual renewal as they honored God and recognized his authority. But the religious leaders added all kinds of laws to God’s law and instead of that day being restful for God’s people, it became exhausting.

They taught that on the Sabbath you could throw an object in the air with one hand as long as you catch it with the other. This is actually where juggling originated.*

You couldn’t take a bath on the Sabbath. If someone spilled something on the Sabbath you couldn’t clean it up. You were not permitted to move a chair from one place to another… and the list went on and on.

*That’s not true. Juggling first made an appearance in ancient Egypt somewhere between 1794 and 1781 BC. Jugglers would be used at funerals and the balls were used to represent birth, life, death, and the afterlife. I think we would all agree that juggling should be reintroduced at funerals right away.

Jesus spoke so strongly to these rule-loving religious leaders because He knows that when following Him becomes about following the rules, people end up walking away from both.

I grew up going to a Christian school. It was a great school, but there were a lot of rules. You couldn’t have your hair over your ears if you were a boy. Girls’ skirts couldn’t be more than a couple of inches above their knees. Boys had to wear collared shirts. Girls had certain rules about make-up and jewelry. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, I don’t think any of these rules were wrong or inappropriate. I think it’s fine and good for a school or parents to establish such rules or guidelines. But here’s what happened — a lot of my friends didn’t associate all of those rules and regulations with school. Instead they connected the rules and regulations with being a Christian.

For years they identified themselves as Christians and pointed to things like their short hair and collared shirts as evidence. When they got older they didn’t like the rules, and because they associated following a bunch of rules with following Jesus, they walked away from both.

When we learn to truly follow Jesus, we find that obedience to God comes from the inside out.

Submission to what God wants for our lives flows naturally out of that relationship. It’s not to say that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter, but what we do or don’t do must come from who we are as followers of Jesus.

When I got married there were some rules that I said I would live by. These rules were written and spelled out for me. When I said “I Do” I understood I was committing to keeping certain rules. Rules like:

  • Be faithful to her as long as we both live.
  • Provide for her and meet her needs.
  • Protect her with my life.
  • Be committed to her for better or for worse.

But after I got married I soon discovered that there are other rules I didn’t know about. But these rules have since been clearly established…

  • I am to keep my closet clean.
  • I am not to make fun of her before 10 a.m.
  • The toilet seat is to remain down at all times.
  • I am to always have an opinion when asked about two dresses that to an untrained male eye appear to be identical.
  • Listening to her and watching SportsCenter at the same time is tantamount to an emotional affair.
  • Never grow hair on my back. (This requires a lot of concentration.)*

If I saw our relationship as a bunch of rules I had to keep, I would quickly become bitter and miserable. I would likely rebel and break the rules when she wasn’t paying attention. But I am passionately in love with my wife and that translates into a desire to please her. So I find that cleaning my closet, putting the lid down on the toilet, or other such extravagant acts aren’t cumbersome but actually quite satisfying.

When the relationship on the inside is right, the outside will follow.

Excerpted with permission from Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

How do you see your relationship with God — as one with a list of “do” and “do not” rules or as one of intimacy and obedience out of joy and love? Come join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily