“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this worls, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?” Colossians 2:20
Rules have never been a problem for me. Even as a little boy, I did my best to follow every rule that was imposed on me. There was a sense that as long as I followed the rules, everything would be ok.
I imagine that’s kind of how the Jews felt centuries ago. Other nations were subject to God’s wrath, but Israel was different. God had given the people special instructions. As long as they followed those instructions, they were safe. In a way, rules offered security. There were no surprises because everyone knew exactly what to do and what the consequences were if they messed up.
This mindset is still pretty common today. We think, I’m faithful to my spouse, I’m nice to everyone, and I go to church often enough; of course I’m going to heaven. It’s easy to think that the secret to earning God’s favor is in following enough rules.
A good example is the rich young ruler in Luke 18. He had followed the ten commandments and all the other rules he knew of, but he wasn’t sure he had done it all right. He was afraid he had broken some law or failed to do something very important. So he asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him that there was in fact one more task he needed to complete. He had to sell everything he had, give his money to the poor, and follow Jesus.
The ruler couldn’t do it, and he lost the opportunity to follow Jesus because he didn’t understand the command. The young man had followed all the rules to a tee, but he lacked one thing: love.
The rich young ruler didn’t understand that Yahweh is not a god of rules, but a god of love. He loved mankind so much that he couldn’t stand faroff, but he did the one thing a loving father could do and lived as a man among men. He made it so that we wouldn’t have to follow a list of burdensome rules, but that we could give him the one thing he truly desires: a relationship.
Relationships are not a list of dos and don’ts. They are subtle, complicated exchanges. A husband and wive wouldn’t be very happy if they fulfilled only the minimum of what was expected for their relationship. A loving relationship involves going out of your way to make the other person happy, paying attention to the needs of the moment, and intentionally putting the other first.
God is a god of relationships, not rules. He desires for us to be in relationship with him and with each other.