Monday evenings a bunch of us are meeting to discuss Pastor Tim Keller’s book, The Reason for God. Pastor Keller serves at a large church right in the heart of New York City, and has heard many of the objections to the Christian faith. He wrote a book that eventually was used as the basis for a video study, which we are using.
This week the objection to Christianity which we talked about was, “Christianity is a straightjacket”. In many people’s minds, Christianity uses rules and regulations to coerce people into behavior that restricts them from “being all that they can be”.
Is this true? I can say from personal experience in conversation with many non-Christians that most of them believe Christianity is about living a good life, following rules, and not experiencing a lot of joy. Many perceive Christians to be harsh, condemning, and self-righteous.
Sadly, quite a few Christians have lived down to this standard, this type of behavior. Far too easily we can become consumed with following the rules because they make us feel better about ourselves, especially when we compare ourselves to others, who, well, don’t follow the rules. This is sad. Not only is it sad, it also is a misrepresntation of Christianity.
Keller explains this beatifully on the video we watched and also in his book. He points out that there are two very different ways of living with rules. Religion uses rules as a way to measure up to God, to a certain standard, to a certain behavior. If the rules are followed, then a person will be accepted by God, or reach Nirvana, or a higher form of consciousness, etc. In other words, the rules are used to improve oneself or one’s standing with a divine being.
Christianity, however, views rules very differently. The Biblical teaching is that no one is able to truly follow the rules, even the standards we make for ourselves. So we can’t draw near to God, we can’t keep the rules well enough to approach God and win his acceptance and favor. Christianity teaches that God drew near to us in Jesus, who is God and man, and that Jesus kept the rules on our behalf and then died to pay for our failures.
Christians follow God’s rules because God has come to us and changed us through the life, death, and resurreciton of Jesus. We are filled with gratitude, hope, and love for God and other people, so we follow rules because we have a relationship with God, not because we hope to achieve one.
Keller uses his own marriage as an example. Because he loves his wife, he does some things and avoids doing others. This is not cheerless obedience and drudgery, but love in action. The follower of Jesus looks to follow His rules because God has established a relationship of love.
This is the Biblical teaching about Christians following rules, and while we fail at times to show this in our lives, it is God’s love for us that prompts a willing and obedient response from His people.