To have only rules leads to rebellion, fear and seclusion. To have only relationship leads to over familiarity, insecurity and out-of-control behaviour. Let’s face it; we’ve all had experiences with people whose children have no rules – only relationship. These people seem to be totally unaware of how obnoxious their kids really are – and why they’re rarely invited a second time!
Right from the beginning God has been interested in relationship with rules. With the first humans he enjoyed perfect relationship, but there were also rules to be observed (see Genesis 2-3). When the rules were broken the relationship was changed – and not for the better.
Throughout time God has sought to be in fellowship with people. The Bible is an account of many of these relationships as well as the rules that were to be followed to make sure the relationships were protected. The Ten Commandments, which really are still the foundation of any healthy society, are a classic example of this. Let’s face it relationships are never at their best when things like adultery, lying, covetousness and stealing are prevalent.
About two thousand years ago God visited planet earth in human form – the person we know as Jesus. His purpose? To let people know he is still interested in having relationship with them. But, just like it was in the beginning, this relationship comes with rules, one rule in fact, to love (John 13:34). This love is to be directed towards God as well as to others: Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Love God and love others. As the apostle Paul says, “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
The beginning of a New Year is a great time to reassess our lives and to make sure that both of these ingredients – rules and relationship – are in their proper place. Is your walk with God a legalistic one? If so, realise afresh that his main desire for you is to be in relationship with him, to enjoy his presence and blessing in your life.
Conversely though, it is vital that we don’t slip into the error of antinomianism: a sixteenth century term coined by Martin Luther to describe those who believed that the Gospel frees us from required obedience to any law. A Christian walk without rules leads to a sloppy, feel good, experience-based faith. If that describes you then it’s time to remind yourself of what the Lord requires, to repent and to live your life by his timeless rules.
Rules and relationship: let’s hold these timeless truths in balance like the two wings on a plane. That’s the best way to fly straight as we head into the wonderful future God has planned for all his people.