Most people think Christianity is all about rules: quit doing that and start doing this other thing. When I meet people who believe that, I tell them, as gently as I can, that they have been misinformed. It’s not always easy, because often the people who told them so were Christians!
But this misconception isn’t new. In fact, people were making the same mistake only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was so common in a town called Colossae that Paul, a leader in the early church, wrote them a letter and said this:
So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
—Colossians 2:20-23 NLT
It’s sad that so many Christians talk about rules and morality with non-Christians, because it can give them a mistaken understanding of Christianity. First, since different Christians may not agree on which rules they’re supposed to obey, it makes us look like we’re either ignorant, or quarrelsome, or both.
Even worse, though, an understanding of Christianity that’s based on obedience and rules can make Christians look like hypocrites, because even when we agree on a particular rule, we don’t always obey it. It is not unheard of for Christians to skip church on Sunday or contribute less than a tithe of their income. They call in sick when they aren’t, they sometimes drink too much, and, sadly, they get divorced about as much as non-Christians.
But rules are beside the point. Some rules are good and others are bad, but Christianity isn’t about them. As you read the stories about Jesus in the Bible, you see he was always getting in trouble with people who thought he should obey their rules.
What Christianity is about is a new way of relating to God. It’s about what Jesus did at the Cross to reconnect us to God, so that God could make us into new people. God’s plan is to make Christians into new people, who don’t need rules any more than Jesus did, because the greatest desire of their heart is to please their Father in heaven.
(This article appeared in the January 26 issue of the Hi-Desert Star.)