Posted by: Heather | January 20, 2012

Rules vs. Relationship?


Christopher Michel [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


2 Corinthians 3:17  “…Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty”.

‘Relationship…not rules’ has become somewhat of a buzzword among Christians these days.   Within the past week or so, I have seen a video posted many times on Facebook.  A young man wrote a monologue of sorts on ‘Why I Hate Religion…but love Jesus’.  I will be the first to admit that he raises some good points.  There are some things in that video I do agree with.  As the posting continued to appear time and time again on my news feed, I began to ponder on the message being presented.   There was something about that video I wasn’t comfortable with that I just couldn’t put my finger on.  As I said, I agreed with parts of it.  So, what’s the problem?

I thought on this most of the day.  At one point a still, small voice raised a question in my mind that almost literally stunned me…’Is it possible to have a relationship without rules?’  Being the good Facebooker I am, I posted the question to my wall.  I got some good responses, and most of them were exactly what I expected.   However, I decided to save my responses for this blog, because I think it’s a very important question that cannot be answered quickly.

As in any debate, there are two very different sides to this issue.  We have rules vs. relationship.  Most comments I see made about these two sides seem to imply that they are diametrically opposed…that they could not be further away from each other in scope, and that relationship is the one to be had, to the exclusion of all rules.  After all, Jesus is all about relationship, isn’t He?  Well, yes and no…at least the way I see it.  Before anybody jumps off the deep end in criticism, let me explain.

On the one hand, there are many that have come out of extreme legalism.  They have believed you must ‘do’ things in order to earn salvation.  Sometimes, when coming out of that, it’s very easy to go so far the other way that we believe God doesn’t require anything of us.  And on the opposite end of the same spectrum, there are people that come out of what they used to term freedom.  As that happens, they can become just as apt to enter into extreme legalism because of the problems they encountered.   When coming off of one extreme, it’s far too easy to land in the other.  The problem is, both are without balance.

In the 2 Corinthians passage above, we’re told that we have liberty in Christ.  When looking up that word in a lexicon, the meaning is very telling.  It says ‘true liberty is in doing as we should, not as we please’.  In no way am I trying to minimize the work of grace….just trying to show that even grace has its conditions.

I am a married woman.  In my relationship with my husband, there are some rules I must abide by if I want to have a healthy marriage.  I do not go about flirting with other men, or spending personal time with them when my husband isn’t present.  I am expected to be faithful to him, and not to do anything to intentionally hurt him.  My love for him requires those things of me.  If I were to do things detrimental to our marriage relationship, it is quite possible we would no longer have a relationship after awhile.

Another important relationship in my life is that with my children.  When they were small, I spent a lot of time saying ‘no’…teaching them that there are rules we live by to be safe, happy, and get along with other people.   Rules are used to train so they know how to behave.  They are the first building block of relationship.  However, as their trust for me grows, ideally I can begin to loose the ‘control ‘ of rules, because the things I have tried to instill in them from infancy will move to their heart.  Then, they do what’s right because it’s right, not because I told them so.

Will they mess up?  Absolutely!  They are children, and I expect them to mess up.  But, I also expect them to come to terms with the fact they messed up and ask for forgiveness.  This restores the relationship that has been broken by disobedience.

The Bible tells us that when we are saved, we’re no longer our own.  I Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, honor God with your body.  This scripture is given in context of obeying a ‘rule’…no fornication.

Obeying rules does not save us.  It never did.  Many argue that the Jews were required to keep the law to receive salvation.  In reality, a careful reading will reveal that the focus was always on the atoning sacrifice when a commandment was broken.  The focus is always the sacrifice that redeems us from sin.  We’re told in scripture (Romans 3:20) that without the law, there is no knowledge of when we’ve committed sin.  ‘Law’ lets us know that there is no possibility we can ‘do’ things to be saved.  It takes the atoning sacrifice of Jesus to give us salvation…no more, no less.

But, we err if we think God requires nothing of us.  John 14:15 says ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’.  We work on building a relationship with God by finding out what pleases Him, and then doing it.  We read His Word to find out what He desires.  Sometimes, we may have to do things that seem hard, but do it because His Word says to.  Our obedience demonstrates our love for Him, and our desire for a face to face relationship. Disobedience blocks that from happening.  This is why it’s important for us to repent of sin when we realize it…to restore the broken relationship.

Are we prone to messing up?  Of course we are.  Just like our small children who are learning, we will fail at times.  But just as we expect our children to eventually learn, He also expects that from us.  If we continue to have a flagrant disregard for something He has dealt with us about, there will be consequences.  He loves us enough to allow us to face the consequences of our actions.  He still loves us, but like a good parent, He metes out appropriate discipline for disobedience in order to teach us the right way to live.

So is the equation truly ‘rules vs. relationship’?  I really don’t think so.   In my opinion, there is a healthy balance of rules and relationship in a healthy walk with God and others.  When everything is about rules, and there is no relationship, a Facebook friend of mine eloquently said there is always rebellion.  That is true.   But if we try to have a relationship without rules, we are just as destined to fail, because no rules results in a lack of restraint.   The way I see it, the two are not diametrically opposed at all.  They work together beautifully to create the face to face relationship God desires with all of His children.

© Copyright Notice: Permission is hereby granted to make copies as long as Promised Land Ministries is properly cited and credited as the author.

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