“And so by your own tradition, you nullify the direct commandment of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings.’” (Matthew 15:6-9) NLT
Have you noticed that some religious people like to create rules to act as a barrier to other rules? In some cases this might be legitimate. For instance, nowhere in the Bible does it say that a married man should not go out with or be alone with a woman who is not his wife. In fact many married people may see nothing wrong with going out alone with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe it’s a friend you’ve had since high school. Technically, doing this doesn’t violate a commandment. And yet many married couples have incorporated rules like this into their marriage. This includes my wife and me. This may seem legalistic, but at the end of the day we believe that our marriage is so important that we want to have “guard rails” in place for added protection. While we may encourage others to consider protecting their marriages in this way when given the opportunity, that’s all it is-- encouragement.
But what happens when the rules we create are preached from the pulpit as if they were given to us by God? My favorite example of this is the memorable war against dancing waged by a local pastor in the 80s movie “Footloose”. While he knew dancing was not a sin, he was afraid dancing would lead to other things. As a teenager, I heard disparaging references to distorted guitar coming from the pulpit at a time when bands like Petra and Stryper were trying to use the hard rock sound as a vehicle for the gospel. Well meaning Christians rose up against the band DC Talk due to their song “Jesus Freak”. I doubt if any of them had actually read the words of the song. These things did not conform to the man made rules for what is and isn’t acceptable to God. As a result, people were stepping in the way of God reaching people in new ways.
Wrapping rules around rules which wrap around other rules is a symptom which could point to a deeper problem. What if you can see this in yourself? What does it mean? Is it possible that your focus is on performance (following the rules) rather than relationship? God wants us to know Him--to be in relationship with Him. He wants us to help guide others into a relationship with Him. Is a focus on rules getting in the way and preventing you from focusing on Him? Or are you trying to earn God’s approval?
“God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) NLT
Sometimes we try to earn God’s approval rather than accepting the free gift of His grace. But the Bible is clear that God’s acceptance isn’t based on our performance. What we do matters to God for a lot of reasons, but not because He’s trying to decide if we measure up. God’s acceptance is given freely to us when we choose to follow Him. Performance-based Christianity is in a way like rejecting the gift of grace. It’s as if we’ve said, “No thanks, God. I’ll gain your acceptance on my own.” Have you ever caught yourself doing this? What are the dangers of falling into performance mode and how do you avoid this in your own life?