September 14, 2008

Relationship with Jesus vs. List of Rules: An Unfair False Dichotomy

Have you ever heard or read the statement that the Christian faith isn't a list of rules to be followed, it's a relationship with Jesus? I've been hearing it a lot recently and I think it deserves a bit more nuance than what it seems to be receiving.

Where we begin is in understanding what exactly Christianity is. It is the one true religion. It is a system of thought based on the activity of the Triune godhead throughout history. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consumation. It is about Jesus, God incarnate, who satisfied the demand of justice by paying the price for our sins. Christianity is the story of love of the Creator for his creation, and creation's love in return.

What Christianity is not is merely a set of do's and don'ts that provide a framework for salvation. Our faith is a gift from God, not something we receive for good behavior. We don't find our election dependent upon anything we do, and our salvation is not maintained by certain acts of obedience. But does this mean that "do's and don'ts" aren't a part of living our our faith? This is where I take issue with casually stating that Christianity isn't about following a list of rules, because in fact, the Christian life is all about loving God so much that we seek to reflect his goodness in all areas of our life with loving acts of obedience. By de-emphasizing rules, we over-emphasize an easy-believism that says it doesn't matter what one does from day to day, as long as they love God and are sincere. This doesn't seem dangerous? To say that Christianity isn't about a list of rules is to create a straw man argument. But for the younger people and younger believers who hears this, what they really hears is that we need not struggle with the ethical issues of our day.

As we prepare members of the community of faith to live in this world, we find that we are preparing them to encounter another set of moral precepts. Sripture tells us to avoid any resemblance of evil and to live our life in such a way that we bring glory to God. So how is it that we can have a relationship with Christ without our faith having a relationship to every day do's and don'ts? It is impossible to pursue a biblical faith--our relationship with God--without thinking Christianly about our every day activities. When we encounter dilemmas in life that the Bible speaks nothing about specifically, we have to reflect on biblical principles to determine the next step. But to say bluntly that Christianity isn't about a list of rules undermines a significant amount of scripture that emphasizes obedience and the pursuit of sinlessness. Perhaps, it over emphasizes a positional perfection over an ongoing sanctification. I think we need to use more care in how we communite this "relationship with God" that is becoming more and more abstract as we move further and further away from discussing ethics and morality among the community of believers.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

Good post, Sarah. We do need to articulate this morality properly, but it’s difficult (at least for me), because there are so many considerations to fit in. I think it depends on what people mean by certain statements. If someone says Christianity isn’t about rules in order to avoid accountability, that’s obviously a problem. But if they’re saying it to protest a letter-of-the-law vs. spirit-of-the-law checklist-style determination of what’s right and wrong, then I think it’s acceptable. I guess it depends upon just what rules we’re talking about. :-)