I’ve been in some churches where the rules, either written or unwritten, were the law of the land. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as everyone in the community is willing to submit to such rules.
I’ve also been in churches where there were no standards whatsoever. People didn’t even take the Bible seriously, let alone the commands inside of it. Unfortunately, churches tend to fall on one side of the fence or the other. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground these days for anything.
So when we come to the subject of holiness, what’s more important? Should we follow strict rules so we know exactly what to expect or should we say there is no way to fulfill God’s highest standards, so why try?
I believe God’s heart hurts when he sees his people not even try. After all, he did command us to be holy like him. If he said it, then it’s possible. We should strive to bless God’s heart that he delights in us as we attempt to be obedient to him.
When we read our Bibles, we will find an interesting assortment of rules and principles for holy living. Why can’t we just pick either one, rules or principles? The Bible has both for some very good reasons.
Rules can easily become outdated. They are also meant for a certain time, culture, and situation. They don’t cover every possibility. They are very limited. Principles are a much better system for covering more possibilities.
The other problem with rules is that they can foster legalism in our communities of faith. Rules can lead us to interpret them so narrowly that the spirit of the rules can be easily broken. If parents tell their children not to have a party in the house when they go away, the child will easily obey that I going to someone else’s house to have the party. Legalism is a dangerous monster that can eat away at God’s design best for us.
The Bible doesn’t have any commands concerning smoking, insider trading, and several other practices we might consider sinful or at least a little under the table. Does that mean that these things are okay?
The sad fact of the matter is that humans are depraved enough to find ways around straight commands and rules. Look at the rich young ruler who declared that he followed all of the 10 Commandments since his youth. Like the Pharisees, he probably could only say this because he had interpreted them extremely literally.
God does give us black-and-white commands to show his expectations of our behavior. But he is a wise God who knows we’ll take advantage of every opportunity to sin against him before we know Jesus.
So to help us out, he also included principles for holiness. Where the rules don’t flat out tell us what he expects, he has also provided principles. These principles give us guidance and a framework to live holy lives in new situations not experienced by Bible cultures and times.
Let’s take the same example of smoking. There is no command not to smoke in the Bible. However, there is the principle of our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit. We should treat our bodies with respect and that includes a healthy lifestyle. We know from science that smoking ruins our lungs and can even cause cancer. We should avoid it as much as we can.
What a wise God we serve to give us direction with both commands and principles. Unlike in any other religion, our God speaks directly to us and tells us what he expects. He provides the right framework so we don’t have to guess his desires for us.
Leave a comment and tell me what you think about this two-pronged system of rules and principles. What kind of background have you come from? In your church family, was it more about rules or was it more about principles?