404 Life Without Rules

Life Without Rules

Life Without Rules

"The sum total is love"

I’ve never been rebellious in my life. I’ve never been the one to question the status quo. I like rules. Obedience always came naturally to me. But as I mature in my faith, I’m seeing that God isn’t interested in us blindly following rules. So I started asking some dangerous questions:

What if we could live life without rules?

What if taking away rules made us better people?

What would it be like to remove punishment from all offenses?

These aren’t the easiest questions to answer but I’m going to share my thoughts on this subject in the next two posts. I hope you read with me and join the conversation. Let’s sharpen each other!

First topic: rules

Purpose of Rules

Parents, teachers, employers and institutions all set up rules. Some are explicit and others are implicit. One thing is for sure, you break the rules you pay the price.

Let’s look at their purpose:

1. Rules protect us

When we are protected, we minimize damage to ourself and others. If we don’t know any better, rules provide a wall between us and danger. If a rule is never broken, we may never even know the danger that is out there. Rules keep us safe in a bubble of protection.

2. Rules provide consistency

There is safety in uniformity. The more rules and the less ambiguity you have, the fewer surprises you encounter. With a rule for every circumstance (including exceptions), you will always know where you stand with the rule enforcers.

3. Rules keep order

If there are no expectations on behavior and action, we may be inclined to do whatever we want. Rules ensure that anarchy is not possible. To ensure that rules are followed, a system of punishment is set in place. Punishment, especially publically, ensures that the transgressor and all other rule followers understand what happens when rules are not followed.

Why Rules Aren’t Enough

Rules are good. Rules are helpful. Rules are righteous in the right hands. Rules keep us from becoming animals. But rules aren’t enough.

Let’s look at why:

1. Rules don’t require a heart connection

There are two types of obedience: 1) Obedience of action 2) Obedience of will. Rules can only reveal obedience of action. Is God looking for both? If so, is obedience of action with disobedience of will still a sin?

If our will is not affected by the rules, they will eventually be broken. We are humans, not robots. We will eventually be led by our heart.

2. Rules don’t require faith

We’re told that without faith, it is impossible to please God. If we’re blindly following all the rules without any heart connection, we don’t need faith at all.

3. Rules don’t give you the power needed to fulfill them

Rules are simply a mirror to show you how you measure up. It’s like looking into the mirror and seeing a dirty, scraggly beard. You can see that you need to shave, but you can’t take the mirror off the wall and shave with it.

Since rules have no power in themselves, punishment is required to enforce them. But what happens when punishment doesn’t work? Fear comes in. Subsequently, fear breeds control.

Some of the most heinous acts in history have come about due to fear and control. At the root of the Crusades and even the Holocaust, were leaders that were enforcing rules from a place of fear and control.

Rules aren’t enough. Punishment isn’t a sufficient motivator. But before we look at what is, let’s explore who needs rules.

Who Needs Rules?

As a child, there was nothing more frustrating than these four words:

“Because I said so”

But as a child, there were so many things that I didn’t understand. My parents didn’t need to explain the reasoning behind every rule they gave me. If they told me not to touch the stove or not to put my finger in the electrical socket, I just needed to obey. I wasn’t old enough to understand the repercussions of those decisions.

Children need rules. Before a child has the capability to fully think and process situations for themselves, rules provide concrete limitations. The purpose of rules as they relate to children, work brilliantly.

However, as children grow up they naturally become inquisitive. I believe there is something poignant to the bar/bat mitzva in Jewish culture. It is a celebration of the age of accountability. At 13, children become accountable for their actions. But if they are now accountable, then the “what” can no longer be sufficient. The “why” is now required.

Life Without Rules

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. ~Jeremiah 33:31

You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. ~Romans 13:10 (MSG)

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. ~Galatians 3:23-26

These 3 verses must make the rational, logical mind of a legalist cringe. I’ll admit that with my own background, I had a hard time working through these verses.

What can be more subjective than your heart, love and faith? But if you’re looking for a formula to reach God, it won’t work. If you’re looking for a set of rules to follow, be prepared for some pretty high standards (Matt. 5:17-48).

If you read the Bible like an instruction manual rather than a guide to God’s heart, you remove the need for faith. Worse, you remove the need for Holy Spirit.

Life without rules is life in the Spirit. That’s the only way it is possible. There are absolutes that we must live by. Those are easy. It’s the gray areas that we must learn to navigate.

When we relinquish our dependence on rules, we can invite Holy Spirit to lead us day to day in situation to situation. It’s a lot more effort but there is a lot more freedom. And isn’t that what we all want?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1

How do you feel about rules? Can we really live life without them? What are the dangers? What does this look like practically?

*Read part 2 of this post: Coloring Inside The Lines


  1. there is no life without rules…
    rules is to important for live a enjoy full life…


  2. Cheri Cameron says:

    It’s not just a transaction like grace gets us to where we need to be to get in right standing. I just finished Watchman Nee’s book “Spiritual Authority” and it blew my mind. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Keri! And even when we don’t… He always does.
    Cheri Cameron recently posted..Many Mops

  3. Thank you for posting this today. I had a conversation with someone last night about this very thing and have been trying to wrap my head around it all. To sum things up:

    Rules cannot produce growth.

    Rules can force us to behave in certain ways, especially if they come with enough reward and punishment, but they can’t deepen our love or strengthen our relationships. Rules alone produce unthinkable rebellion, but it can’t produce growth. It takes something more than rules, it takes something in our heart. God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him, rules can’t do that. The law has a purpose, it’s placed there to teach but it cannot help us grow. Only Jesus can do that.

    The more mature the relationship, the less there is a need for rules.

  4. Margery Berger says:

    Such a great book! If we’re living by the Spirit then we’re operating above the rules and it’s not that they don’t apply so much as the rules aren’t necessary. As you get older, the rule doesn’t go away, you don’t live “without” it-it’s just something you KNOW. I hope you’ll read the next one on Thursday.
    Margery Berger recently posted..Gout Tips

  5. Growing up I found security in rules. I was that goodie-goodie with no friends who was rarely in trouble and NEVER got a date. True story: a couple years later I found out my senior prom date was a pity date. Yeah, that one hurt.

    I don’t think we can really live without rules because we’re human beings. We’re flawed and prone to selfishness and greed.

    Is it possible, maybe. If we’re living by the Spirit then we’re operating above the rules and it’s not that they don’t apply so much as the rules aren’t necessary.
    ThatGuyKC recently posted..3 Steps to Give Your Blog Mojo

  6. My thoughts are summed up right here: God isn’t interested in us blindly following rules. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to obey because we love Him, not because we are forced to. Then it is no longer obedience but drudgery and rule-keeping.
    bill (cycleguy) recently posted..Waterline

    • Exactly, love leads to obedience. I think that’s done in His grace. The more I think about it though, I believe blind obedience was the original goal. In the garden, God wanted the trust to be absolute so that whatever He said, Adam would do. He would never need to ask “why” because he never ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

      I wonder if complete trust will ever be returned to us or if we always have to live with the knowledge of good and evil.

      That’s definitely a “when I get to heaven” question. 🙂

    • your answer is really good and instresting i know i am 12 years old but i like your answer and understand it.

  7. Wow…there was so much said in the comments…i don’t know if there is anything I can add…i agree mostly with Moe…

    But I will leave this…Lyrics to a shane and shane song: God Did.

    “Maybe does and don’ts were made to show how much we do and don’t ever make it.”

    It’s kinda like saying Rules were meant to be broken…and finding the lesson in it…

    It’s like God saying…i made all these rules to show you…you can do it….only my son could do it…and because of him and the cross…you can have his righteousness!!!!!!!!!!
    arny recently posted..Fantasy Football or Fantasy Faith-Ball

  8. The Law (rules) serve as a schoolmaster/teacher showing us that we are sinful and that we can not get to God by our own goodness. We must rely on grace.
    seekingpastor recently posted..What Was Methuselah Really Like?

    • But it’s deeper than that. It’s not just a transaction like grace gets us to where we need to be to get in right standing. Grace is the doorway to God’s heart. Once we get His heart, we “get” His commands. We follow because we love Him, not because it’s the right thing to do.

  9. Rules in the Old Testament were basically tutors. They were guardians. Now that we’re New Testament Christians, the rules have been written on our hearts.
    Loren Pinilis recently posted..Repentance: Journey or Destination?

  10. I’m going to have to wait until your Thursday post to really comment on this one…especially how you define “boundaries” vs. “rules.”
    Jason recently posted..Day 255: Fear’s been winning

  11. “is obedience of action with disobedience of will still a sin?”

    Wow – I can’t seem to get beyond this question. I know there are times that I don’t feel like obeying God, that I do it begrudgingly and I’m relying on His will way more than mine, especially when it comes to loving certain people who have hurt or harmed those I’m closest to.

    But God does want our hearts – not our obedience or our mindless/heartless devotion. He wants us, all of us, including our will.

    Powerful post Tony. Definitely something to chew on.

  12. I love this Tony – and I love everyone’s comments as well. I think for me I’ve always been the compliant child – at least on the outside. I rarely got into trouble and learned how to be “sneaky” on the inside. I never liked rules but was too afraid of consequences or looking like I was rebellious or defiant – so I just went along with them. I found that for me, this carried over into my adult life and sadly, ministry life as well. I went right from a music minister’s home to being married at 20 to Greg who eventually became a full-time minister and I was right back into the life that I said I never wanted because my family was very strict Assembly of God, with all the rules and restrictions imposed. So I finally had a breaking point almost 3 years ago now – and it caused a crisis of my marriage relationship and our ministry position. Oh everything is fine today – but it took awhile to get it together and understand why I strayed away in the first place to where doing something very against my normal routine and pattern was inevitable. I did not see rules as helpful to me then, only a prison that I had lived in my whole life. Since that day I’ve been able to see how rules and God’s way of living under those rules are protection from things that will harm and even kill us. It is not a punishment – but a freedom because He loves us.
    Cindy Holman recently posted..Got To Begin Again

    • It sounds like we’re a lot alike in that sense, Cindy. I was exactly as you described it.

      I’m so glad you got through such a tough place. I’ve heard countless stories of those same kinds of heavy burdens.

      I absolutely agree that there is freedom in living under God’s protection. I’m going to frame it a little differently on Thursday but the gist is the same. If you read Keri’s comment, then you pretty much have the outline of my post! 🙂

  13. When I read the word “rules”, I think of the Law {OT}. We read in Matthew 5 that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. He is the only one who can completely fulfill the Law, the rules, if you will. But, it doesn’t stop there. Jesus continues to speak about the Spirit of the law-the righteousness that is not found by simply “following the rules”, but by a change of heart to become more like Him. He also says that those who keep the Law shall be considered great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I really like how the NASB puts the Galations passage and describes the Law {rules} as a tutor that lead us to Christ, so as to be justified by faith. But, now that we have faith, we are led by the Spirt to walk out obedience.

    I don’t know that I would say we could live “without” the rules. Consider one of the first “rules” every child learns: Do not touch a hot stove. As you get older, the rule doesn’t go away, you don’t live “without” it-it’s just something you KNOW. What changes is that you no longer need the rule to guide your choices or prevent you from screwing up, or getting burned. You know the consequences of your actions, so you just don’t do it. That doesn’t mean that the rule isn’t in place-it means that your “obedience” to the rule isn’t bound by the rule itself. You’re no longer bound by the what, but the why.
    Keri recently posted..Not Part of the Plan

  14. I was reading these responces and I find a danger in the belief that rules are always stiffling. It isn’t the rules themselves, Paul deals with this concept in both Romans and in Galations. As you said in the post rules provide a guide and safety for us, but they also establish authority. God is the rulegiver, He is just and righteous. We don’t “outgrow” God’s authority. God is still God and when He makes a rule I am obligated to obey that rule. And there are times, still after 30 years of walking in faith, I don’t want to. The problem becomes when our human perspective makes the rules the end not a means to an end. Our end goal is to love God and know God. Not to “make” Him love us more. The Law of God shows us what is important to God. The first two commands are heart issues, but they are often worked out in obedience to the other laws.

    • I definitely agree, Kim. Rules aren’t bad. All of God’s commands are righteous. They just aren’t enough. That’s the point Paul makes all through Romans.

      Authority is a HUGE deal for me. It is absolutely critical. Most importantly, understanding that ALL authority comes from God. I just finished Watchman Nee’s book “Spiritual Authority” and it blew my mind. Such a great book!

      “The problem becomes when our human perspective makes the rules the end not a means to an end.”

      That’s a great point. I think that’s the biggest weakness with earthly authority. If Adam and Eve never ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, blind obedience would be the standard because of one thing: TRUST. Since we’ve fallen and since our eyes are opened, we now have to deal with that knowledge. Thus, our complicated mess!

      In regards to your last point, I would say that all the OTHER laws are actually worked out in relation to the first two commands.

      “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:40

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope you’ll read the next one on Thursday. I think you will find some of your concerns assuaged.

  15. rules… humm. somthing i have never been good at following. from a child, teenager, to adult. being confind or restrickted has a problem for me.
    now saved and in the church it sometimes is even hard to try to live up to what i see is the norm or exspected.
    thank God for Grace. i am still a non conformest and wild, i think that comes from being raised in the 60’s, but im working on it.. thank God for the Holy Spirt..ha ha.

    • This may sound like it’s just semantics but I believe there is a difference between limitations and restrictions (I’ll explain more Thursday). Limitations are general principles. Restrictions are specific. They are more rigid and uncompromising. Rules are restrictions and they don’t work (in the long term) once you grow out of childhood.

      You can still be a non-conformist (in the general sense) and still live within limitations. 🙂 I hope you come back to read my thoughts on that! I’d love to get your opinion.

  16. I’m getting you. I’m especially suspect of external rules imposed that have no scriptural basis. The church my mom grew up in said girls couldn’t wear pants or shorts. end of discussion. discussion opened up when my mom (a bit of a klutz) wore a short skirt to the church roller skating party.

    When people can agree on the rules and the benefit of following those rules, that’s when the rules work best.

    I tell my girls what Jesus told us, that if we love the one with authority over us, we’ll do what they command, because it’s trusting that person to have our best interest at heart.

    • The tough thing is, many rules have scriptural basis. Think about when Jesus says, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

      So when your mom said girls can’t wear pants, that is a perfect scriptural justification. Why be a temptation to men?

      The problem is that covering your legs doesn’t prevent men from lusting. That’s the rub. You just start instituting more and more rules and they don’t give you power to change the root of the problem.

      Your last point is excellent. When love is the motivation, your heart (by the Spirit) will lead you to obedience. Even when you don’t have a list of rules available to reference.

  17. i keep thinking about that scripture – the people worship me with [action] but their hearts are far from Me…

    Had never seen that scripture in context of rules/obedience before and how God wants so much more than obedience of action, but obedience of heart… great post Tony!
    Jenny recently posted..Gathering Blue

    • That’s been a big revelation for me. There’s a lyric from a band called Blindside that goes:

      “Even though you’re right, your words lie”

      I finally understand what that means.

  18. Very good post Tony. I love how you linked the heart to the rules.

    Here is a challenge though. When you are in a relationship, and you love someone and all of a sudden you stop loving that person. Do you still proceed with the relationship? Do you go with your heart and say, “what the heck, I’m not going to stay in this relationship because I “have to”. I am following my heart”.

    or maybe:

    Can someone who is told by the “law” to love their neighbors and love their brethren do it because they are told? Or should we do it because we “feel” that we should?

    I bring those examples because as much as we want to be governed by our hearts and “the spirit”, we are still required to obey God’s commandments (laws). In fact, Jesus showed that our obedience (to his law (commandments)) is the measure of our love (John 14:15). So the question becomes:

    Do we obey to show love or do we love to show we obey?
    Moe recently posted..The Usual Suspects: Nimrod

    • Great questions, man. I’m definitely not an advocate for doing whatever “feels” right. Rules and the law are good. My point is that they aren’t enough.

      Jesus knew that His commands were impossible to accomplish in our own strength. That’s why I love that reference in Matthew 5:17-48. Jesus was basically saying, “If you think you can follow the law, here’s what it really means.” It’s impossible and that’s the point.

      In regards to your last question, we love in order to obey with both actions and will. The Spirit is connected to our hearts and that preceeds our actions. When we are filled with the Spirit we have the law written on our hearts. When we are led by the Spirit, we have the ability to follow the law.

      Have you ever felt conviction for something you’ve never been told explicitly was wrong? I have. When that happens, I know that I’m being led by the Spirit. It’s written on my heart so I follow my heart.

      • Love all of this, T.

        It’s a fascinating subject, really. The Christian walk cannot be approached as though it were the military. Yet there are times when we do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, and we’re being obedient…even if we don’t “feel” it…even if our heart is not in it.

        Example: 15 years ago, the only thing that kept me in my marriage was knowing that it was the right thing to do. There was not a shred of anything in me that wanted to stay. I just knew God wanted me to. I wasn’t happy about it…even got resentful of God for “making me feel guilted” into doing something!

        But it WAS the right choice, and I’m glad I made it.

        Anyway…I love how you tackle the thorny issues with love and compassion and not a shred of dogma. Your style is so open and non-opinionated…but your doctrine is solid.

        VERY few writers can do that.
        Cathy recently posted..All Fall Down – my 9-11 memories

      • Good answer Tony. I often wonder why God planted that tree in the garden. It’s almost like a “test”.

        The law: Do not eat of its fruit
        The heart: Man, that looks delicious

        Consequences of said law: death, sin, separation
        consequences of heart: shame, failure, pain
        Consequences of God’s love: Redemption for breaking the law, salvation, sacrifice (animal skins to clothe them)

        It all brings us back to redemption. When we can’t uphold that law, we have forgiveness and grace in He who desires our hearts more than our wills.

        Nothing shows love more than willful obedience. God didn’t create robots, he created people in his image with the ability to make choices. God wants us to choose “love”, He didn’t force us to love him. And even when we don’t… He always does. Even in his righteous wrath.
        Moe recently posted..The Usual Suspects: Nimrod

  19. Jeremy Walker says:

    When I was 20 years old I moved to Missouri to attend a Bible College there…the reputation of the school was that it was kinda, “Old School” with a lot of rules to keep students in line. Being brought up in a home with many rules, I found myself comfortable with this situation…in fact, I was even excited about the rules…I considered them guidance of a sort.

    My first day there…orientation day…I sat and listened as the vice president of the school recited the rules for over an hour…sermonizing each one with complete detail…

    –Men must wear a suit and tie to class everyday…
    –Ladies may not wear denim of any sort…
    –A KJV Bible can only be used during classes…
    –There is to be no physical contact between male and female students while on campus (holding hands, kissing, hugging)…
    –Loud music is not allowed on campus (the definition of “Loud” was determined by the Dean of students are anyone else in authority)….
    –No television on campus…
    –No facial hair of any kind…
    –No long hair…
    –No clothing with graphics printed on them (even so called, “Christian” shirts with graphics were not allowed to be worn…

    I know this may seem exaggerated, but I promise you its not…men and women even had separate walk paths they had to take to get from their classes back to their dorms and vice versa…it didn’t take long for my mind to become numb to these rules…I began to feel restrained and stifled…I began to think, “What if I want to use a different Bible version? Why do I have to wear the same crappy tie everyday? What if I want to grow some facial hair? It’s my life, right?”

    I lived under the rules of this college for two years before I had finally had enough. I found the bitterness and resentment in my heart towards their rules was finally overtaking my spiritual walk. I couldn’t even go to class to study God’s Word without worrying if I had too much hair overlapping my ears.

    The reasoning for their rules was grounded in the belief that we called to ministry are held by God to a high standard…and a part of that standard was acting the part of a minister who had it all together. How we looked, the music we listened too, what we read, how we interacted with those of the opposite sex, all had to be completely void of anything that could be interpreted as evil.

    For me, it didn’t take long for the rules to become a prison…and I say that even after admitting that I like rules! But in this circumstance the rules were draining me of passion…they made me feel like a robot…they made me feel like a hypocrite…”Come just as you are,” was practically a blasphemy to the rules this college harped on. I was not free to be myself in how I looked, talked, or related to others…in short, the rules became a sort of institution…and you won’t find any freedom in that…

    • Dude, thank you for this. You illustrated the point precisely. That is exactly what happens in extreme cases where rules are put in place in order to control obedience of actions. Unfortunately the reverse happens with obedience of the will.

      I’m going to talk about external and internal control on Thursday’s post so this is perfect.

      Thanks for sharing, man!

  20. Tee hee, just last night I posted about the fact that there are rules that are given in order to keep us safe and prosper 🙂

    But yes, I agree – when rules become a stifling obstacle on our path of life, they become bad because instead of enjoying the life God has given us and living it to the fullest, our only concern becomes to follow the rules.
    Zee recently posted..[seat belts and safety]

  21. I agree with you on this Tony. I think rules do have a tendency to squash the Spirit but I see that we still need something to keep us in the area we need to be. So with that need for something, I would say that would be boundaries which you covered well in well in the google+ discussion. I believe that the Spirit and the Word of God give us boundaries and markers in life which to me are different than rules.

    I hope this is a coherent thought 🙂

    Thanks Tony.
    Jim F recently posted..Doing the Menial?

    • You got it, Jim. That’s exactly what I’ll be writing about on Thursday. It’s not even that rules are bad, they’re just not enough. I’m going to explore boundaries and how they’re different.

      Definitely a coherent thought, my friend. Otherwise, I’m right there with you!

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