I have always been someone who really likes rules and regulations. It helps me define what is right and what is wrong, to know what I should and shouldn't do. I do not particularly care for "grey" areas as there is too much of a likelihood that somehow I will make a mistake and actually fall into "black" when I should be closer to "white". I'm a wee bit of a perfectionist, so a clearly defined list of rules helps me know how to behave, as I continue to attempt achieve this impossible goal in which I have already failed.
Given my nature, I have always felt drawn to Old Testament Law. Here was a clear list of rules of how God wanted us to behave, an impossible list and sometimes a list that didn't make sense, but a list just the same. But then, as a Christian living under the forgiveness of Jesus' death and resurrection and the knowledge of not being under the law but under grace, I really began to wrestle with what place OT law had in my life. Surely God hadn't wasted His time providing all of those books of instruction on how the Israelites were to live, only to have Jesus come and nullify it all? In fact, Jesus said he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). So I began asking the Lord what this meant for a woman currently living life in Calgary 2000 years after Jesus came.
During a discussion one day, I mentioned that it would be interesting to ready the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) in parallel, to see how these 2 portions of Scripture actually related. I thought this would be a good idea, figured out a plan, and decided to spend the first 3 months of 2012 studying these passages.
It was interesting at first to see how different things lined up as I read, for example I read of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis on the same day I read in Matthew how Jesus said in the final days it will be better for these 2 cities than the cities rejected Him during His earthly ministry. There were many interesting parallels as I read through, but as I got more into the books of the law, I felt like I had to stretch more to tie the 2 sections of Scripture together. But then, I started to see a theme rising from the passages - God wanted a people who exemplified what it looked like to be devoted to Him, a people with whom He could have a relationship with and communicate to directly.
This became particularly clear to me as I read Deuteronomy 5. Here Moses is recounting when the Lord gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments. A fairly simple list that focuses on 2 key points - Love God and Love People. I had always assumed that this was something God communicated to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai and then brought this instruction down to Israelites on the 2 stone tablets. But God spoke these words to the Israelites directly (Deuteronomy 5:4-5, 22-24), or they could at least hear God giving the instruction to Moses (Exodus 19:9).
Not surprisingly, having God speak to them directly freaked the people right out (Deut 5:25-26 & Exodus 20:19-21). Instead of embracing the opportunity to have a relationship with God, where they heard from HIM directly, they wanted Moses to be the intermediary, message bearer, between them and God. Up until this point, God had had relationship with the Israelites predecessors - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And while they didn't always get it right, they had the Lord instructing them as they went. Now the Israelites were coming out of 400 years of being in Egypt, and the Lord needed them to learn what it looked like to follow HIM, and to break them of the lifestyle and worship patterns of the Egyptians. However they didn't want to have God directly communicating with them, because it would mean striving to keep their relationship right with God 24/7. It was easier to have someone else tell them what God wanted, then they wouldn't be directly responsible. So, as a result, a long list of rules was developed so the people would know how to go about Loving God and Loving People. I don't believe this was an exhaustive list, but rather key examples of the lifestyle necessary to truly "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself" (Deut 6:5).
Also, because the people did not strive to have an on-going relationship with the Lord, they tended to go through cycles where they forgot what God had done and what HE wanted, so the Lord would have to send punishment for their disobedience. A prophet or judge would come, get them back in line, and things would go well for a while until they forgot again. As I think about it, I can see how this could easily happen, a list of rules isn't personal and you can start to write off the "unimportant" stuff. It becomes a very slippery slope and the cycle of punishment and repentance continues.
Then Jesus comes on the scene. God still wanted to have a relationship with HIS people....ALL people. As I've been pondering this, I realized Jesus came, not just so that we could have forgiveness of sin, but also to restore our relationship with God - the relationship the Israelites were to afraid to pursue. But the religious leaders didn't recognize Jesus for who HE was, because they were too busy, caught up with obeying all of the rules they had come with to make sure they did not break law – the lists from the Pentateuch God had given the Israelites when they refused relationship with HIM 2000 years earlier. So the Pharisees had their list of rules, but they were so obsessed with it, they missed having a relationship with God who had come in the flesh - the one who could instruct them on how to truly fulfill the law.
While the Pharisees were so busy questioning Jesus' ability to keep the law, they missed what He was saying about it. When questioned he told them the most important commands were to Love God and Love People (Matt 5:22-37 and several other places in the NT). He told them He did not come to destroy the law but fulfill it (Matt 5:17), and nothing would be removed from the law until it was fulfilled (Matt 5:18). Then Jesus told the people it would be even better when HE left because then the Holy Spirit would come and be able to instruct each person individually in what God desires for them - how they as individuals are to go about Loving God and Loving People (John 16:5-15). When the Holy Spirit is dwelling within in us, God again has that relationship with us, where HE is able to instruct us directly as HE had originally intended. God is a God of relationships and only imposes rules when HIS people are unable or unwilling to accept the challenge of having a relationship with HIM.
I find this to be incredibly freeing but at the same time equally scary. Yes, lists of rules can be intimidating and confining, but they don't require much thought and there are always loop holes to be found. But if I accept that the only rule I have to follow is Love God and Love People (oh and by the way loving people also includes loving myself....) then there is no out. I am responsible for taking time to develop my relationship with God, learning what HE wants me to do, because HE has promised HE will tell me - I just have to be willing to listen. It is time to leave behind the constraints of rules, and step into the freedom and challenge of a relationship with the living God of Love!
I have no idea what this is going to look like, or if I will be any good at it, but I'm trusting that that is where grace comes in. By no means do I think I have this figured out, I'm just doing my best to walk on the narrow road HE has called me to, one struggling footstep at a time. As my friends, please know there is freedom to challenge my ideas, as this helps keep me on the straight and narrow, and gives me the strength to grown in my relationship with the Lord.
Father, open my eyes to see and my ears to hear what you desire from me. Help my life to be an example of someone striving to have a relationship with you here on Earth. I know it won't be pretty most of the time, but I know if I can keep my eyes focused on you, I won't stray too far.