Rules require choice. They often threaten our desires and our comfort zone. They compel us to decide to either obey or disobey them, but even when we choose to obey rules, they don’t have the ability to empower us to align our heart to them. Thus, even our obedience is reluctant and less than whole-hearted.
Naturally, I’m pulled in both directions. I want to follow the rules, but I also want to think, speak, and live spontaneously from my heart, so I tend to be a stretch for people. I especially have trouble with protocol–rules that have nothing to do with morality. I’m not good at following religious rules and programs. As a pastor in a denomination that printed a Sunday “order of worship,” I had trouble properly following the rigid program every Sunday. Sometimes I would throw in an unprogrammed comment or activity. I would unintentionally get things out of order during the service. One Sunday morning I got so frustrated that I tore up the bulletin in the pulpit and said, “Let’s just be led by the Spirit this morning.” Afterwards, many in the congregation weren’t too happy with me.
I’m so glad that Jesus gave us an alternative to rule following and self-choice. He says, “Follow Me.” I think He means for us to live 24/7/365 by playing “follow the leader” with Him–to observe what He says and does in your heart (often through your conscience) and obey Him. To do that, we have to die to our own wants, opinions, and feelings and follow Him instead. Fortunately, He does much more inside crucified believers than just show and tell us what to do. he lives in us and releases His supernatural power through us, unless we quench His Spirit.
The Christian choice is not between obeying or disobeying rules. It’s between self-rule and surrender to the rulership of the living Jesus. Unfortunately, that isn’t a once-and-done, like the sinner’s prayer. Paul said, “I die daily.” To be led by the Spirit of Christ, we must look beyond the rules, continually die to our own wants, opinions, and feelings, and then actively obey Jesus instead. For me, that means an ongoing challenge to faithfully surrender to my Ruler, the risen Jesus, moment-by-moment.