For about 13 years I was a youth pastor. I loved working with high school and junior high students. One phrase we often used with parents of adolescents was: “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion”. This was not a phrase original with me but you can see the logic behind it almost immediately. If, as a parent, I expect you to obey my rules but I have no relationship with you, you are likely to push back and not follow the rules. In fact, if the rules make no logical sense or you don’t agree with them, there is no way you’ll do them. It’s your relationship with me, as your parent that has the potential to make or break my ability to influence and shape you as my child. And ever since those days as a youth pastor, that was the only context I thought about the phrase, that is until now. Lately I’ve been thinking about our lives as followers of Jesus. And because I became a Christian at a young age and have always had a fondness for Jesus, the “rules” and expectations of being a Christian were never that big of a deal for me. But ever so subtly I began to realize that I was viewing the “rules” of faith quite differently than the “relationship” of faith.
In fact, I think many Christians don’t connect the Word of God with the love of God. It’s not that we don’t follow the Word or that we don’t love God but I’ve noticed most of us rarely put those two concepts together. Jesus said, if you love me, you’ll obey my commandments but have we actually seen those commandments as expressions of His love? One set of verses from Psalm 119 really messed me up on this topic. Pay close attention to the descriptive words that the writer uses when he talks about the Word of God:
Psalm 119:162-168 New Living Translation (NLT)
162 I rejoice in your word, like one who discovers a great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor all falsehood, but I love your instructions.
164 I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.
165 Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.
166 I long for your rescue, Lord, so I have obeyed your commands.
167 I have obeyed your laws, for I love them very much.
168 Yes, I obey your commandments and laws because you know everything I do.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically use words like “rejoice, love, long” to describe “rules”! As I read that I immediately thought, “there’s something I’m missing”! This author is having an experience with God’s Word that I guess I’ve not really had and if I have, it hasn’t been often. The words and descriptions he’s using are the kinds of words we use for relationships not for principles, precepts or rules. This author had learned how to reconnect the Word of God with the love of God and His understanding and interaction with the Word was radically changed.
And that brings us back to the statement we began with: rules without relationship leads to rebellion. Could the reason we aren’t fully following God’s Word be that we’ve lost the relational aspect of it? Could the reason we “pick and choose” the parts of the Bible we agree with or don’t offend us to be the ones we follow while leaving lots of guidance on the table be because we see the Word as a list? a menu of righteous behaviors to choose from? While there are aspects of my wife, her opinions and personality that I don’t agree with or always enjoy, I take her as she is and love her as she is. She comes as a complete package and I love being in relationship with her. In fact I would say, if you’re in a relationship where the other person thinks exactly like you think, has all the same opinions and can never disagree with you that you’re not really in relationship at all!
It’s the fact that God can contradict us, cause us to think, push back on us that reminds us we are in RELATIONSHIP with Him. I think the evil one has done a masterful job of divorcing the Word of God from the love of God and it’s only when we reconnect them that we not only will see our relationship with God go deeper and further, but we’ll discover we live lives more in alignment with the way we were designed to live and relate! We may not have felt we’ve been in rebellion because if we’ve just seen the Word as a menu, we were simply making different choices. But when you realize it’s relationship, well, that changes everything.