Rule keepers tend to focus on the rules, the lists, the things we can check off as done. We build ourselves up inside knowing we are good people because we know the rules and follow them. This is a dangerous way to live as a Christian though. In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul states that if we can do all of these great things, but do not have love, we are essentially nothing. Rule followers do not tend to be the most loving. We compare ourselves to others and feel puffed up when we see we are doing better than our neighbor. Jesus spoke to such people when he said those who had been forgiven much, love much, and those who have been forgiven little, love little (find the story in Luke 7:36-50).
Again I look at the Apostle Paul who was rescued from the grip of being a rule follower… in Philippians ch. 3, he lists all of the reasons he could boast before other religious people. His pedigree and lifestyle were impressive for any religious leader and he was taught by one of the leading rabbis of his day. Yet listen to what he says in vs. 7-9 of that third chapter:
“But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. 8 Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ 9 and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ.”
Paul had followed the rules all of his life. He had taken pride in who he was and what he knew. He acted in light of that. He was a fervent persecutor of the early church. When God revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts ch.9), Paul began the process of realizing just how much he had missed by taking pride in his rule following. Without the grace of Jesus, we have nothing. Only when we get to the place of realizing we are nothing without him, do we finally have something to boast about – and it’s not us! Our God is so deserving of ALL worship and praise. Anytime we feel like perhaps we are doing God a favor by our behavior, we need to step back and remember who we really are. It took a light from heaven and blinded eyes for Paul to see the truth.
On the other hand, grace is not a means for ignoring the rules set in place to keep us safe. After all, when the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do, Jesus listed the commandments. The rules are still to be followed! But we do not keep notes on how we or those around us do in trying to follow them. Grace means we forgive those who fall short. Grace means we don’t take pride in anything good within us knowing it is only by God’s grace that we have anything good there! Grace. My one thing I lack. Yes, God is still working on me and I do not plan to walk away sorrowfully by his answer that I am not as good as I thought. I want to be all that he has planned I should be!