Rules Don’t Equal Righteousness

What is the essence of true spirituality? What does it look like for someone to live out  in the world the life they received through new (spiritual) birth in Christ?

These questions have been weighing on my mind a lot lately as I have been discussing with others the call of the Christian as an individual and the capacity for great impact by Christianity on the wold.

Talking to one of the workers in the guesthouse I am staying at, it was explained to me the differences between Catholics and Evangelical Christians teachings in Haiti (at least according to his perceptions). He said that both groups worship the same God, and share the same bible, but the Catholics don’t believe there is any requirements placed on your life beyond faith, so you can live your life any way you want with no restriction. The Evangelicals on the other hand call people to change their actions through lists of restrictions and rules that one must obey to be a believer.

Now, certainly I disagree with the Catholic view as presented to me, as I know Christianity calls us to marked life change. However, though I would consider myself to be Evangelical, I don’t agree with a call to a new set of rules and regulations that one must obey to be a believer either.

I think all of these thoughts floating around in my brain came to a head the other night when one of my good friends posted to twitter: “If the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ happened w/o human thought and moral effort, why did Paul list them and urge the Galatians to develop them?”

Now, I know my friend’s heart was not at all a press for legalistic rules and regulations to  lead us by “works” to that spiritual fruit, although that was my first interpretation of the quote. And as I have not had a chance to talk through the issue with him, I won’t even assume to speak for his intentions. I only quote it hear to say it directed things I had already been meditating on this week to the point of having to sort through this issue.

Upon reading his quote my mind immediately went to Paul’s quote in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

My fear is that too often in Christianity we push people toward fleshly discipline as a way of maturing them spiritually. However, Paul himself says that never works:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

In fact, as I recently read through the book of Colossians, I made the following notes in my journal (with minor edits here for readability):

Don’t be deceived by spiritual looking actions no matter how universally they are taught or commanded. They don’t carry any real spiritual authority or power, or impart Christ-life to the soul. (Col 2:16-23)

Instead, realize that your life is in Christ who dwells in Heaven, sitting on the throne that is above all thrones. So then, to live “on earth as it is in heaven” means that our lives are lived from heaven to earth (Col 3:1-4), and so, like Christ did, we determine to follow the Spirit as He prompts us to “do the will of our Father.”

The natural outflow of this spiritual obedience as opposed to the keeping of fleshly rules, is that it will put to death what is earthly in us (Col. 3:5-11) and we will put on the heavenly nature we have in us because we are now in Him (Col. 3:12-17) This isn’t supposed to be dead religion that we live in. Instead, it truly is us discovering that we live a new, abundant, and spiritually overcoming life as Christ lives through us.

The reality is that Christ does call us to repentance (Matt. 4:17). He calls us to be holy just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). And he desires that our lives will be marked by obedience to Him (Matt. 28:20). The question is, what actions on our part will actually take us there.

I am convinced that the quickest way toward a renewed life is not to cultivate rules and regulations that make us look holy or pious, but to in fact, cultivate a spiritual intimacy with God in prayer and learn to walk daily as He leads us, allowing Him to renew us in His image. This does indeed take action on our part. But I find that these actions are more grounded in the New Testament practice of the faith, than most of the modern commands we find in too many churches. So instead of the old Baptist creed, “We don’t drink, and we don’t chew, and we don’t date the girls that do,” we are told, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25), and “Let all that you do be done in love”, on which hangs all the Old Testament law (1 Cor. 16:14; Matt. 22:37-40). These then, should be where the majority of our spiritual pursuits lie.

Or to put it very simply, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)