Rule Followers vs Rule Benders

I had an incident recently where I felt rejected by someone I love. I can’t say I understand what prompted it, but it was clear.

Now, my life over the past several years has certainly been an uncomfortable bed to lie in. And consequences for bad choices have cost me dearly. And my loss has made me needy.tencommandments

But over the past forty plus years, I’ve learned Christians basically fall into two groups – rule followers and rule benders.

Years ago I worked with a Christian man who was engaged to a beautiful young lady. In conversation, he ran off a list of “plans” they had for their future “good” marriage. He and his fiance were all set to follow Larry Burkett’s financial advice. They were diligently going to premarital counseling. And if and when they had children, they had all the books picked out to guide them in their quest for a great family.

I remember feeling jealous as he peeled off their relationship strategy. Where was all that help when Tim and I got married? I remember thinking, really God? Couldn’t you have guided us a little better.

But I’ve learned following Jesus isn’t as easy as obeying a set of rules. And consequences are painful, but so is empty obedience. Because most of our sin is buried deep within our souls, and rules will not flush them out. And if my real purpose in being good is to avoid the consequences, then I miss the whole point of grace.

Now I’m old enough to finally be done as a rule bender. And I welcome the peace that obedience can bring. But I also understand the danger in allowing myself to become prideful over my good behavior. That it’s easy to look on those mired in a pit, and feel superior.

I recently discussed this with a dear friend who’s been a rule follower all her life. And she wisely said to me,

“You know, lately I’ve wondered if I ever really loved Jesus like I should. I think I’ve always been good because I was afraid not to be.”

And therein lies the root of the problem. It’s all about our motivation.

I’ve noticed amongst some Christians a growing division between rule followers and rule benders. It’s even tearing families apart. Rule followers want more focus on obedience and benders want to point to everyone’s need for grace.

But somewhere, we’re all supposed to come together and represent Christ. And I struggle with either sides need to protect their position by alienating the other. After all, no matter what we do, we’re all filthy sinners.

Someone once said, the true opposite of love isn’t the passionate intensity of hate, but the emptiness of indifference. And how often, in our need to protect our position, do we build that wall of indifference around ourselves?

So today I pray, Lord, say it isn’t so in me.


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