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Is God Into Rules?

• David Morrow

In week three of our ‘Glimpses of Truth’ sermon series we continue to look for portraits of God in the Old Testament that look like Jesus. This week we look at rules. The first five books of the Old Testament alone contain 613 different rules. Using Hebrews 1:1-3 as our springboard we can see that God gave rules to accommodate Israel’s needs as well as to protect and bless. In fact, in Jesus we see the ultimate expression of God’s desire, not for rule following, but for hearts given to Him in love.

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David starts out with a story about giving his wife and daughter flowers and a card every Tuesday. He asks what if as time went by, what started out as an act of love and thoughtfulness, turned instead into a duty? What would his wife and daughter feel if the only reason he got them flowers was because it was Tuesday and that was the rule.

There is a danger of doing something like this religiously. Something that starts out as transformational can become transactional overtime, and rather than building up a relationship it can begin to harm it. So, how does God feel about rules? And what do they mean for our relationship with Him?

David looks at three different sources in Judaism; the Torah, the Mishnah, the Gemara. The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deutornomy). The Torah contains 613 rules. Here is a sampling: #18 don’t oppress the weak, #444 carry out the procedure of the red heifer, #26 don’t blaspheme, #222 you must not eat grape seeds, #593 the king must not have too many wives. The Mishnah was considered the “oral Torah” and was tradition collected on how to interpret the Torah. The Gemara is rabbinical reflection on the Mishnah. Throughout time people became so concerned with keeping the rules that they built more rules around the rules. So, that what was original intended as protection, and blessing became a heavy burden. For instance, the kosher laws were meant to bless Israel. Douglas Rushkoff’s says, “The kosher laws, more than serving as health codes, or superstitious protection, gave Jews a way to create a sacred space where ever they traveled.”

The common assumption in the Ancient Near East is that you related to God through rules. The Code of Hammurabi is similar to the laws of Israel in its topics, language, and order. Though there are some striking differences between Hammurabi and the law of the Old Testament there are also many similarities. God was willing to meet Israel in the place that it was at, in order to move Israel forward.

Since Jesus is the full revelation of God, what does he do with all these rules? Jesus’ approach to the law is radical. He doesn’t throw it away, yet he consistently challenges the purpose of why the law was given. Jesus says, it is not what you eat that makes you unclean, but what comes out of your mouth. The Sabbath is about people! He even says to a man he heals on the Sabbath “pick up your mat and go home” which the Mishnah says that carrying a mat on the Sabbath is forbidden. Jesus intentionally subverts the rules to show that God wants our hearts. Paul says in Galatians 3 that the law was given to help us see our need for grace.

Throughout the Old Testament God reveals this truth that he wants our hearts and cares most about our love for Him and each other. In Hosea 6:6 he declares that he wants our love not our sacrifices and in Micah 6:6-8 he shows that he cares most about our doing justice and showing mercy.

In conclusion, there are two take home points:

1. Beware of our need for new rules/rituals/regulations/rules because God is interested in relationship and having our whole hearts

2. End the performance game because grace cannot prevail until we let go of the idea someone is keeping score

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Topics: Grace, Relationships

Sermon Series: Glimpses of Truth


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Focus Scripture:

  • Hebrews 1:1-3

    God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son. Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. This Son, radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God...

  • Galatians 3:10-11, 19

    But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s book of the Law.’ Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life… Well then, why was the law given? It was given to show people how guilty they are. But this system of law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God’s promise was made.'

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