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Principles and Rules

• Greg Boyd

Jesus has historically been seen as a powerful presence who bravely challenged the religious inconsistency and subtle oppression of his day. He sometimes broke serious religious rules that made some deeply question his actions. Some believed him to be just a troublemaker who had a disregard for God’s rules for living. In reality, Jesus the Messiah was expanding the view of what God’s life rules were really about.

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Jesus of Nazareth has historically been seen as a powerful presence who bravely challenged much of the religious inconsistency and subtle oppression among the Jewish religious leadership of his day. He was often quite unconventional in his approach as God’s Messiah. He preached the Kingdom of God in authentic, daring, and sometimes scandalous ways. As a matter of fact, Jesus sometimes broke serious religious rules that made some people deeply question his actions. Some believed Jesus to just be a troublemaker who had a disregard for God’s rules for living. In reality, Jesus was expanding the view of what God’s life rules were really about. In Luke 6:1-10, we see some accounts of Jesus doing this with the Sabbath religious law.

In Luke’s account where Jesus heals a man in the synagogue on a Sabbath day, we see the heart behind his apparent rule-breaking. Jesus never broke rules just for the sake of being a defiant rule-breaker. When Jesus broke religious rules, it was always in service to a higher divine priority involved in that action. Jesus used his healing of the man in the synagogue to testify to the true intention of why God ordained a Sabbath for human beings in the first place. Unfortunately, the Pharisees could not seem to grasp that there was an important priority to the religious duties that were in the Scriptures. They were doing almost compulsively well at concrete religious activities like tithing, but they were failing miserably at having a heart for some of the main causes of God: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The Pharisees had become blinded by their rigid desire to make sure the rules were followed by their assemblies. Because of this, they could not see that bringing life, health, and wholeness is what the Sabbath was all about. Whereas Jesus lived God’s intention and power in the ambiguity of reality, the religious leaders could only struggle to oppressively enforce their rules…and not demonstrate any power at all.

We see from Jesus’ example that true life is based upon openness to reality as it is, as it happens. To live this kind of life requires a willingness to live in considerable, often frustrating ambiguity that really exists in the world. There are many times where there are so many factors and unknowns, that we cannot create or count on life rules to help navigate our way. When we see Jesus’ life impact-filled, counter-cultural lifestyle, we can ask ourselves the natural question: How do we live in such a radical way?

We can only rely on life principles that are grounded in the Knowledge of God. Genuine life principles are based on the wisdom and knowledge of God that we see expressed in our world. These principles deal with overarching habits of healthy personal relationship like faithfulness, trustworthiness, consideration, and justice. Being that these principles are centered in God’s unchanging character, they all exist within the pattern of love. Life rules can be specific applications of life principles that allow for practical methods for guiding character development and providing accountability for behavior. This means that life rules can change based upon what situations or contexts demand. To be sure, rules are quite important for growth and development in God. Even though both life principles and life rules are essential to a growing life in Christ, it must be understood that there is an important priority between the two concepts. Godly life principles must be held inflexibly; they are a central priority and should not be tossed aside for any reason. From this safe grounding, then, life rules can be created and managed with flexibility. In other words, when we have the solid foundation of healthy principles, we are free to adjust our life rules to our real lives as we need to do so. In doing this, we can keep ourselves free from the mistaken perspectives of the Pharisees and maintain openness to what God’s Spirit is doing in the world.

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Topics: Faithfulness, Justice


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 6:1-10

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

    Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

    On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.

    Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"

    He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.

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