Against the grain
When God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, they were just beginning their first experience with freedom. They had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, which meant generations had lived and died within a slave culture. Think about what they must have felt when they were freed: at first, ecstasy— then as reality set in, confusion and anxiety. These people had never had to answer questions such as:
Where do I work?
Where should I live?
How do I own land?
What if someone takes something I want?
What do I do if I don’t like someone?
Freedom was a new concept. So into that chaos God reminded them of who he is and where they just came from: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Then he gave them commandments to help them learn to live in freedom and remain there.
They needed to know that only one God should be worshipped; they must not return to the bondage of other gods. They needed to know that respect of others’ lives, property and families allowed everyone in their community to enjoy their newfound liberty. They needed to know that stealing, cheating and lying would only put them back into bondage to their selfish desires.
This was just the beginning of God revealing freedom to humanity. When he sent Christ to earth hundreds of years later, he set the stage for all people to find freedom in him.
Accept or Reject?
Each of us was once a slave to sin, but Christ’s death and resurrection brought freedom. Now that we’re free to obey God, do we understand why he demands certain actions and attitudes from us?
To start, God’s rules reflect his nature, his character. Some of those reflections are easy to understand. We don’t murder because God is the creator and protector of life. We aren’t dishonest because God is the author of truth. Rules like these clearly keep our relationships free and trusting, so it’s easy to accept them.
But many other rules aren’t so easy to understand. For example, why are we commanded not to forsake meeting together with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25)? Wouldn’t just praising God at home or listening to a sermon on the radio be sufficient on a Sunday? Yet by meeting with other Christians, we encourage each other and hold one another accountable to avoid sin, to love and to do good deeds.
When we don’t understand God’s rules, our response will be either to embrace the rules as if keeping them were the chief end of our spiritual life or to reject them as unimportant or arbitrary. These beliefs reveal themselves in the following attitudes:
- ✧ I am going to measure my spiritual success and other people’s relationship with God by our ability to keep his rules. As long as I’m keeping the rules, God and I are OK.
With this mindset, we start to see God as a controlling slave master - the opposite of who he really is. We fear disobeying his rules and losing our standing with him. We then take this approach with others. If they don’t follow the rules, we judge their worthiness as a Christian. Sounds familiar?
This is the religious setting Christ came into when he started his ministry in Palestine. The Pharisees, who were exceptional at keeping God’s commands - as well as their own created rules—had forgotten that the Law was put in place to bring Israel freedom. They had turned it into a bondage of judgment and pride.
✧ God didn’t really mean “Don’t do that.” Rules are just for people who don’t have maturity and common sense. I’m different; I have a free relationship with God.