Currently, I have two sons (and boy #3 on the way. Y’all pray for me). The oldest (Jeremy) is 5, the younger (Jarrett) is 2. And while listening to them as they played one day, I realized they were playing a game. It was, of course, a game that Jeremy completely made up. A soccer ball was the center of this game, but there were no set rules. Being the older one, and making that fact known constantly, Jeremy made sure to say what the rules were, and when Jarrett did it wrong. He was making up the rules as the game went on.
We, as Christians, like to make the rules up as we go.
And it’s not just Christians of today. Back in the time of Jesus the Scribes and Pharisees liked to make up the rules. Sure, they had a basis for some of the rules. Rooted deeply in the law. But what about those things they added on?
Churches today do this, as well. A great example is modesty. For example, some people firmly believe a woman’s dress must be at least ankle length to be considered modest. Others, however, find no problem with something above the knee.
For the men, some believe a man must wear a suit and tie in church to be considered appropriate. Others find shorts and flip-flops to be an acceptable standard.
Where do we find these rules?
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;” (1 Timothy 2:9)
This verse, for example, means different things to different people. I had one woman explain to me that “costly array” meant no longer dying her hair. To her, an $8 box of hair dye was too much money to spend on her physical appearance.
“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:28)
For those strongly opposed to tattoos, this has become a favorite verse to quote. Mainly, the first part that says you can’t make cuttings in your flesh. I’ve also heard (and I’m sure you have, too) this rephrased as “permanent marks”.
Many, many rules established in our Christian culture today have a scripture or two they’re based on.
So, wait, I can’t braid my hair or have a tattoo?
Take, for example, the 1 Timothy 2:9 verse. Look at it in context. In Bible times, the women of wealth would adorn themselves as a status symbol. Gold and pearls braided into their hair was common practice. Their objective, then, was not to worship and serve God, but to let man see their outward appearance. So when Paul addresses this problem, he’s addressing the problem of self. No man should be the focus of a worship service, rather all attention devoted to God and pleasing Him.
The part after not making cuttings in Leviticus 19:28 says “for the dead, nor print any marks” because the Jews had grown attached to the Egyptian customs. Pagan practice was to cut oneself in honor of the dead or to show grief. This practice was considered idolatry, as the ancestors and family members passed on were in a sense worshipped.
“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
Here’s the important part: God knows your heart. He sees the intent behind what man sees. Why you do what you do, wear what you wear, say what you say. So should we be concerned with what another man says about braided hair?
If your heart is in the right place, and your intentions are pure, God sees that. When we make up rules as we go along, we start walking a fine line of our salvation being based on our works – what we can accomplish to make us saved.
There is nothing you can do that makes God love you any more. And nothing you can do that makes Jesus blood sacrifice any more important or valid. While certain things are concrete examples of what to do & what not to do (see the Ten Commandments), other things aren’t so clear. That’s why God gave us verses like this:
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
I wasn’t sure what this meant exactly. If we all serve one God and are saved by the same sacrifice, how can we work out our own salvation? How can I do something that someone else can’t? That’s making up rules as we go, right?
I had a youth pastor explain it to me by a couple of simple questions. He asked what math class I was currently in. As a college student (at that time) my answer was Business Calculus. He asked someone else in the group what class they were in (as a high school student). His answer was Algebra. He then asked me, “Do you think he can do the same math you’re doing?” Of course, he can’t. Should he be expected to? Absolutely not.
God doesn’t ask more of us than what we can handle.
More importantly, we have to understand there is nothing we can DO to make our salvation any more valid. Yes, we have to work it out. According to the path we are on. Some of us further down the path than others. Some just starting out might not have the same convictions as someone saved for 50 years.
But the point is this: we can’t make up the rules as we go. We can’t pick a verse out of the Bible, tell someone they’re in sin, and expect them to be able to live a life made up by a man as he goes along. We have to stick to the principles set forth in God’s word and work out our salvation with HIM and what He says to be true. Things in culture change. Even from nation to nation the same standards don’t always hold true.
The only rules you have to follow are those set by God.
If we try to live by a set of fluid rules set by temporal man, we will never make it to glory.
Does your skirt have to go to your ankles? I don’t think so. But I know God wants us to dress modestly, not causing another to sin by lusting after our bodies. So cover yourself appropriately.
Will my tattoo send me to hell? Again, I don’t think so. But if the thought of getting a tattoo causes your great anguish, and you’re afraid it’ll displease God, then don’t. But you can’t call your pierced ears sinless when you think all flesh cuttings are sinful.
Aren’t you glad for grace?
The point is not to try to get away with as much as you can. On the contrary, rest in the fact that Jesus died for our sins, past, and present. And now, because of what He did, grace is extended to those times we fail.
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 5:20-21 & 6:1-2)
The Bible tells us this: Jesus died to save us from sins. And, once saved, grace covers those moments where we slip. Does that mean we sin just because we know grace is there? Nope – actually he said, “God forbid.” But it means that we live by a standard that IS attainable. We CAN live out this Christian walk because of Jesus and His sacrifice. It also means that we don’t have to live up to a set of rules designed by fickle man.
Of course, in Jeremy’s game, he won. And Jarrett cried.
I am so glad for God’s rules.