Faithlife Sermons

More Than Rules

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INTRO: There was a girl I read about, and writer of the story says that when she was in high school she got pregnant at around seventeen years old.
· It was a pretty small town and the church she went to (and the author of the story) wasn’t that big of a church, so news of the pregnancy spread quickly.
· For a while she kept trying to come to church even though she was showing, but some of the parents had a problem with this because they didn’t want their kids to see this teenager who was pregnant.
· One Sunday morning there were two moms sitting in the pew, and this girl, quite pregnant at that point, walked into the sanctuary, and one mom said to the other mom, “I can’t believe she’d come here in a condition like that.”
· No one saw her in that church, or any other after that.
Some years later, the one telling this story, and the one who witnessed these events, became friends with this now woman on Facebook.
· There is one section where you list your favorite quotes, and he noticed one of her favorite quotes.
· This is some sixteen, seventeen years later and here is one of her favorite quotes—it comes from Gandhi:

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” - Gandhi

And that story reminds me of another story in John Chapter 8.
· We read about Jesus teaching in the courtyard one morning.
· His teaching is interrupted by an angry mob that bursts onto the scene, but the mob is made up of the religious leaders of His day.
· Being pushed along on the crest of the mob is this woman, and perhaps she is dressed in nothing but a bed sheet as she is shoved to the dirt on the ground in front of Jesus.
· One of the religious leaders gives the accusation to Jesus and says, “We found this woman in bed with a man that was not her husband. The Law says we stone her. What do you say?”
· This was a pushy move by these religious leaders.
· They use the rules to try to trap Jesus.
· Rules can do that to us; turn us into an angry mob of sorts.
· We might not form together and parade a sinner around town, but we’ll huddle in whispering circles and drop someone’s name to everyone we talk to.
Please understand: God’s Word provides both guidance and commandments.
· And those commandments, those laws, they are here to protect us.
· And, if we’re honest, none of us can follow those laws perfectly.
· Every one of us has fallen short, some of us in more public settings, and others in more private ones.
· But when we overemphasize following the rules, we can get people thinking we’ve got it all figured out.
· We can get people thinking they shouldn’t share their struggles with us, because we’re perfect.
· And that’s what I want to address this morning.
Sometimes, certain Christians can be a lot more like the Pharisees and religious leaders than our Messiah, and they end up using the rules to rationalize how they treat others in the church, especially newcomers or those whose sins are more difficult to hide.
· Now I think this happens oftentimes unintentionally.
· Christians like these mean well.
· They’ll say, “Well, we’re keeping the standard high. We want to make sure we maintain a certain level of excellence.”
· So they make it hard for people to come to God.
· “If you want to come to God then you’ve got to follow all these rules that we’ve established just to make sure that only the people who are really serious get in.”
· But in the end, these well-meaning believers end up creating a list of rules that wear out and frustrate new believers.
There are a few problems with rules-based religion...

1) Rules Can Be Cumbersome

For example Susan and I chose to send our children to a Christian school that has a lot of rules.
· I want you to understand me.
· They have every right to have these rules.
· I think it’s great for schools or for homes and families to make some of these rules.
· I don’t have a problem with them, but there are just a lot of rules.
· Like, you can’t have your hair below your collar if you were a boy, and girls’ skirts have to be a certain length, and they monitor that stuff.
· They have to wear certain kinds of clothes on certain days; on Wednesdays, chapel days, they have to dress up a little.
· Lots of rules that are monitored and followed closely
Again, it’s fine for schools, families to have those rules, but here is what we have to guard against since our children go to that school (or in Isaac’s case, went): Sometimes kids who go to those kinds of schools start to associate those rules, not with going to school, but, with being a Christian.
· Somehow many of them get the message that these are rules you’ve got to follow if you’re really a Christian.
· And when they graduated from high school many of them just walked away because they were tired.
· They were exhausted from trying to keep all these rules at school & at home.
· And again those rules are fine.
· The problem is that they had somehow gotten the idea that following those rules made them a Christian.
This woman in John 8, she is looking down—humiliated, guilty, and ashamed.
· She’s been caught breaking the rules, and this may be the day that breaking a rule costs her everything.
· Jesus kneels down and He begins to write something in the dirt.
· We don’t know what He was writing.
· Some commentators speculate that perhaps He was writing the sins of the accusers in the dirt.
· Meanwhile, the religious leaders wait for an answer.
· They know they’ve caught Jesus by surprise, & they’re ready to hear Him submit to the letter of the law.
· They’re waiting for him to shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, those are the rules.”
Finally, Jesus looks up at these spiritual leaders & He says, “If any one of you is without sin, he can cast the first stone.”
· And one by one these bullies drop their stones (I think they know that Jesus knows) and they walk away and Jesus is left alone with this woman.
· And perhaps with a little bit of a smile, He looks up at her & He says, “Is there anyone left to condemn you?”
· Maybe she thought, “There is still one. There is still one who could condemn me.”
· And then Jesus says with tenderness, “Neither do I condemn you. You go now & leave your life of sin.”
Another problem with rules-based religion is...

2) The Rules Don’t Inspire Grace

One Christian High School teacher decided to teach his kids a lesson on God’s grace - he did something a little unusual.
· He handed out a test to the class that they knew would be difficult.
· They had been preparing for this test for several months.
· When he handed out the test, he told them, I want you to read through the entire test before you begin to take it.
· As they read through the test – most of them realized they were in trouble – I should have studied more – but then when you got to the end of the multiple page test you read these words at the bottom, it said, You can try and get an “A” by taking this test or you can just put your name on it and automatically receive an “A.”
· Most immediately signed thier name, walked up to the desk & walked out.
· One of the boys in the class didn’t read through the test – he just started taking the test – though most of the class turned their test in after a few seconds, this one boy never caught on.
· This boy could have used an “A”.
· And then there was this one girl who got quite upset because she had spent so much time studying – and what kind of teacher gives an “A” for nothing!
· She stayed and took the test on principle.
· If she was going to get an “A” she was going to earn it.
· And rules-based religious people say – I’m not taking any handouts – I can do this on my own.
· And so these people spend their lives carrying around the burden of religion.
And the grace of Jesus, that same grace that saved a woman from being stoned, calls to those who have been hauling around a long list of rules and rituals and obligations – Jesus calls to those who are tired of pretending to be more than they are.
· He calls to those who have had the guilt and fear of religions wear them down and he says

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” - Jesus

Maybe you grew up in a home where you were taught all about Jesus.
· You went to church on the weekend and church camp in the summer.
· And you learned to fear Jesus…so you kept as many rules as you could hoping you wouldn’t go to hell.
· And when you would sin you would feel guilt wondering if you would be good enough.
· And you were taught to observe different religious traditions and rule keeping.
· But, you never really fell in love with Jesus.
· You were too busy trying to keep all the rules to develop any REAL relationship with Jesus.
· Because when you come into a situation in which rules take precedence over love and grace, it’s hard to fall in love.
Think about it this way: when I got married to my wife there were some rules that I said I would live by – some of them are written, some unwritten. But I understood when I said “I DO” that I would:
1. Be faithful to her. As long as we both live I am going to be hers alone.
2. To provide for her. I’m going to meet her needs.
3. To be committed to her. For better or for worse.
There are other rules I didn’t know about that have since been established…
1. I am to rinse the dishes out in the sink – completely!
2. I am to try and keep my closet clean, and if I don’t, once a quarter or so Susan will clean it and lay the guilt on very thick.
3. I am never to say when she asks me how she looks in something “You look fine.” Fine is a banned word, inappropriate, unacceptable.
If I saw our relationship as a bunch rules I had to keep, I wouldn’t be very happy.
· But because I love my wife I find joy in being a good husband.
· I would do anything for her, and so rinsing out the dishes, or putting the lid down on the toilet, or other extravagant acts of sacrifice are a joy for me—most of the time.
· How great of a husband am I!
In the end, the grace and the love of God frees us and inspires us to live for him.
· Augustine said, “Who can be good, if not made so by loving? . . . Love God and do as you please.”
· He could say that because he knew that when you love God, you will want to please God.
· But your priority, your emphasis, your focus has to be on loving God.
· It has to be about a relationship with Jesus, otherwise it won’t work.
Another problem with rules-based religion is that...

3) The Rules Don’t Keep Us Around

I want to say this very carefully and clearly.
· When our kids grow up and they define Christianity as keeping a moral code instead of defining Christianity as being a follower of Jesus Christ, then they will walk away from both.
· We think, “Well, I’ve got to make sure that they understand these rules and these moral obligations of being a Christian.”
· And while that’s true, I’m telling you, if they define Christianity that way instead of defining Christianity as following Jesus, they will walk away from both.
· They will walk away from Jesus and the moral code.
· We must define Christianity, first and foremost, as the following of Jesus Christ.
· We cannot expect to recruit the world to a set of standards that we would never live by or follow if it wasn’t for a love relationship with Jesus Christ.
· They’re not going to get on board with that—unless it’s because they know Jesus.
· So it must, first and foremost, be about following Christ.
A volunteer in a Welcome Center of a church tells about her encounter with a first-time visitor.
· It was about five minutes until the service started and a young woman, probably in her late twenties/early thirties, walked in with her fifth grade son and approached me with kind of a “deer in the headlights” look.
· She had never been here and was nervous.
· I took her to the check-in counter for her son’s class and on the way there she told me that she had gotten divorced six years ago and after that she was no longer welcome at the church that she had gone to.
· She hadn’t been to church since then and you could just hear the guilt in her voice and she was terribly nervous.
· I shared with her that I had been divorced and a single mom and I knew how tough that was.
· Once her son was in class I asked her if she wanted to sit with me in the worship service.
· Upon hearing my invitation she asked, “Am I allowed to go in the sanctuary since I’m not a member?”
· I told her she was.
· When we got to our seats the service had already started and everyone was standing and singing, and after the song the young man leading worship prayed and the first words out of his mouth were, “God, thank you that no matter where our path has taken us in life you can redeem us and forgive us.”
· With that her tears started to flow and really didn’t stop throughout the entire service.
· I could just see the fear and the guilt melt away.
· Her body language went from tense and frightened to calm but excited.
· As we were standing for a few worship songs at the end of the service she appeared a bit antsy.
· I assumed that she was probably ready to leave and go pick up her son, so I turned to ask her if she was ready to leave.
· But before I had a chance she opened her mouth and she said, “Do I need to walk down there and talk to him if I want to join your church?”
· I said, “Yes, you do.”
· She said, “I want to do that.”
· I asked her if she wanted me to walk with her and she said, “Yes,” so we walked down front.
· She leaned forward and she whispered in the pastor’s ear, “I went through a divorce a few years ago and my other church wouldn’t have me.”
· It was really more of a question than a statement. And the pastor said, “I am…I am sorry. We would love to have you.”
Is that us, here at Landmark?
· I know that personally, that’s my desire for this place.
· I want this to be a place where the most broken sinner can come for rest and love.
· I want us to extend our hand in fellowship to every blood-washed one, even the ones that have failed to live up to the rules.
I don’t know what your story is.
· I don’t know if there is a Christian who bullied you, misrepresented Jesus Christ, who wasn’t at all like Christ.
· I don’t know if it was a church that taught you a lot of traditions and rules and regulations, but you never really got around to studying the Gospel of Jesus or the Scripture.
· I don’t know if maybe you grew up in some kind of religious affiliation where nobody seemed to make that big a deal out of grace but sure made you feel really guilty every weekend.
· We would love to have you come and experience the freedom that is found in knowing and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Forget the rules for now, and come, follow Jesus.

The rules will take care of themselves.
Let us pray...
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