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Rules for Christian Living

Article Index
Rules for Christian Living
The Symptom Warriors
Misunderstanding Jesus
Hard Decisions
On Giving Advice
How Rules Affect Your Flesh

(This article was written by a former Jehovah's Witness who came to know the reality of God's Grace)

by Randall Watters

Commenting on the intrigue of human relationships and the trials men place on one another, Watchtower Circuit Overseer Floyd Kite once jokingly told me that 'half of us are here to test the other half.' As a devout Jehovah's Witness and an organisation man, I was determined to be the 'half' that tested the others. I kept close watch on other's conduct, as a Bethel elder and overseer.

Actually, the world is full of 'spiritual' policemen, but the efforts put forth by such ones to control the lives of others is often less than welcome. Yet some will say, 'Doesn't the Bible have certain things to say about our conduct and our outward appearance?' Yes! Are these to be considered as laws, or just helpful suggestions? How far is a Christian to go in counselling others? How do we view Christians who go to war, or who vote or hold public office? Let a former 'policeman' give you some ideas.

The concept of living under Law is not bad in itself. Yahweh established a perfect Law with Moses and the nation of Israel. Jesus later came, not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it (Matt. 5:17). That meant that the laws contained therein were not wrong, outdated or prudish. Jesus came, not to say that the Law was too hard to keep, but to establish an even more exacting standard. This he did when he summed up the Law in two commands: 'You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, and soul, and you must love your neighbour as yourself.' He says, 'On these two commandments depend the whole Law ...' (Matt. 5:20; 22:39,40)

Jesus' death on the cross released us from a yoke of servitude to a written law (Col. 2:13-15). Yet, ironically, he promoted more absolute standards. He went a step further and clarified how one could fall short of God's standards by what is in one's heart, even if outwardly obeying the Law. In other words, Jesus revealed the principles undergirding the Law as being the standards to strive for. By teaching such a perfect standard of conduct, Jesus advocated a quality of faith and commitment that is actually unattainable for fallen humans, were it not for divine grace.

For instance: According to Jesus, not only is the ACT of adultery a sin, but the very passion of lust is a sin! (Matt. 5:27,28) Not only is stealing a sin, but coveting your neighbour's belongings or his wife in your heart is sin. Not only is marriage sacred, but getting a divorce can make one an adulterer in God's eyes! (Matt. 5:31,32) Not only is bringing harm to your brother a sin, but calling him a fool will make you liable to Gehenna! (Matt. 5:21,22) Additionally, if you are insulted, you should turn the other cheek. If a soldier asks you to walk a mile, walk two with him. If another asks for your overcoat, give it to them! You are to pray for your enemies and do good for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:38-40, 43-46). Who can then say that the Christian has it easier than the Old Testament Jew?

The difference is, God has given us the new birth and a new nature (1 Peter 1:23). A 'seed' of righteousness is planted in us when we are born from above. God comes to live IN us (through the Holy Spirit), enabling us to partake of his holiness (Romans 8:9-11). Jesus made this possible through his death and resurrection (Heb. 9:11-15). We are redeemed and declared righteous. Jesus then takes that 'seed' in us and forms it into a mature Christian, thereby sanctifying us. He trusts us to walk in that new nature that we now possess. We die to the old, corrupted nature of the fallen flesh (2 Peter 1:3,4). Were it not for this new birth and its accompanying grace, our condemnation would be greater than under the Law of Moses, for Jesus' standards are more exacting and comprehensive than the Mosaic Law. Jesus said we are to be perfect (Matt. 5:48).

We can only hope to be 'perfect' if we walk in the new nature (Gal. 5:16,17). We must be born again (John 3:3,5,7). How common is it to see the old nature of religious men and women trying to reach some artificial standard of conduct laid out for them by a religion or church, thinking that by doing so, they are somehow holy. Yet, the apostle Paul makes it plain that if we seek to justify ourselves by following laws or rules, we are still under condemnation, and Christ is useless to us (Gal. 2:15-21). All of the holy acts of all religious men are as filthy rags to God, unless they are performed by those whom he has regenerated by the Spirit (Isa. 64:6). It is the Spirit in us enabling us to do true works of righteousness, not our old nature.

Now the stage is set for comprehending the difficult sayings of Jesus, especially in his Sermon on the Mount.

Christ does not make concessions for our weakness by lowering his standards. He expects us to allow the indwelling Spirit to dominate our lives. To the extent this happens, we are able to follow his perfect standards.

While Jesus makes no concessions to his standards, he is rich in mercy and forgiveness when we fall short of them. He knows we will sin many times along the way (Heb. 4:15,16). He points us towards perfection. We are to keep our eyes on what he wants us to be at all times; not on some lesser, more attainable goal. Yet, he knows that we will grow old and die without attaining perfection (Phil.3:12-14).

This can be most frustrating at times! It means that we will never reach a plateau in our Christianity. The 'mountain' is higher than we can climb, and God has not set up 'camps' on the slopes for us to live in; yet he allows us to make wayside rest stops to refresh ourselves and then continue on. Then, upon Christ's return, his work in us is completed as we are transformed into perfection as in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thes. 4:16,17; 1 Cor. 15:51-53).

So, just what part does the church play in making rules for Christians?