Beyond the Rules

A friend and I are reading through the Old Testament and sharing what we learn. We are currently in Deuteronomy, reading all the rules God gave the Israelites.

Our biggest takeaway has been thankfulness to live under grace instead of the law. Most people in the Old Testament did not have the Holy Spirit inside to help them obey God. Rules clearly defined God’s standard of right and wrong for them, leaving no doubt.

Some of the rules in Deuteronomy make sense to us. They clearly offer provision, protection, and blessing:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time…do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit.  (Deuteronomy 20:19, NIV)

If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. (Deuteronomy 22:1, NIV)

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy (Deuteronomy 24:14, NIV)

But as we read these passages over 3000 years later, we find some of the rules to be…odd. For example:

Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together (Deuteronomy 22:11, NIV)

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family (Deuteronomy 25:5, NIV)

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. (Deuteronomy 25:11-12a, NIV)

God had a reason for these rules; each offered provision, protection, or blessing. They seem odd to us because the rationale behind them is unclear. For some rules, we no longer see the need because life conditions have changed. For others, we cannot see the need because our cultural perspective has changed. But the Israelites knew following these rules would keep them in good standing with God.

The rules had dual purposes: to show the people what righteousness was and to make the people clearly aware of their unrighteousness. As Galatians explains, the law prepared the way for Christ to offer us forgiveness.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:23-24, NIV)

Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. (Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:17, CEV)

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19, NIV)

Today, under the New Covenant, our standing with God is secured by following Jesus Christ, not rules! By acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah who took the punishment for our sin and submitting ourselves to Him, we become spiritually right with God…forever. We still have the capacity to sin, but much of the desire is gone. While we used to find pleasure in sin, now we find far more life in righteousness!

Even though we are no longer under the mandates of the law, we can still learn from it. We can better understand how incomplete our understanding is compared to God’s. We can also learn about God’s character and what is important to Him. Here are some things I have discovered from studying the laws He decreed:

  • God sees sin in black and white terms. He draws clear lines about right and wrong.
  • When the details are important to God, He shares them. He does not leave His people to guess about what is right and pleasing to Him.
  • God knows we are incapable of being righteous on our own, so He does not abandon us to sin. He graciously provides a righteous way out of sin rather than giving up on us.
  • God’s overarching goal is to be in relationship with people. He wanted the Israelites to be holy so He could have a relationship with them. He offers us holiness through Christ so we can have a relationship with Him, too.
  • When we do not understand God’s logic, we can still trust His character. Some of the laws are hard to accept as loving, just, or fair. While we may not understand why God allowed or commanded certain details, we can be certain that He loves and values us. He wants us to be holy. He wants to protect us from evil that would destroy us. His intentions toward His daughters are always good, even when the law seems harsh and unfair from our imperfect perspective.

Once we are in good standing with God, far more life is found in righteous living. Doing right is the by-product of a redeemed and righteous heart. The apostle Paul states that for Christ-followers:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6, NIV)

Far more life is an outgrowth of our faith in God and our love for Him. We move beyond the rules to do what is right because our heart is linked with His.

Sisters,
Do you tend to be a rule follower, a rule bender, or a rule breaker?
How do you respond to man-made rules that do not make sense to you?
How do you respond to God’s rules that do not make sense to you?
What have you concluded about God’s character from His rules? Do other Scripture verses reinforce or negate that message? If they contradict each other, dig deeper!
How much good does God require from you to offset your sin? (Hint: read Romans 3:10, 5:6, and 6:23)
Thank God for letting you move beyond the rules to find far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2022, Shari Damaso

Deeper Righteousness

Do you ever struggle with feelings that you are not “good enough” to make God happy?  Or that He is disappointed with you, your life, and the bad habits and sins you cannot seem to break? These thoughts and feelings rob you of far more life and keep you bound to depression, anxiety, fear, and self-deprecation.

The truth is that we – on our own — can never be good enough for God to accept us. But the good news is that we do not have to be. The Bible says:

There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10, NIV)

Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God. Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God. (Romans 4:25-5:1, NCV)

We cannot earn God’s approval because that would require us to be perfect like Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that, when we accept his payment, God sees us through His perfection and righteousness. Once we have God’s approval, we cannot lose it.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13, NIV)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… (Romans 3:22, NIV)

The righteousness we receive from God is deeper than any “righteousness” we can achieve on our own. His deeper righteousness changes us to be like Him. It changes our desires to match His. It changes our motives; we begin acting out of love for God and others. It changes our thoughts; we think of people as eternal souls and earth as our temporary home. And those lead to different behaviors. We are no longer trying to earn God’s approval. Deeper righteousness frees us to love and live for Him. 

But we still sin sometimes. We fall into old habits and patterns. We give in to fear or worry instead of trusting God. Is God disappointed in us at those times? His Word says:

Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]. (Romans 8:1, AMP)

We will not go to hell when we die. We will not be judged for our sins when Christ returns. God will not allow bad things to happen — or withhold good from us — as a punishment for our sins and wrong choices. He will not scold, criticize, or shame His children. 

When we sin—or even make mistakes — we can be overcome with disappointment in ourselves. We may become angry, harsh, critical, judgmental, and demanding. We might return to old patterns, fearful that we are not good enough. We often assume God is also disappointed with us and has negative feelings toward us. But there is no verse in the Bible stating that God experiences this kind of disappointment toward His children. Instead, here is God’s instruction to us:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1-2, NIV)

These are not critical, condemning, disappointed words. These words encourage us to look to Jesus, confess our sin, be thankful for His sacrifice on our behalf, and get back to pursuing deeper righteousness! 

The Bible does say God can grieve over our sin (Ephesians 4:30).  But our disappointment and God’s grief are vastly differently. God’s grief is rooted in compassion. He sees how sin hurts His children, and He feels compassion for them. He sees the pain, confusion, or deception in our hearts and feels compassion that we cannot see them, too. He is grieved when miss out on the safety, wisdom, and happiness offered by His perfect ways. God’s grief is motivated by love and a desire for us to be and experience all He intended. He wants us to find far more life in Him.

I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

In Christ, we are free to let go of our disappointment and pursue deeper righteousness. Rather than feeling obligated to obey God, deeper righteousness loves Him wholeheartedly. Rather than following rules that shape our behavior, deeper righteousness conforms our motives and thoughts to His. Rather than living in fear of His judgement, deeper righteousness lives in anticipation of His blessing and approval. And as we pursue deeper righteousness, we reap inner peace and contentment – far more life!

Sisters,
Are you trying to be good enough to win God’s approval?  If so, how will you attain His perfect standard?

If you have accepted Christ, what can separate you from God’s love? (Refer to Romans 8:38-39)
Do you believe that God ever condemns or punishes His children? If so, read through Romans 8 and talk with a pastor or spiritual mentor about your concerns.
What differences are there between God’s grief and human disappointment?
Pursue deeper righteousness today through the freedom of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh