There is always a tension between rules and relationship.
Every relationship needs rules. We teach our children to follow simple rules: pick up your toys, no burping at the table, and bedtime is 8:00 PM. We set these rules not to be arbitrary, but because we know eventually our children will have enter a bigger world where obeying the rules matters. A child who never learns to obey never learns to follow the rules in the workplace.
Yet the wisest parents know there are times to suspend the rules. Some evenings are just for fun and the toys can be picked up tomorrow. Once in a while, Dad needs to get into a burping contest with his kids (Mom can play too). Some nights demand staying up way past bedtime to watch a movie or see the meteor shower.
Marriage has rules. There is the biggest one, of course: be faithful. But there are little rules as well: pick up your socks, try to be as attractive as you can, and don’t snore. Funny how some of the rules of marriage are the same rules for children, only updated.
Marriage needs rules. They provide security and clarity. They paint an outline of health. But rules can’t fill in the outline. They can’t paint a picture of love.
That’s why the best marriages don’t depend on rules. Partners offer forgiveness. They serve each other. They don’t keep score. The outline gets filled in with grace.
People often think a relationship with God is about following a bunch of rules. Make no mistake, there are some rules in our relationship with God. Be faithful. Respect what’s important to God. Love the people He loves.
The rules, however, merely paint an outline. They don’t fill a relationship with grace or love. There is nothing in a rule that makes us want to do the with God life.
There is no way we could ever know how to fill in the outline. That’s why God did this for us. Jesus coming to this earth, dying for our sins, and being resurrected from the dead is God filling in the outline with forgiveness, grace, and love.
Make no mistake, the rules matter. But the rules are not enough. It’s what’s in the middle that counts. It’s the relationship God offers us.
So why would people ever choose to worship the outline? Why would people ever choose to make following the rules the main thing? It’s like eating the plate instead of the steak.