Jesus, Religion, and Rules

Bible HalfFacebook tried to sell me a t-shirt last week. The shirt read, “Religion sets rules, Jesus sets free.”

Catchy, right? It certainly rolls off the tongue, and absolutely jives with the spirit of our day. The same idea is repeated a thousand ways through a thousand mediums.

This morning on Twitter I saw this tweet, “Jesus offers relationship, not rules.”

Recently Amazon suggested a book with the following subtitle: “Moving from Rules to Relationship.”

One contemporary Christian musician writes, “More like falling in love than something to believe in, More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance.”

These ideas resonate with people today. That’s why t-shirts sell, tweets get re-tweeted, books are ordered, and songs are played. There’s just one problem … Sometimes in our attempt to simplify complex ideas, we end up changing the truth. I agree 100% that Jesus wants to have a relationship with you. I believe Christianity is more than another system of do’s-and-don’t’s. I believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

However, Jesus did command his followers to do some things. He also forbade his followers from doing other things. And I certainly believe he demands our allegiance. I know some people will hear those statements and cry, “Pharisee! Legalist!” I know some will run from commands and demands like the plague. But let’s get past the name calling, and let’s stop changing the truth in our attempt to simplify complex truths.

I have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus died our death so we could have a real, living, vital relationship with God. I don’t want to reduce Christianity to a bunch of rules and regulations. However, I don’t want to censor Jesus, either. Consider these ten verses:

  • Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
  • You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
  • If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
  • Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
  • You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24)
  • Pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:26)
  • For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)
  • But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. (Luke 6:27)
  • Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

To be clear, I’m not advocating a works-based-approach to salvation. I’ll fight to the end for justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. However, I get uneasy when Christians react to one mistake with a second mistake. My fear is that when the next generation hears us rail against “rules” and “commands” and “allegiance,” they hear a different message than the one preached by Jesus himself.

Originally published March 21, 2016 on