I’ve been reading different Christian articles lately, and I’m seeing the same theme over and over again. It’s basically the idea that you can teach a bunch of rules, and if the compliance doesn’t come from the heart, it isn’t genuine, so it's only outward conformity—which ends up in superficiality. They have a valid point, of course. Our goal as Christian teachers, parents, (pastors, too) is to see our students do right from the heart. Anything less is superficial.
What if we set no standards in our churches, Christian schools, camps, etc., and no one is held to a code of behavior? Should there be a list of rules or not? Should we wait until everyone grows spiritually enough to do right from the heart?
In the Bible, we have a clear code of conduct. It’s from the beginning of time. Adam and Eve were given several rules and one prohibition. They were perfect individuals, yet they were given a job—to manage the earth and its resources—and they were told what not to do—eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
They disobeyed and brought the curse of sin on the earth. Mankind was then given ten easy laws with the Ten Commandments, The Jews had a lot more—over six hundred more—which made up the Old Testament Law (also called the Law of Moses). These guidelines covered everything from loving God to how to wash one’s body and take care of medical problems.
As you know, the Ten Commandments are:
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, . . . wife, . . . manservant, . . . maidservant, . . . ox, . . . ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s (from Exodus 20:3-17).
The Ten Commandments set the moral law for everyone for all time.
So, what if someone doesn’t feel like following them? What if the idea of breaking one of them comes from the heart? It happens. Jesus said, For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (Matthew 15:19). Not a pretty picture!
I’m a pastor’s wife, and most of my counseling is with first-generation Christians. Most of them came to Christ in their teens or adulthood, and they're usually the only born again Christians in their families. This means that discipleship starts with the basics of doctrine and faith. It’s so fantastic when these women see for the first time what the Bible says about the lifestyles around us. They’re amazed! It’s new territory. I see two reactions. Some balk and argue and struggle. Others sweetly obey the Bible.
The Lord wants that second reaction, of course. The Apostle Paul made this observation about those who obeyed the Bible willingly: But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you (Romans 6:17).
God is pleased when His children obey Him because they want to.
But, what about those who don’t really feel like it? Don’t the rules apply? Should we not have rules in the first place?
Let me tell you a little story. It’s totally made-up, but it might help you visualize this better.
Once upon a time, there was an incorrigible little girl named Sophie. Almost from birth, her parents could tell she was full of character! She had an attitude. Her parents were at a loss. What do you do with a child like her? How should we guide Sophie?
So, they went to a parenting expert. He said, “Don’t ask too much of her. Use as few guidelines as you can. That way, there’s less for her to rebel against.”
Sophie’s parents went home. They never said, “Don’t touch.” So Sophie destroyed all the plants and pretty things in the house—everything she could reach. They never said, “You must not . . . .” So Sophie grew up with terrible manners. No one wanted to be with her. She bit and kicked other children. She threw fits everywhere—especially in public places. Her parents were afraid to correct her. Sophie embarrassed her parents so much they didn’t want to take her places. They were dumbfounded. After all, they had followed the expert’s advice.
They had wanted Sophie to want to do right, but Little Sophie had no guidelines. She wasn’t sure of her boundaries. Being by birth a little sinner, she perfected her manipulations and sins. Soon, she had no friends, and even her parents threw their hands up in desperation.
Let me tell you another story, also fiction.
Once upon a time, there was a Christian school teacher. Mrs. N was strict and developed very good class control. She expected courtesy. She used a system of warnings, but after three, they knew they would be punished with the loss of a privilege. After five warnings, they were marched to the Principal’s office.
The first couple of weeks of school were challenging for Mrs. N, because she was teaching behavior as well as subjects. But, by the third week, all the students knew what was expected of them. They were getting fewer warnings, and the Principal had almost no visits from Mrs. N’s class.
Her students thrived.
Visitors to Mrs. N’s class were amazed at the quiet, orderly students, their respect, and their happy faces. Children were eager to answer questions and actually seemed to love learning.
In the Christian life, it’s similar. The Bible sets clear limits and boundaries for Christian behavior. In the New Testament, it gives an outline for churches, as well. When we teach those godly rules, I believe we’re doing our friends and children a service. These are God’s boundaries, not made-up lists.
While I totally agree that it’s best that obedience comes from the heart, I believe it’s our obligation to provide a framework of God-given rules as boundaries. The last thing you want is for your children and church people to only outwardly conform. But not to teach them biblical rules is a disservice. The Bible says:
- Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right (Ephesians 6:1). Teach your children to obey you simply because it’s right to do so. (As parents, we are responsible to God for our demands.)
- And for adults: And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22). God wants our obedience.
Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers;
but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.