Are you ruled by rules or by your relationship with Jesus? There’s a big difference between the two, and how you answer can hugely impact how non-believers view you. In this 5-day reading plan, Pete Briscoe teaches from the Bible about why we need to shelf our religious rules and use love to introduce people to Christ.
Rules No Longer Rule
Normally, he liked boundaries. Boundaries were the safety net. Boundaries kept people on the right path. But right now, he felt like rules were made to be broken… —Heather Burch, Halflings
We had lived in our neighborhood for two months when drama ignited outside. Almost a dozen kids—between ages 6 and 16—were playing street hockey. I could hear the coarse language flying faster than the puck, but I didn’t think it was bad enough to ask my kids to come indoors. Then, Whap! I heard the front door slam.
“They won’t listen to me!”
“Who won’t listen to what?” I asked.
“The kids outside. I told them we aren’t allowed to say those words, but they just say them louder. They said this is a free country, and they don’t have to follow your rules!”
“They’re right,” I told him. “Our rules are for our family.”
“But I don’t like it when they say that stuff.”
“Yeah, me either. But do you like playing street hockey with them?” He nodded. “Then relationship trumps vocabulary,” I told him.
Every group of people has rules that those in the group are expected to abide by. I call them “tribal rules.” My child knew our family had certain guidelines and standards of behavior—these are our tribal rules. What my boy didn’t realize is that he can’t enforce our rules on people outside our tribe—that isolates everybody from everybody. Our rules aren’t intended to keep others out but to keep our tribe aligned.
The early church debated over tribal rules during their time of expansion. Persecution had intensified, and early Christ-followers fled Jerusalem. They settled in new towns where Gentiles—outsiders—were being exposed to the Gospel. These outsiders didn’t share the Jewish roots of the first believers, and cultural clashes arose concerning food laws and circumcision. Some thought Jewish tribal rules applied to all:
“Unless you are circumcised… you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
Think about it! This was a big deal. The core message of grace was at stake. I love the way Jesus’ brother, James, chimed in:
“It is my judgment… that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19)
And neither should we. Listen, coming to faith in Jesus is hard enough for some people. Why would we make it more difficult for them by rejecting them because they don’t adhere to our tribal rules about language or dress or music or money or food or drink, etc.? Isn’t it time that we drop the role of enforcer and become champions of grace outside our tribe?
Relationship trumps rules. We commit to walking hand in hand with others toward Christ. With both hands full, I am incapable of digging the potholes or building the obstacles set in place by tribal rules.
God has shown you grace. How does His Spirit want to flow through you as a conduit of that amazing grace today?
Lord, as I dive into these tribal rules, show me which ones I expect others to live by. Show me which rules I’ve slung around the neck of a fellow human, a weight that keeps us from dancing together. Amen.
The effect of Love
Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music. —George Carlin
In the early ’70s, my parents were leading a church in Wisconsin. This church served 300 hardworking, salt of the earth Midwesterners. But there was a family whose older children didn’t fit into the suit, tie, and Bible-carrying culture of Sunday mornings. So they started a Bible study at their house; and before they knew it, 200 hippies were gathering in their home. Yeah. Peace signs, bell bottoms, crocheted halter tops, the whole works.
Soon enough, the hippies asked, “When do we get to come to your church?”
And with one question, and for one Sunday, attendance at our church nearly doubled. But it was a major culture clash, as the tribal rules of our church had a head-on collision with those from the outside. The church “won.” The next Sunday only 20 hippies came. The third Sunday, only one showed up. Yup, just one courageous soul came barefoot in holey jeans, and sat cross-legged on the floor right in front of the platform, willing to break our isolating tribal rules.
He wouldn’t give in. That young man stayed and attended membership class with those suit-clad members who looked at him a bit strangely and gave him the cold shoulder. At the end of the class, as part of his membership requirements, he stood to share his story:
“I didn’t know Jesus until two months ago. I’ve got so much to learn, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I’m supposed to hang out with you people… I’ve read the Bible. I’ve got to love you so I’m gonna choose to love you, even though you have shown no love to me.”
Then he asked, “Can I talk with someone about how we can do this better than we’ve been doing it?” An older man stood up and invited the hippie to lunch. Together, they came up with a plan to build relationships between the two cultures. Tribal rules faded. Divisions erased. Invitations extended. Isolation broken… And several pairs of bare feet graced the doors of our church once again.
All because someone chose to show love where no love had been. All because someone chose to leave behind the tribal rules so the tribe could grow and be free and love as they all learned to dance in grace together.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… clothed… with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
When we let the tribal rules fall, a diverse Kingdom reigns.
Father of all nations, the better choice is always You. Let me approach You as a child approaches a father, barefoot and ready to dance. I might not know the way, but I know Your love. I’m carefully wrapping my arms around Your waist, putting both my bare feet on top of Yours, and waiting for the dance to begin—let Your steps be mine. Amen.
My Door Is Open
Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it. —Ann Landers
Culture clashes are as inevitable as wrinkles, parking tickets, and rush-hour traffic. Tension resides in the differences between people when something transitions from old to new. The same is true within the church, where we desperately hold on to our tribal rules that have nothing to do with the Gospel—and there are times when it takes much more strength to let go of these rules rather than hang on.
Here’s the deal: Since its infancy, the body of Christ has debated what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As Christianity poured out of Jerusalem, the words they used to describe the Gospel came from their tribal Jewish heritage: Jesus became the Passover lamb. Jesus fulfilled the law. The heart should be circumcised and tender toward God.
But then, the new non-Jewish audience embraced the Gospel. These Gentiles knew little of Jewish customs and terminology. Food laws were foreign, Jewish festivals irrelevant, circumcision was not practiced, and the Sabbath was just another day.
Bam! A clash between old converts and new converts ensued. Many Jews insisted that Gentiles were not acceptable to God until they acted Jewish too.
But God had something new in mind. In a vision on a rooftop, the Lord showed Peter that the way of acceptance was the way to unity.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Later, Peter witnessed the Spirit of God pour out on a room full of Gentiles, and he understood that it is impossible to invite people in when we require adherence to rules that keep them out.
“So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)
It’s really simple.
One Gospel: God accepts all who are in Christ.
One body: In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
One rule: In Christ, love others as God loves you.
Lord, I can’t love others as You love me. Give me Your love and acceptance for those who don’t adhere to my arbitrary tribal rules. Today, Lord, guide me into places and relationships that are outside my norm. Teach me how to invite the outsiders in so that they, too, may know You cherish them. Amen.
If the Music Stops
The people heard it, and approved the doctrine, and immediately practiced the contrary. —Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth
Are tribal rules really so dangerous? After all, some boundaries are healthy, and certain behaviors are inappropriate. Right? If I let go of the dos and don’ts in my faith, am I not compromising the Gospel?
Great question. Here’s a great answer: Tribal rules are not faith fundamentals. For example, “Jesus is God” is not a tribal rule—it’s a core belief. And when I say, “I am saved by grace through faith,” this is not a rule. It’s the foundation of the Gospel. That’s not what we are talking about. Tribal rules add to the fundamentals of faith. As a result, these rules undermine the simplicity of the Gospel.
For example, a theological tribal rule might require baptism as a means of salvation. A cultural rule might say you have to dress a certain way. A social rule might say you shouldn’t be friends with the “heathen.” Such rules add to the Gospel of grace. When you add to grace, you erase grace; and isolation takes its place.
Think about Peter. He was living this new life of freedom and relationships. In the Jewish culture, to share a meal with someone is to share God’s blessing with them, and Peter was eating with lots of non-Jews. But all of a sudden, he stopped and isolated himself from the Gentiles, essentially saying, “I take back the blessing of God.”
Paul caught wind of Peter’s vacillating, and he was not happy.
When [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned… he used to eat with the Gentiles. But… he began to draw back and separate himself… because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:11-12)
Reread that verse carefully. Peter’s ministry could have come to a stop right there and then because of his tribal rules and because he caved under the pressure of the legalists. Those religious rules outside the Gospel are dangerous, causing serious separation between us and those God wants to love through us.
I’m saying we let those rules go and cling only to the core of the Gospel. God is a God of unity. There is no room for separation in the realm of reconciliation.
Is there someone God is calling you to eat with today?
O Lord, by the power of Your Spirit, show me where I let my religious rules and the expectations of others separate me from those You love. Show me where I can reach beyond my rules and invite others into the dance today. Amen.
Clash With A Purpose
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell. —C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Since cultural clashes are nothing new under the sun, it’s comforting to know they serve a purpose. The early church is a great example of how hard times can lead to good things.
Shortly after Jesus’ ascension, a spark of persecution ignited within the walls of Jerusalem. Stephen’s bold speeches caught the attention of a few established council members who were trying to keep everyone marching to the religious rules. The council charged Stephen with blasphemy—working against God. In response, Stephen charged them with apostasy—the rejection of God Himself.
Tempers flared, and the council sentenced Stephen to death. As the rocks hailed down upon Stephen, they were sure they would extinguish the fire of grace in the crowds. The council members had no idea that the Lord would use Stephen’s death to fan the flames of freedom instead. Like embers from a single fire being blown into the forest, the Gospel spread like wildfire.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Listen. Hard times come. Grace killers will do their best to extinguish our freedom in Christ. As we loosen the tribal rules that have held the bride captive, not everyone will embrace her freedom. Some will fear faith without rules. Some will beg to be bound again. Perhaps it’s best to burn the ropes of bondage holding faith hostage?
As rules fall and invitations extend, conflict will arise. Yet, don’t we serve a God whose message is louder than adversity? His call to all is to be proclaimed beyond the walls, so when we see rules that keep others out, we must make the way clear so they can enter. When we witness leaders wavering—turning grace into a race of works—we cannot turn our heads, for the Gospel is at stake.
And when the Lord turns your attention toward the mirror, and you come face to face with your own tribal rules, you must let Him work through you so you continue to bear the fruit of grace that others find irresistible.
The Lord knows how to harness adversity. He brings glory to Himself through apparent tragedy. His will always reigns.
Father of Light, when night falls and hard times come, let me rest in the confidence that You’re up to something. I can worship You before night ends. I can sing gratitude before Your glory shines. For I know Your Kingdom wastes nothing. I know Your economy—that when I lose what is most precious to me, I gain what’s most precious to You. Amen.
- Do I have tribal rules that become barriers to people seeing Jesus in my life?
- Have I put religious rules above my relationship with Jesus?