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Averse to Rules?

Averse to Rules?

Repeatedly in the Bible, in both Testaments, through Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and His apostles we are admonished to obey God’s commands or rules. The following verses are just a sample:

  • “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one w ho loves Me” (John 14:21).
  • “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:23).
  • “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3).
  • “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him’, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
  • “But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:5).
  • “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him” (1 John 3:24).
  • “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (1 John 5:3).

A number of the above verses were set in a context where people who were claiming to be “spiritual” or “enlightened” were arguing that keeping God’s rules  is unnecessary or even harmful. Yet we face a very similar challenge in our time:

“The hunger among many younger people for rules, or at least guidelines, is greater today for good reason. In the West at least, millennials are living through a unique historical situation. They are, I believe, the first generation to have been so thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality, simultaneously at their schools, colleges and universities… This contradiction has left them at times disoriented and uncertain, without guidance and, more tragically, deprived of riches they don’t even know exist. This first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal ‘value judgment’. Relative means that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything; instead, morality and the rules associated with it are just a matter of personal opinion… So the decent thing to do once it becomes apparent how arbitrary your, and your society’s moral values are is to show tolerance for people who think differently. That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be ‘judgmental’. And, since we don’t know right from wrong, or what is good, just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live. 

And so a generation has been raised untutored in what was once called aptly, ‘practical wisdom’, which guided previous generations. Millennials, often told they have received the finest education available anywhere, have actually suffered a form of serious intellectual and moral neglect. The relativists of my generation… many of whom became their professors, chose to devalue thousands of years of human knowledge about how to acquire virtue, dismissing it as passé. Thus relativism’s closely approximation to ‘virtue’ is ‘tolerance’.

On Facebook and other forms of social media, therefore, you signal your so-called virtue, telling everyone how tolerant, open and compassionate you are, and wait for likes to accumulate. Leave aside that telling people you’re virtuous isn’t a virtue, its self-promotion… but it turns out that many people cannot tolerate a vacuum… they cannot live without a moral compass, without an ideal at which to aim their lives… and so we arrive at the second teaching that millennials have been bombarded with. They sign up for a humanities course, to study greatest books ever written. But they’re not assigned the books; instead they are given ideological attacks on them. Sometimes it seems the only people willing to give advice in a relativistic society are those with the least to offer” ( 12 Rules to Life An Antidote To Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson,  Forward, Norman Doidge, pp. xviii-xx).

A Lesson from the Golden Calf: Exodus 32

The Israelites had spent 400 years in bondage and had suffered under harsh oppression, even though the oppression was justified as being part of a good cause or end (Exodus 1:8-11). In the last one hundred years this world has seen something very similar. During the communist oppression of Russia over 100 million lives were sacrificed in the name of creating utopia. Therefore, without God and His rules, we can easily become confused concerning what really is “good” (Isaiah 5:20). History, as well as the present, is filled with examples of a lot of harm being done in the name of good.

God had given Israel very clear and easy to understand commands (Exodus 20:1ff). The rules were not oppressive, rather they included such common sense principles as respect for parents, the need for a day off, and protection from those who would steal our possessions, treat our lives with little respect or fail to honor their own marriages or the marriages of others. In fact, the Bible often makes the point that what God has commanded is for our good (Deuteronomy 5:33; 6:24-25; 28:1-2,13).

While Moses is on the mount, the people become very impatient and create and begin to worship an idol. On the very next day (Exodus 32:6) the text says, “and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play”. The term “play” here does not refer to innocent games, but rather activity that is sexual in nature.  Later the text says that they had corrupted themselves (32:7), which means “to go to ruin”. Then we are told that they had “turned quickly aside from the way which God had instructed them” (32:8). Further on we are told, “It came about, as soon as Moses came near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing” (32:19). Finally, the text says that the people were “out of control” (32:25). The word here has the sense of loosening or uncovering, thus “naked” in the King James Version. It probably includes physical nakedness, as well as allowing the people to give free rein to their wild passions. 


“My first reaction to a command might be that nobody, not even God, tells me what to do, even if it’s good for me. But the story of the golden calf also reminds us that without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions – and there’s nothing freeing about that. And the story suggests something more: unchaperoned, and left to our own untutored judgment, we are quick to aim low and worship qualities that are beneath us” (12 Rules for Life, p. viii). This did not only happen then, but many times since (Romans 1:18ff).

Beware of Simplistic Human Ideologies

  • Such ideas are often disguised as science, freedom, happiness, enlightenment, knowledge or truth (1 Timothy 6:20).
  • These ideologies claim to know how to make the world a better place, before “they’ve taken care of their own chaos within” (2 Peter 2:19).
  • Such human opinions retool even the accounts in the Bible for their own selfish purposes.
  • And they equally ignore or forget about very clear and basic Bible verses.

Do Not Be Fooled When Some Say…

  • “God is into relationships and not rules”: And yet Jesus clearly pointed out that we cannot have a relationship with Him without following His commands (Matthew 7:22-23; John 14:15).
  • “Loving God is the important thing, not the rules”: And yet every command that God has ever given is a manifestation for our love for God (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:9-10).
  • “The details do not matter”: Yet the Bible, which was written for our learning (Romans 15:4) is filled with examples where God issued condemnation when the details of a command were ignored (Leviticus 10:1-3; 2 Samuel 6; 1 Samuel 15:22-23). In addition, Jesus addressed this issue. He specifically said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). So how someone approaches the details of a command says a lot about their character.

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017