If we understand the Bible simply as a rule book, we’ve missed the heart of what God wants to communicate to us through this amazing book, all of which is God-breathed (see Heb 4:12, 2 Tim 3:16-17). Rules are not there as an ABC ladder to climb, with God as the Z of our destination. We will never, by our own strength, be able to reach God, to live a righteous life in our own strength. In the book of Romans, Paul explains how the law was given so that people would be aware of sin and would be able to recognise the difference between their way of living and God’s. He says ‘I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.’ (Rom 7:7) Rules act as boundary fences, showing us the way God wants us to live, demonstrating His absolute purity and ‘otherness’, showing us that we cannot simply approach Him in any haphazard fashion, but must come to Him on His terms. They also highlight our inability to live holy lives by ourselves. ‘The law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.’ (Gal 3:24) The laws and rules of the Old Testament point out to us, in case we thought otherwise, that we cannot reach God on our own, but that we need to receive His salvation by faith. Paul tells the Romans ‘no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.’ (Rom 3:20) God has given us rules not only to guide us, but also to awaken our consciences, to reveal to us the inadequacy of our own strategies and methods for reaching Him.
We tend to either feel utterly condemned by our inability to keep rules perfectly or smug because we think we are doing very well in regard to rule keeping. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) shows us that self-righteousness will never lead us to God’s forgiveness and justification. The Bible reminds us that God’s way of working is completely contrary to our expectations and desires; those who humble themselves will be exalted, but those who exalt themselves will be humbled. (Luke 18:14) Let’s not ignore God’s rules, but let’s also realise we need to come humbly before Him in penitence and receive all He has for us by faith.