Rules or Relationship

January 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm 4 comments

“It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. It’s not about rules and regulations, but about a personal relationship with Jesus.” That’s what I was told as a young college student when approached on campus by the local college ministry, and that’s what I told countless students for the next few years as I participated in my college ministry evangelism strategies. This idea of relationship over rules has influenced me in many ways, but I wonder how this works itself out in practice.

I hope you will indulge me in a little thought experiment – an imaginative exploration of how things might have been. In the first few chapters of the book of Genesis in the Bible we read the scenes that set up the rest of the story. The first thing we encounter is God making rules. Eat this, don’t eat that. OK, it wasn’t the first thing. But, it is one of the early documented interactions between God and humans. Whether the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are literal trees or metaphorical is not the point of this post – for in either case, there were rules concerning them.

Along comes another resident in the garden, one who was created prior to the humans. This creature asks for clarification of the rules – perhaps God didn’t have the same rules for the other creatures in the Garden. In reading the rest of the story, we discover that God wasn’t too keen on the way humans handled this interaction and there were consequences. Here’s where I’m hoping to do a little bit of imagining. I wonder how God would have hoped humans would respond to the questioning of the rules? I wonder if God knew the boundaries would be pushed, the Garden values would be challenged? Did God wish the humans would have come with their questions and concerns before making a decision to cross the line? Would God have responded, “Just do what I say! Obedience is the most important thing!! It’s my job to keep everyone safe, and if you just follow my rules…”

Before God gave the rules, God established relationship and gave responsibility. When I talk to my girls about sexual purity, I know the boundaries will get challenged. I know the questions will come. I know the consequences can be painful. But for me, it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship. Does that mean I don’t have rules? No way! Rules and boundaries are an important part of relationship. But, rules and boundaries are not the basis of relationship and obedience is not the goal. Life and love are the goal. When the rules get challenged and the validity of the consequences questioned, I hope and pray my girls will come and talk to me about their questions. I hope to establish good communication and healthy opportunities for questioning and debate that will lead them to a place of making wise decisions based on knowledge and understanding, not fear of consequences.


Entry filed under: "the fall", Creation, human nature, imagination, sexuality.

Talking Turkey: Gender Roles Purity Pledges and Faithlessness


  • 1. Shaunt Kojabashian  |  January 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    good post 🙂
    I agree… though in some cases obeying because of the fear of consequences isn’t a bad thing. Some might choose to follow Jesus because of his great love for them while others because they wanted to escape the wrath to come. Ideally yes, I would hope love would be the motivation however, sometimes fear is a good motivator to keep oneself from going down the wrong path. Great topic though.

  • 2. Elizabeth Chapin  |  January 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Shaunt, I agree – especially when relating to toddlers! 😉 Thanks for commenting. I was reading Galatians 3 in various translations this morning and The Message says this, “Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law.” Gal. 3:23. So, when our kids are little we protect them with rules and regulations, as they mature we hope they will make wise choices freely out of love and faith. I wonder where on the developmental scale humanity was as a whole for it to be the right time when Jesus came…

  • 3. HeartWork Guide  |  January 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I agree with you Elizabeth.

    Fear is only a temporary motivator.

    Growing up my mother was strict. She also must have scared the bejeebers out of me at some young age. Lots of rules/laws. I learned to be obedient out of fear – not love, not respect. It prevented me from learning self-discipline/self-responsibility. I had not been taught healthy boundaries.

    The consequence was when the fear was removed because I went off to college – I did not know how to discipline myself. I stayed up as late as I wanted. I skipped classes for the first time in my life. I didn’t turn in papers. I had fun hanging out with friends.

    In a nut shell, I did not learn to be responsible for myself until after I married too young, became a mother of 2 children by the time I was age 23. I had to grow up pretty quickly.

  • 4. Elizabeth Chapin  |  January 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Elaine (HeartWork Guide),

    Thanks for your input on obedience. So often we make obedience the goal – in our parenting and in our relationship with God. Responsibility seems to be a more helpful goal – God invites us into responsible (or, as some put it, response-able) relationship. We are given cooperative responsibilities in our relationship with God. We are invited to participate in God’s creative and redemptive work. As parents, we would do well to invite our kids into cooperative and responsible relationship as a model for their relationship with God and others.

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