Beyond the Book Review: Not A Fan: Rules or Relationship; Guilt or Grace?

Yesterday we were talking about how Christians often miss our target of following Jesus when we get distracted by following rules. Today we will touch a little more about rules vs. relationship as we finish up with Chapter 5 of Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan.

As we discussed yesterday, Jesus was very upset with the religious leaders. Not only were they rejecting Him, but their rules, regulations, and traditions were making it harder for others to come to God and thereby Jesus. How so? They were teaching that God’s blessings and salvation were something that had to be earned. Furthermore, they were making others follow the Laws of Moses plus additional laws that the Pharisees added to it. For example, the Sabbath, which was intended to be a day of rest, became a day of more and more rules and exhaustion.

I think you guys can relate. Kyle sure does. He relates it to his Christian School which had rules to the max. As you can imagine, a lot of his friends related the strict rules of the school with strict rules of God, which caused them to walk away from God. This kind of things happens all the time in our current culture. To be honest, I am a little scared of this myself as my daughter is about to go off to college next year.

Kyle raised an interesting question: Have I raised my daughter in Church or I have raised her in Christ?

Hmmm..something to think and pray about.

“When we learn to truly follow Jesus, we find that obedience to God comes from the inside out. Submission to what God wants for our lives flows naturally out of that relationship (p, 76)”

Yes, I could kiss Kyle for writing those words! Once again, our obedience is a product of our salvation and reflective of the relationship we have with Christ.

If you are married, think about your marriage vows. What did you vow to do?

To be faithful as long as we both live; to love, honor, and obey; to love for better or worse, in sickness and in health; etc.

When you married your husband or wife, you agreed to certain rules. There were certain things that we are expected to uphold no matter what, but is that all we have to do? I love the illustration Kyle gives:

“After I got married I soon discovered that there are other rules I didn’t know about. But these rules have since been clearly established…

I am to keep my closet clean. I am not to make fun of her before 10 A.M. The toilet seat is to remain down at all times. I am to always have an opinion when asked about two dresses that to an untrained male eye appear to be identical. Listening to her and watching SportsCenter at the same time is tantamount to an emotion affair. Never grow hair on my back.

If I say our relationship as a bunch of rules I had to keep, I would quickly become bitter and miserable. I would likely rebel and break the rules when she wasn’t paying attention. But I am passionately in love with my wife and that translates to a desire to please her. So I find that cleaning the closet, putting the id down on the toilet, or other such extravagant acts aren’t cumbersome but actually quite satisfying. When the relationship on the inside is right, the outside will follow (p.78)”


The Pharisees angered Jesus by their legalism. Now, legalism is not a term I’m a big fan of because I think it is incorrectly used and over played. Someone who simply attempts to walk in obedience to the Lord is not a legalist.

Legalism as defined by Merriam Webster: strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code

In the passage from Matthew 23 we read yesterday, the religious leaders were all about the laws and not about the people.

“Like fans today, they would give their time and attention to following all the religious rituals, but would neglect to show God’s love to people around them, which was the point of the rules in the first place. Instead they used God’s law to beat up people who are already hurting. When laws become more important than love, and rules take precedent over relationship, it is a good sign we have become fans who are aiming at the wrong target (p. 79).”

I am guilty of this myself from time to time. I get so focused on growing myself, learning everything I need to know, that I fail sometimes to practice it. I fail to reach out to a friend who is hurting. I fail to talk to a person God has placed in my path. One of the main reasons (besides growing closer to God) for the learning and studying in the first place is to reach the lost and make disciples. How many opportunities have I missed to do just that because I had a too narrow focus?

For those of us who can’t relate to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, how about this illustration Kyle gives?

“I was reading about a man named John who, dressed in blue jeans, walked into a bank to finalize a business transaction. The teller told him that the officer he needed to see wasn’t in, and he would have to come back the next day. John said that would be fine and asked the teller to validate his parking ticket. The teller then informed him that, according to bank policy, she couldn’t validate his parking ticket because he had not technically completed a financial transaction. John asked for an exception, since he had come to the bank intending to do business, but wasn’t able to because the appropriate officer wasn’t in. The teller didn’t budge. She said, ‘I’m sorry; that’s our policy. Rules are rules.’ So John decided to make a business transaction. He decided to close his account. John’s last name was Akers. He was the chairman of IBM, and the account he closed had a balance of one-and-a-half million dollars. This qualified as a financial transaction, and the teller was able to validate the parking ticket.” (p.79)

YIKES! I bet that hurt.

“This is an example of how legalism works and what happens when our churches are filled with fans that make rules more important than relationships. According to the letter of the law, the bank teller was right: since no money changed hands, she didn’t have to validate his parking ticket. But there’s something more important than the letter of the law: the person. A number of times, the Pharisees were critical about Jesus healing a person on the Sabbath. Why? Because they were more concerned that the Sabbath be observed than they were about a person being healed. The church must constantly fight the tendency to make rules and policies more important than people, because when that happens we are no longer following Jesus (p. 80).”

Fans of Jesus (notice I said fans and not followers) will eventually find themselves exhausted, and I am betting sooner than later. Why? Because they are still operating under the assumption that they have to work for God’s favor, God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s acceptance. They grow weary of trying to keep all the rules. Why? Well, because they are trying to do it in their own strength. They are not doing it out of love for Jesus, they are doing it because they think they have too. Jesus doesn’t want us to follow him because we have to; he wants us to follow him because we want to.

Let me leave you with one last illustration that I think sums up God’s grace in a nutshell:

During my senior year at the Christian high school I attended, Mr. Hollingsworth was my chemistry teacher. He did something a little unusual for our last final of the year. He had been reading an article by Charles Stanley on the grace of God and wanted to show us what grace looked like. He handed out a test to all of us what we knew would be difficult. We had been preparing for this test for several months. Before we began to take the test, he told us, ‘I want you to read through the entire test before you begin to take it.’ As we read through the test most of us realized we were in trouble. We should have studied more. But then I go to the end of the multiple-page test and read these word as the bottom: ‘You can try and get an A by taking the test or you can just put your name on it and automatically receive an A.’ This was not a difficult choice. I immediately signed my name, walked up to the desk, and headed out, thanking Charles Stanley for saving my chemistry grade. But there was a girl in our class who was the daughter of the biology teacher. She was quite intelligent and had studied hard. Apparently she got quite upset because she had spent so much time studying, and it wasn’t fair that everyone else was getting and “A” for nothing. She stayed and took the test on principle. If she was going to get an “A” she was going to earn it. And a fan say, ‘I’m not taking any handouts-I can do this on my own.’ They spend their lives carrying around the heavy burden of religion and making sure others carry that weight as well (p. 81).”

Rules or a relationship? Guilt or Grace? The choice is ours! I know what I am choosing. What about you?

Have a blessed day!

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