We’ve all heard that, “You can’t have a relationship without rules.” And it’s true. Friendships, marriages, and families all need the framework, support, and structure of rules. Although we don’t normally think of it this way, a wedding ceremony is the formalizing of a covenant between the bride and the groom. They exchange vows to do and not to do certain things in the presence of people who love them and will (hopefully) hold them accountable to the promises they make.
While it’s a given then that you can’t have a relationship without rules, it’s important to note that you can have rules without a relationship. This is the trap the Pharisees fell into. Historically, they started off as reformers—people who rightly called Israel back to observing the law God had given through Moses. Over time though, something happened—the Pharisees fell in love with the rules rather than the Ruler.
One way this happened was through the development of an oral tradition that was concerned with how the law of God should be understood and practiced. This started out quite innocently but over time became distorted until it became as important as the word of God. By the time of Jesus, it had become more important (see Matthew 15:1ff). Centuries later these oral traditions were written down and are known today as the Talmud. The elevation of these traditions took their focus away from God Himself so that the word of God (as well as their traditions) became more important than the God of the word. Jesus told them, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life” (John 5:39-40).
In a world that clamors for “no rules, just right,” disciples must not cave in to cultural pressures (Romans 12:2-3). But it is equally imperative that we not go the way of the Pharisees so that we end up with rules but no relationship and offer the world a scrubbed house antiseptically clean but filled with icy emptiness (Luke 11:24-26). This is a tough balance to strike ecause it seems whenever someone take a stand on a truth of Scripture they are immediately characterized as Pharisaical and unloving.
The answer is to keep our eyes on Jesus—the One full of grace and truth (John 1:18). May we speak truth graciously and exhibit true grace to the world around us. If we’ll do this, we won’t lose sight of Him who is everything.