Rules vs. Relationship

Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

At the home of some good friends the other night, my son Ian told our hosts that Alex didn’t like something (I forget what) because he doesn’t like rules… “just like Dad.” ๐Ÿ™‚ That gave our friends a little chuckle (maybe partly because they know it’s true!) and initiated a brief conversation about the need for rules in society. One opinion was that, in our fallen state, we need rules. We can’t function without them. Another opinion (mine) was that we are not made to be bound by rules. Ideally we live free – governed by our own internal rules. I do admit that not everyone chooses to live this way, which necessitates the “rules”, but that’s why I think rules are always hurtful. They never help, they always limit and detract from the fullness of whatever they are trying to protect.

But I could still completely see the other point of view. So I pondered a bit more why I think it’s possible to live sans rules. What I came up with was just from thinking about my own motivations. When I do something for someone else (or, perhaps, don’t do something) it’s never to meet the requirements of some rule. I never think, “I need to leave that MacBook Pro on my Dad’s desk because the Bible says ‘Don’t Steal’.” Instead, I leave the MBPro there (against my impulses…) ๐Ÿ™‚ because I love my Dad. It belongs to him, and it would hurt our relationship for me to take it.

Now, perhaps you think using my Dad was a bad example. Or something as valuable as a MacBook Pro. Let’s take a different example. I’m at the bank, and I use their pen to sign my check and fill out the deposit slip. “The pen seems kinda cool… I need one… they won’t miss it…” but then your conscience gets the better of you and you think, “No… God says, ‘Don’t Steal’, and that means pens too!” And you leave the pen, thanks to your obedience to the rule.

But what if relationship – even to someone you don’t really know – motivated you instead? Instead of thinking “Thou shalt not steal,” maybe think, “That pen belongs to someone else, and I wouldn’t like it if they took mine, so I’m not going to take it.” Or, if stealing is not your gig… think about anything else we have rules for. Step out of the context of obedience to the RULE and think about how you can love – or not be loving – your neighbor by your actions.

It creates a freedom far beyond what any “righteous” obedience to a set of morals could offer. We are free to love because we are loved. When we love, and act out of love, we are living “under the rules” but not by the rules. Does that make sense? Everything I do, I want to have the people around me in the front of my mind. How will what I do – or don’t do – affect those around me? I am not considering rules… I am considering relationship.

There is the freedom of living not under rules, but out of love. The former is accomplished by the latter, but the motivation is different. If motivated by rules, we will always fail. We will not live up to the standards, or maybe even need to “break a rule” in order to love someone. But if we live out of love, the heart of the rule is fulfilled.

Matthew 22:35-40 (New Living Translation)
One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: โ€œTeacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?โ€

Jesus replied, โ€œโ€˜You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.โ€™ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: โ€˜Love your neighbor as yourself.โ€™ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.โ€


  1. Such a “rule-less” system is flawed and will fail because people are flawed and fail and also because individuals’ ideas regarding relationships are different. Governments are the creation of a set of rules by people who have similar ideas regarding relationships in an attempt to prevent the failure experience in a “rule-less” system when employed by flawed humans.



  2. Heent, I totally (unfortunately) agree. The problem with a rule-less system right now is that people are still in it for themselves. I believe that is the essence of what sin is. And we’re definitely still in it.

    I believe that individuals can come out of a system of rules and live free (as I wrote above) even in a world bound by sin. It could just be a perspective thing… I feel I am free because I am not motivated by rules, but by relationship. Is that possible? I think so.

    Is it possible to have a society where there are no rules… I don’t think so. I look forward to a day when God will redeem all of creation and not only will those who are now being transformed by Jesus be able to live free but all of creation along with them.

    Till then, rules serve their purpose, but they are never the best option. They will always detract from the best. And almost always, there will be some instance or situation(S) where they are in the way of what is right.

    Just my opinion. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. What do you think about the fact that even “when man was perfect,” God still set rules, or at least a rule for him (i.e. don’t eat from this tree)? God apparently doesn’t go for the rule-less system. Rule-less just can’t ever happen unless all things are equal and all beings are “equal.” I’m willing to take it so far as to say “rule-less-ness” and the state of freewill are mutually exclusive.



  4. I’m willing to take it so far as to say “rule-less-ness” and the state of freewill are mutually exclusive.

    That’s interesting actually… cause I guess I’d say the opposite… sorta. Not really “mutually exclusive” (seems too strong?) but, maybe! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think free will demands “free” choice. You can “choose” to live under rules (something that limits your options in a certain situation) but, unless it’s really a choice, then you don’t really have free will.

    And as for God setting up rules… that is a pretty interesting thing. I have been reading Romans again (I think I said that in this post…) and Paul reminds the reader that “The Law” was not ever meant to make people “righteous”, but only to point out our flaws. I wonder if God (presuming his omniscience) even started that with the first ever rule? (Just thinking off the top of my head… I’ll read that again sometime soon, at your reference there.)

    I still believe rules only limit, and thus make life less than it (potentially, in a sin-less world) could be. So, in some sense, they’re not what life “should” be.

    Again… just my opinion at the moment. ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots of stuff lately seems to be backing that up.

    Thanks for the comments. Wish we could have a conversation in person. And some ball. And some Skyline. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. Man, your post got Chi riled up!

    One more thing. A quote from one of your favourite TV shows:

    “Maybe I’m just an old man who doesn’t understand… but the Worf I knew cared more about things like loyalty and honor than he did rules and regulations. But then, that was a long time ago. Maybe you’re not the Worf I knew.”


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