Isn’t Christianity just an oppressive set of rules?

Isn’t Christianity just an oppressive set of rules?

Whenever I ask someone with no experience of church what they think a Christian is, they usually tell me that they think a Christian is someone who tries to be good. Someone who follows a complex set of rules to try and obey their God. It is easy to see why people get that impression. After all, Christians do tend to avoid getting drunk and they do tend to go to church and read their Bibles. There are things Christians do that others do not and things Christians avoid that others think are fine.

Many kids who grow up in church circles might have a similar view to this! After all, their parents are always telling them things they shouldn’t do that their friends are happy to do.

Yet that idea of Christianity as following a set of rules misunderstands things completely. Like most half-truths, it ends up being a whole lie. A Christian is someone who trusts in Jesus as the One who saved them from disaster and rules their life. A Christian is someone who belongs in God’s family, and because of that is secure and blessed. It’s not to do with rules at all.

So why do Christians live differently to those who don’t believe? Well, that is a response to what Jesus has done for us. That sounds kind of abstract, so let me explain it using an important part of Biblical history and an analogy.

At the start of the book of Exodus, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. God famously rescued them through Moses, the plagues and all kinds of miracles. This rescue wasn’t because they were super good or impressive people; in fact, Exodus goes out of the way to show how these people were neither of those things. No, it was due to God’s grace and his remembering of previous gracious promises he made to their forefathers. So these people were saved, despite not doing anything or following a long series of rules to do so. After they were saved, God led them to the wilderness where He gave them the law to follow, a series of rules for life. Do you see the order here? Saved first, then told how to live as saved people. The rules never saved them, they were a response.

Or think of the analogy of an adopted child. When a family adopts a child, they do this as an act of grace. It is not because the child they adopt is so worthy; they are usually very young and from a difficult background. Yet once that child is part of the new family, they are expected to obey the family rules. They have bedtimes and expectations on their behaviour. That’s not oppressive in a healthy family; that’s actually a good thing. To boil down the experience of that adopted child to following rules misses the big point of the wonder that they are in the family in the first place!

If we get this order wrong, and think of Christianity as about what we do and do not do, we miss the joy we should have as saved people. We focus on the response and not the core. Jesus saves people like us! How incredible! If we understand this, we will be keen to live as our Saviour wants us to.

Unfortunately, Christians often give the impression to the watching world that the rules matter the most. We give the impression everyone else should also follow the rules we do, even though they don’t trust in Jesus. That doesn’t make sense and turns people off Christianity. If all outsiders see is restrictions, where is the attraction in that? We need to explain the wonder of being saved and the security from being in God’s family as the primary thing; how we respond to that comes second.

Following Jesus should be a joy. We should love to live as God intends because we know how much we have been loved.