Is Christianity all about rules?

I recently read a book by N.T. Wright titled After Belief: Why Christian Character Matters. It has greatly influenced my thinking on this subject and as I read the Daily Office Scripture readings this week I found revelation in the ways Moses talked about the Law. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt (slavery and death) and were heading towards the Promise Land (Life and Liberty and a New Kingdom). This progression foreshadows and mirrors our progression from death to life in Jesus Christ. Just as the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover, so the True Passover Lamb died for the freedom of the whole world.
I think that how the Israelites are taught and wooed in the desert can draw relevant parallels to our thought process today. If the Law only brought death (as mentioned in the New Testament), then why is it relevant today? I think the purpose of the Law needs to be revisited. In Deuteronomy 4 Moses says, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules[a] that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (4:1) Again, “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (4:5) Again, “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.” (4:14) Lastly, “Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time” (4:40) Now, the phrases about prospering, going well with you, and living have always struck me. The commandments are to be followed that we may “live long and prosper.” This thought is revolutionary. However, there is another phrase that I think helps us when thinking about how the Law and Grace interact. The phrase shows up again in Chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, “that they may observe them (the Law) in the land which I am giving them to possess” and, also about following the Law, “that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.” Now I know that the promises to Israel were for a specific people at a specific time, but the parallels in principle are sound: the Law is meant to teach Israel how to prosper in the Promise Land.
The Promise Land is a foreshadowing of the New Heaven and and the New Earth. Why do we attempt to follow “the Law” in Christianity when we are free from the consequences of the Law? Because that is how you prosper in God’s Kingdom.
It is as if you were given a free pass to a planet where there is peace and harmony and long life, etc. Nothing you did on earth would disqualify you from this planet, but you are encouraged to swim a lot for the rest of your life until you depart. Now you might think this was a strange request of you. In fact you might get angry that this free pass turned out to have some sort of “hidden requirement.” In the end, however, you decide you might as well swim. It is hard at first and you really have to work at it, but you become a formidable swimmer and very comfortable in the water. When you finally depart for the planet, you arrive and find that it is 100% water and all of the inhabitants there spend their whole life swimming. While your training on earth could not have prepared you for the reality of perpetual swimming, you were participating in the New Life you had inherited in the free pass.
I want to say that this is analogous to following the Law. Now, I should clarify that I do not mean the specific covenantal Law given to Israel, but the Law which Christ came to fulfill. I do not know all of the subtleties in the distinctions, but we can look to the New Testament and its parallels in the Old Testament to see that the 9 fruit of the Spirit and the 3 ultimate virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love) are apart of learning to be a Kingdom individual now. As N.T. Wright argues we should “put on” the new man and learn the language we shall be speaking for eternity. The language of the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated in His death and Resurrection is the language of Faith, Hope and Love. This is the true fulfillment of the Law as found in the first and second greatest commandments according to Jesus.
There is so much more to this discussion, but these have been a few of my thoughts. The Christian virtues need to be learned like swimming or a musical instrument or a language, so that we can live as we shall in the New Earth and New Heaven, and so that on earth we can be active participants in His Kingdom NOW. The Kingdom that has been initiated and we have the opportunity to operate in through the grace of Jesus Christ from now until eternity.
One last thought… In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard found in Matthew 20:1-16 we find a master recruiting laborers in His vineyard at different hours throughout the day. Some come in the morning, midday, and evening, but all receive one denarius for payment. This has always troubled me because it is just not fair. It even ends with the crazy statement, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” This is how Jesus says the Kingdom is and I think that if we don’t understand it then we run the risk of the grumblers who are upset over this “unfairness.” The Kingdom perspective is this: the morning laborers had been experiencing the Kingdom-living the whole day long while the people who came at the last hour had been idly sitting around all day. We often would think that the sitting around all day is preferable to the labor, but it is not so in the Kingdom of God! The morning laborers had the privilege of experiencing God’s Kingdom in the present. While they all received eternal life, the morning laborers heeded the invitation to come into the Kingdom now.
So “how then shall we live?” We shall answer the invitation, not only into God’s grace but into God’s labor bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. We are set free by God’s saving grace, but we are also invited to learn the ways of His Kingdom and be apart of His mission. The concept we need to understand is that this work is the fullness of joy and apart of becoming the people we are meant to be. Does this mean that we shoulder the burden of the Law and some how earn our transformation? Not at all! We participate with God’s work in our life. There is no separation (when we are participating) between God’s work and our work. He is doing it in us and through us. So why not jump in and learn to swim?

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