What is the Christian religion all about? According to some, it’s the rules. Religion is all just a bunch of rules, they may say. In our society, which values personal autonomy and decries restrictions, the rules that people see in the church seem prudish and contraining. One can’t deny that there are rules that the church is suppose to uphold, but to see the Christian religion as just a list of do’s and don’ts is horribly shallow.
Christianity is an entire worldview that provides a framework on how to see reality. It doesn’t just tell us how to live, but why we live. It doesn’t just tell us to live a certain way because it hates fun, but because the rules conform to an external reality that we ought to adhere to. It points beyond the rules and regulations and tells us what the universe is really like: that it has a purpose and that human beings have value and dignity. All religions are worldviews pointing to the whole of reality, but most of them put a huge emphasis on works, basing human righteousness on works. Christianity is different. Yes, the Bible does give us rules to live by, but to see these rules as chains hindering our freedom or as means of “sucking up” to God is missing the point. The rules aren’t to take away our freedom, but to give us freedom from destructive thoughts and actions that enslave us. To follow sinful ways isn’t freedom, but slavery. One can either choose to be a slave to sin, which leads to destruction, or be a slave of righteousness, which leads to life. Paul asks the Romans “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16). For those who believe in Christ, Paul follows by saying “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness,” (Rom. 6:17-18). Paul characterizes slavery to obedience and righteousness as freedom from the destruction of sin (v. 18, 22), but slavery to righteousness yields sanctification and eternal life (v. 22).
Most importantly, Christianity based on the Bible ultimately points to a personal God who desires to free us from slavery and enter into a relationship with us. Cold commandments aren’t the end of Christianity, especially since we aren’t able to perfectly live by the law, but the warm affection of our Father in Heaven is. Just as God freed the Israelites from physical slavery in Egypt (Exodus), God continues to save his children from the bondage of sin and gives us a “Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). This isn’t to say we can break the rules as much as we want, since those who say they know Christ but don’t do what he says are liars (1 John 2:4), but it shows that the claims that Christianity is “just a bunch of rules” is erroneous. It’s all about the personal love of our heavenly Father and the Son that He sent, that sets us free from sin and makes us His sons.