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Faith in God Frees the Soul. Religious Rules Bind It.

In my last post, I briefly chronicled my former life of partying, which I used to find fun, but now see as a total yawn fest compared to the sheer excitement of living for Christ.

I didn’t get that at first, though. After returning to church from my extended leave of absence, hoping to find some answers to the deeper questions in life (and somehow earn divine favor just by showing up, I suppose), I honestly had no intention of changing my formerly ridiculous behavior. To me, the Bible and the Christian religion were just a set of rules, some of which were easy to follow and some of which weren’t. I figured I’d stick to the easy ones (i.e., the ones I was already following) and leave the hard ones (the ones that required some level of change) to the super-spiritual.

Honor my father and mother? Got it. Don’t murder anyone? No problem. Help the poor? I could even do that a little.

But stop getting drunk? Submit to every earthly authority over me? Tithe? Yeah, right. Hard rules, as I saw it, would squelch the life out of me.

Turns out I was right. But not because of any wisdom I had. Rather, it was the opposite.

Since I had never seriously read the Bible, it should have come as no surprise that my ideas about it and the faith based upon it were 100% false. It also didn’t help that when I’d hear a preacher or some well-meaning Christian criticize the world for its immoral behavior, it sounded like, “You need to follow every rule or you’re going to Hell.”

Contrary to that message and my beliefs then, Christianity is not just a set of rules to be blindly followed. I learned this after returning to church when I put my faith in Christ and something totally unexpected happened.

I discovered following rules didn’t change me.

He changed me.

The change was driven largely by a newfound desire to read the Bible. To be real, I didn’t expect much from it. My human motivation was simply being able to say I had read it all (again, as if that would earn me some divine favor — or impress a cute Christian woman). Nevertheless, I embarked on a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, assuming I would encounter a lengthy list of those unreasonable rules I could never follow.

Instead, I encountered God’s transformative Word. And it upended everything I believed.

One by one, lust by lust, sin by sin, He showed me the emptiness of clinging to those worldly desires and the fullness of replacing them with the eternal desire of following Him. That’s when I gradually stopped wasting time and money on the things I’d chased after all those years and redirected them to living a purer life, helping those in need, and drawing closer to the One who created me.

At first, the results shocked me. It wasn’t that I’d been simply disinterested in changing certain behaviors; I had actively resisted changing them. There were things I didn’t want to do and things I wanted to keep doing. Yet, because I was a sincere believer in God and His Son, the Savior, He lovingly broke down the resistance in my heart. As I drew closer to Him, studying the Bible and spending time with His people, He showed me the joy in obeying His Word. Not because I had to, but because I now wanted to. Furthermore, since God’s Word is a written expression of who He is, I wasn’t following rules—I was following Him.

And following me—my true nature in Christ. Because God created me—and all humans—He knows more about us than we ever will. In His wisdom, He has warned us about those things that will damage ourselves and others.

The Bible isn’t a set of rigid rules; it is instead a written reflection of the way God designed the world and human beings, offering us a roadmap to living life as our true selves, full of purpose, precisely attuned to how He created us. To obey His plan is to fulfill our original purpose, resulting in indescribable inner peace. To resist His plan is to resist our true design, resulting in inner turmoil.

Obedience isn’t something that I have to try to do — it is simply living the true nature God created in me.

In our fallen world, though, this doesn’t come naturally. Living like this is possible not because of any innate willpower or strength in me (for I am embarrassingly weak), instead it is because of God’s transformative power living in me, healing my brokenness, restoring my soul, and giving me the freedom to follow Him. That is faith.

Blindly trying to follow rules without His power, however, to “earn” His (or anyone else’s) favor is not faith. It is religion. It is pride. It is trying to change yourself because you want to be good, not because God already is good. Ultimately, though, as the Pharisees demonstrated, this self-focused approach actually further separates you from Him, resulting in bondage to rules for rules’s sake, hardening the heart, deadening the soul, squelching the life out of you.

True freedom to change and follow God never comes by rules — only by faith.