I meet a lot of rule followers. And I want to hug them and reassure them they're amazing and endlessly loved by God, no matter what they do. Because that's what we all need. And because I know what a weary, guilt-ridden place rule following leads. Especially when you’ve been taught keeping the rules and obeying are what God expects.

Besides, I was a card-carrying member of the rule-follower club for a lot of years. So on a whim this week, I made a list of religious rules I’ve encountered – from places I’ve been or people who've shared their experiences with me…

Some Religious Rules

  • Dress the “right” way
  • Be in church “every time the doors are open”
  • No movie theaters
  • Read through the Bible in a year
  • No dancing or drinking
  • Follow the “right” pastors/theologians
  • No instruments used in church
  • Never question the pastor because he is God’s man
  • Tithe at least 10% (but you really should give more too)
  • Listen to the “right” worship music
  • Use the approved Bible translation
  • Support the social/cultural/political agenda of your church
  • Serve God with everything you have (regardless of how it affects your health/time/family/etc)
  • Guard your testimony (to the extreme you fearfully care what people think)

I’m sure you can add to this list too.

Oddly enough, the problem isn’t always the rules. The problem is when "decrees" or standards (especially man-made ones) are used as a godliness indicator . . . a checklist to gauge our spiritual growth. Because then religious rules -- even the ones that seem good -- become a way to prove our worthiness to God, other people, or ourselves. And we're left measuring our Christian growth by our performance.

Real Authority

Right before I awakened to grace, our pastor gave a sermon series on Colossians. I became intrigued by the verses in this short letter that warn about not letting spiritual leaders tell you “do this, that, or the other spiritual thing” in order to please God.

(Ironically, the pastor admonished the congregation several times during the series for sporadic church attendance. I could never figure this out. The people listening were the ones attending church, soooooo ?????) But I digress...

The poor Colossians had started out well, but now spiritual teachers were confusing them with a lot of “don’t eat this, don't touch that, follow such & such spiritual practice....” And they needed Paul to remind them of the truth.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.  So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10 NLT)

As believers our true authority is Christ. Christ lives within us, showing us more of Himself and growing us up in Him. Any rule or tradition or spiritual practice can be filtered by, “What does Jesus ask of me here?”

The One full of grace and truth will not point us toward a religious checklist, overwork us, or demand we behave “just so” in order to prove our godliness and commitment to Him. He took care of the religious expectations (i.e. fulfilled the Law) because we never could on our own. We needed a Savior. And we now have a risen Savior to show us the way to live - by grace through faith. (Colossians 2:6-7)

So never mind those checklists.

Let's focus on Jesus. Rest in His love and grace. Pay attention to Him first. And our “doings” will naturally overflow from His fullness and presence.

Prayer for Today

Dear Jesus, there are many things we could be doing for You. And sometimes those lists get in the way of abiding in You, believing You, and resting in You. Thank You that Your way is not defined by a checklist or striving. Today help me focus on You instead of what I "should" do for God. And may the "doings" You have planned for our adventure together become clearer as I know You better and better and respond to Your love. Amen.

Suggested Reading

Colossians 2:1-3:17


  1. What religious rules or expectations have I been taught? Which ones have I been tempted to use as a "godliness meter?"
  2. How can I respond to religious rules with freedom in Christ instead of striving or guilt?
  3. What does Colossians 3:1-4 remind me about a daily focus?