Rules First, Then Freedom
By Nan M. Pamer
“Every civilization, from the beginning of time has known that lawlessness leads to cruelty and barbarism. . . . Moral laws are not stifling rules that repress and restrict our true nature. Rather they are directions for becoming the kind of beings God intended. . . .” Charles Colson
The following chapter concerning law and liberty is written with trepidation, because the apostle Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate that a life in Christ is not situated or founded on the law of Moses. This understanding with the reader must be established before continuing: The law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ. But the principle of law in a Christian’s life was not done away with, and it is essential if true liberty is to prevail.
It appears that a principle of law needs to be established first in the psyche of a person, before liberty and freedom can be properly practiced.
Modern thought has reversed it. Man wants absolute freedom to do anything he wants, and then later if there is a problem, he will enact his own law, his own restraint. The collective mindset of modern man declares, “Unleash the wild passions, then later we will enact laws to control them.” We are seeing how impossible this system is.
Ross Robertson, our five-year-old nephew, started kindergarten in the fall of 2000. He could hardly sleep since he was so excited about his first day at school. His goal? Learn to read!
The first question I asked him after that first day was: “Ross, what did you learn at your first day at school?”
Ross frowned and then declared, “Rules! That’s all we learned today was rules!”
His mom, Elaine, told me later that the teacher had explained that for the entire first week of school, the children would learn rules. It was essential to learning. Rules first. If there are no rules, learning is impossible. No matter how brilliant the teacher is or how developed his or her teaching skills are, if there is not a structured, disciplined atmosphere in the classroom, learning stops.
Obviously, Robert Fulghum was right: everything we needed to know, we learned in kindergarten.
Adam and Eve were given one law. If they would abide by that simple rule, complete liberty would be theirs. From the very beginning of man’s existence, God required that he live by the principle of law. First there was law, then there was liberty
When Joshua became the leader of the children of Israel, before God made him a promise, He required some-thing: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
First there were rules, then there was freedom. All the promises of God are within the “if-then” rule. If a per-son will obey God’s word, then he will reap great blessings. It is a cover-to-cover biblical principle. It appears to be a basic concept in God’s relationship with man. Throughout the Old Testament, God required obedience to His commandments and then He blessed.
This principle continued into the New Testament and applies to the church today. If one will be obedient to the admonitions of God, written in His Word, then that per-son will know freedom and liberty.
The confused, disoriented thinkers of our age want absolute freedom first, then later, as almost an after-thought, they have to devise some kind of restraint. “Live free, we’ll build the prisons later.” While this statement seems ludicrous, it sums up what is happening. They have refused to submit to the restraints taught in the Bible and have developed their own restraints that are harsh and cruel, the very thing of which the law of God has been accused! Is there anything more inhibiting to freedom than prisons, rehabs, and hospitals? Yet, that is the final chapter of unleashed freedoms to do as one pleases.
An example of this was recently observed at the new $35 million high school in Barberton, Ohio. Surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the building, an affront to every freedom-loving American. All activities of the students will be monitored. Please note: the nation that has demanded freedom to do anything it wants, with-out any restraints, and that wants no part of the law of God, now finds itself losing its freedom. Because the children of our country have been given so many freedoms first, there is no law of God established in their hearts, and now law has come down hard and strong. The students of Barberton High School have lost their freedom. They will do nothing in their new high school that is not videotaped.
`”And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” -1 (Psalm 119:45). This small verse gives an enormous- 1 truth: when one first seeks after the laws of God, then they will walk in liberty. Liberty without a firm foothold in restraint will lead to anarchy and bondage. Liberty cannot exist without restraint established first.
This divine order, of law and liberty is seen even in the plan of God concerning the salvation of mankind. Galatians 4:4 says that “in the fulness of the time …God sent his Son.” This verse indicates that God had some-thing that had to be established first, something had to come into its fullness before the age of grace could be ushered into place. The great law of liberty that Jesus Christ would bring into the world had to come at a particular time. Perhaps God was waiting for the principle of law to be firmly in place before liberty could make its entrance.
Could it be that before true liberty could come there had to be laws of behavior firmly set into the psyche of the people of God? Before God could unleash the great freedom that could be gained in Jesus Christ, did there need to be a law in the thought processes of man? Without the law of the Old Testament deeply embedded in man’s thinking, could it be that the law of Christ could not be established?
Maybe there had to be the Ten Commandments in the deep psyche of man before there could be Romans 8:21 and its “glorious liberty of the children of God.” The order in which the Bible is written seems to bear this out. When one picks up a Bible and begins to read, first he will be rooted and grounded in the law of God in the Old Testament, and then he will come to the story of Christ and the great liberty there is in Him in the New Testament.
Yes, the Old Testament law was replaced by the corning of Christ, but the principle of law was not done away with. Modern Christianity has preached so ardently the doctrines of grace and liberty, taken from the writings of , Paul, and has completely overlooked all the admonitions of Paul concerning behavior. The apostle Paul wrote that Jesus Christ took absolute preeminence over the Mosaic law. There is absolutely no question concerning that. But Paul never intended Christianity to be a lawless, unrestrained religion where the saints’ behavior is exactly like the world’s. It was not a coincidence that the apostle Paul, a man greatly versed in Old Testament law and who clearly understood the principle of law, was the man chosen to write on the great liberties of Christ. Freedom was rooted in law.
The Blessing of Rules in the Church
The religious world at large has declared that Christian liberty can exist with no rules and no restraints, a concept that sprang from modern thought. But that theology has run amok. The apostolic church has long carried the mantle that the principle of law is an important part of the Christian life. You cannot have liberty in Christ that is not rooted and grounded in the law of Christ, any more than you can have American liberties with no laws.
The church has every right to have Christian rules which are derived from Scripture. These parameters give liberty a place to flourish.
In writing on this subject, there is always the risk that someone will misunderstand and think that this is a call to reject grace. Nothing could be further from the truth. Or perhaps one might conclude that a cold allegiance to a code of rules can replace a relationship with God. That is not the case. This is not a call for a rejection of grace, nor is it a desire to place a list of rules in the church that will replace a close, loving relationship with Jesus that is found in prayer and communion with Him.
The church needs to look at the role of rules in the affairs of man throughout time. God has always had laws, restraints, and parameters within His creation, and we would be so foolish to think that the great liberties that Christ has bought for us with His own blood can exist without being rooted ‘ and grounded in rules of conduct found in His Word.
The grace of God is still the only thing that gives us hope of salvation. We are saved by grace. But grace with no rules and restraints is not what the Christian life was meant to be. Grace that leads to licentiousness is not grace at all. Living the Christian life with rules from the Word of God is a blessed life. The general knowledge of restraint and the principle of law could very well be the key to truly enjoying the freedom Jesus Christ brought to the world. Rules must be established before liberty can truly be practiced.
The understanding of biblical history is extremely important in the discussion of grace liberty and law/restraint. The Tabernacle plan, given to Moses by God, gives a perfect illustration of God’s view, God’s regard for law. The Holy of Holies, the most important room of the Tabernacle, contained a chest called the… Ark of the Covenant or the Ark of the Testament. This golden chest had one primary purpose: to hold the Law of God.
“And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee” (Exodus 25:16).
The focal point in the House of God was the room that contained the law! Not only did God design this Tabernacle with the law as the most important entity, but it was over the top of the law that He would come down and commune with man!
“And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 25:21-22).
The significance of this cannot be overstated. (1) God’s power dwelt between the cherubims over the law. (2) The blood was sprinkled for the atonement of sin over the Law. (3) God spoke to His people, communed with man, over the law!
There is a power of God that rests over those that regard and live by His laws! God loves law and order. He delights in things held in check by parameters, restrictions and restraints.
It was not happenstance that caused the Holy Ghost to be first outpoured on the Day of Pentecost. Many Bible scholars believed the Jews celebrated the giving of the law at Sinai at the feast of Pentecost! God was still dwelling over the law. But now it was law that was written no longer on tables of stone but in the hearts that Jeremiah had prophesied would come. (See Jeremiah 31:33.)
I was brought up in the ’50s and ’60s in the Apostolic-Pentecostal movement, where there were many church rules by which the saints were to live. These rules, which had their foundation in the Scriptures, were preached by pastors. Most dealt with (1) restraint of self and (2) separation from the world. As soon as a person become a member of the church, these rules of behavior were presented from the pulpit in a pointed fashion, along with the more subtle message given by the general conduct of the other believers. There was not much room for personal interpretation. If you were a member of this organization, this part of the body of Christ, there were some requirements.
There was an amazing transformation that happened in the lives of these people who placed themselves under this canopy of rules and restraints. People who had lived ungodly wicked lives, now became righteous, godly pillars in the community. Their once lawless lives were transformed.
Once they had learned to live within the parameters of the rules and restraints that the New Testament teaches, freedom blossomed in their lives. They were free from all the bondage of sin, and they developed a sense of knowing right from wrong when faced with new and different manifestations of sin. It was an amazing thing to see. These people became the foundations on which great churches could be built. You did not have to worry about how they were living. They were solid as rock!
These strong, unbending-toward-the-world saints were that way because they were rooted in restraint. They began their Christian lives with some rules from the Word of God and then blossomed out into the wonderful liberties and freedoms that comes in living for Christ.
But somewhere along the way, this kind of saint development began to be ridiculed, not only by the world but also within the general religious world. Just as America has evolved to a place of wanting all freedom and no law, it was being absorbed into the thinking of the Christian church.
There must be a reexamination of the direction it is taking. What the founding fathers of our nation understood that liberty is only possible when rooted in law and restraint must be understood in the twenty-first-century church of Jesus Christ.
Freedom in Christ is the great dividend of the saints. But just as the freedoms of America were given to us in the Constitution and purchased with the blood of the American patriots, there were also laws established that insured the continuation of that freedom. Only within the context of laws and rules can freedom truly be enjoyed.
Likewise, Jesus Christ wrote with His own blood the declaration of our freedom. But unless it is set within the context of restraints given in His “Law Book,” true freedom is impossible.
This article “Rules First, then Freedom” written by Nan M. Pamer is excerpted from her book I Live by His Word.