The Pharisees were experts at studying and teaching scripture and, in their own way, followers of the Word. But something had happened to the Pharisees somewhere along the way—they replaced God with rules. It’s an easy thing to do. Many Christians do it today, usually without knowing it, and often with a heart that is trying to follow Jesus.
The Pharisee Jesus encountered in Matthew 22 had put many years and quite a lot of effort into following God. But somewhere in his past, he had replaced God with rules to the extent that when Jesus himself appeared before him, all he could think about was how to trap Jesus with the rules.
In my own life, I’ve played that game with Jesus. I push the boundaries, trying to get as close to sinning as I can without really crossing over that line. It comes naturally to us all as fallen people. No one had to teach us to bend the rules as far as possible.
For many of us, that’s how we play at being Christian. We will search the Bible for the rules (the important ones, of course, because we’re not going to do everything the Bible says!) then lay those rules around our lives like boundaries. The rest of our lives are spent trying to get as close to breaking those boundaries as possible without going over the edge. And we call that living the Christian life.
When we replace following God with following rules, we discover something tragic and depressing: we can’t follow the rules. Sometimes we do it accidentally and sometimes we do it intentionally, but the guarantee is that we will fall into sin. None of us can live life without sinning. If we are following the rules instead of following God, we’ll end up hurt, disappointed, and under the impression that we cannot please God.
Thankfully, God doesn’t call us to follow the rules but to follow Him. Jesus wants us simply to follow him and love him. So today, put down the rulebook you’ve made. Stop focusing on the boundaries you think Jesus wants you to live inside and instead, start focusing on him. Focus your eyes right on Jesus and let him lead the way.