Like any household, we have rules. We have rules about how to treat other people. We have rules about how you behave at the table. We have rules about when you can and can’t watch TV.
We don’t make rules just because we think it’s fun to make them. We make rules because doing so helps us to look out for the well-being of our kids. We have rules because they teach our kids obedience. We have rules because they make the household run more smoothly.
The thing about rules, though, is that you can follow the rules without ever changing your heart. My daughters can follow our rules about how to speak to other and how to treat others without ever really understanding that we treat others the way we want to be treated because we want to show them God’s love.
The other day, my younger daughter was reading in the Bible about the early church and how they got caught up in a debate about the “rules” of being a Christ-follower. One faction of the early church thought everyone should follow the Law, including being circumcised and eating only clean foods. The other faction thought those rules shouldn’t apply to Christ-followers, and they were right.
You see, following Jesus isn’t about following a list of rules. It’s about seeking Him with our hearts, which will change our behaviors. If we are truly seeking Jesus, then we will follow His example in how to live because we love Him, not because we’re checking off another rule followed.
It’s easy for our kids to get the impression that if they just follow God’s “rules” then they’re following Him. Too often, we ask our kids if they think God would like what they’re doing. That’s a legitimate question, but we have to be careful not to turn God into a big, bad boogeyman that’s watching everything our kids do just waiting to show His disapproval. That’s not who God is. He’s not a God of rules. He’s a God of love. He’s a God of compassion. He’s a God of mercy.
Help your kids to understand that we choose to live the way God wants us to live because we love Him — not because we’re afraid of getting into trouble for breaking His “rules.” Jesus didn’t come to die to restrict us to living a life of rules. He came to set us free from the need to worry about following a strict set of rules in order to make restitution for our sins. Galatians 5:1 says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
As you teach your kids about God, make sure you put your focus on the importance of doing the right thing out of love for God instead of doing the right thing out of fear of breaking the rules. The difference is the difference between rote obedience and heart change.