What's Wrong with Bending the Rules?
Megan is vice president of her youth group and leader of a small Bible study that meets before school. She wants to be a missionary after college. Last week when she had a pop quiz in history, Megan copied a few answers from someone else's test. She doesn't think it's a big deal. She knows she probably wouldn't have passed that test without a little help, and she has to pass to get into a good college.
Shane leads his basketball team in prayer before every game. He and his girlfriend bought each other "True Love Waits" rings for their six-month dating anniversary. So far, they've only kissed and have promised not to go any farther. Shane loves cruising around in his old car. His buddies think it's cool when he races past the other cars on the road. He doesn't think breaking the speed limit is a big deal. He just hates driving behind slow people.
It's not like Megan and Shane are bad people, or trying to hurt anyone. They're just bending the rules a little.
Bend or Break? Somewhere along the line, each of us decides just how much bending of the rules we're going to do. We might spread gossip, but not lie to our parents. We might make fun of our younger siblings, but not drink at a party. It's as though we've ranked our behavior on a scale that makes some actions worse than others.
But in God's eyes, sin is sin. Romans 1:29-31 rattles off a whole list of sins, each one as bad as the others. Gossip is as evil as murder, arrogance as sinful as hating God. And James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." Every sin, no matter who it hurts or how bad society says it is, is the same because it separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The good news is that because of Jesus' death and resurrection, our guilt is erased and our relationship with God is restored.
Still, sin has an impact on our lives and our relationships with other people. Take speeding. Not only is it breaking the law, it's also sending a message to others. When we exceed the speed limit, what we're really saying to the people around us is, "The things I have to do are more important than the safety of other people on the road." By speeding, we're putting our own needs and desires ahead of the well-being of others. And that's hardly loving others as we love ourselves.
Doing the right thing is about more than just showing a good front to other people. The Bible is clear that our behavior should be godly no matter who's looking. Check out Colossians 3:23, which says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." Jesus even got angry at some religious leaders for being more concerned with what people thought of them than with what was in their hearts. In Luke 11:39-40, Jesus says, " … you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?"
Jesus' words tell us that God cares deeply about our character, no matter who's watching.
The New You
This whole discussion of character, morals and sin would be totally meaningless if we had to rely on our own efforts to follow God's will for our lives. We are sinful people, and even our best attempts to live sinless lives fail. We all sin. Thankfully, we don't have to rely on ourselves. We've got Jesus Christ. And the Bible tells us that, because of Jesus, we are different people than we were before he came along. Take a look at this passage:
Since, then, you have been raised up with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. … You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:1-3; 9-10).
Because of Jesus, we don't have to be afraid of losing God's love because we've messed up. We have a new life in Christ where our sins are forgiven.
As Christians, we want nothing more than to honor God with our lives. We want to do the right things and we want to be good examples to our friends. And the Bible tells us how to do those things. We just need to follow instructions. The more we practice living lives of honesty and integrity, the faster those traits will become part of our character. And when our character reflects the love of God, our words, our actions, and our entire lives will too.
Written by Carla Barnhill