Rules: the good and the bad

Posted on · Posted in Ruling Desires, Sanctification

Rules make life work.

They tell us:

  • how fast to drive,
  • what time to put your children to bed,
  • how many calories to eat,
  • how much to pay in taxes,
  • what is acceptable behavior at school,
  • what time to arrive at work,
  • how to participate in sporting events,
  • what not to do at the swimming pool,
  • and many more things to numerous to count.

But there is also a problem with rules. They lack the power to draw you and your children closer to Christ! If your parenting is primarily about keeping rules, you will actually drive your children from Christ and provoke them to anger. Paul says exactly this in Colossians 2:23 where he warns that rules are of no value in restraining sinful, fleshly desires. If you rely on rules Paul says that you will irritate, aggravate, embitter your children (Colossians 3:21). Satan’s deceptive goal is to make parents think they are following Christ when they rely primarily on rules. In reality, when this happens, parents are following Satan’s plan for the spiritual destruction of their children!

So on the one hand rules are essential for safely navigating the waters of everyday life. But on the other hand relying on these same rules to engage in spiritual warfare results in disaster!

Paul is urging you to rely on the unique power of your relationship with Christ. This must also be the goal for your children. Yes, rules are essential. But, no, rules are not what makes you or your children acceptable to God. None of us as adults want God to judge us on the basis of how well we follow rules. But far too often, children are made to think that their goodness depends on how well they keep your rules!

Point your children to Christ. You are acceptable before God not because you have had a good day of rule keeping. You are acceptable because Jesus died for your sins. Your children should not think they are acceptable to you because of how well they keep rules.

Wisely use rules to help keep your family safe and able to function well in life.

But plead the mercy of gospel grace to draw close to God. Rules won’t keep your children from selfishness or from the enslaving grip of pornography. Yes, you should teach your children about how to play together unselfishly. Yes, you should warn them about the evils of porn and monitor their online activity. But only the life-changing power of a relationship with Christ can lead to a changed heart that is not dominated by sensual indulgence.

Don’t rely on rules to do what only Christ can do.

Christ All Sufficient

Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.