Don't Let Your Rules Rule

June 1, 2014

David Sorn

Are you adding extra rules to the Bible? Find out why it's so easy to add rules and the problem with being a rule-adder.

Don't Let Your Rules Rule

June 1, 2014

David Sorn

Are you adding extra rules to the Bible? Find out why it's so easy to add rules and the problem with being a rule-adder.


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

Good to be back this week.

As someone who’s traveled do a 3rd-world country, let me just say, I actually appreciate all the rules and laws we have here in the U.S.

But sometimes we go a little overboard in prescribing what exactly needs to be done.

Or even warning people about what they shouldn’t do.

For instance, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Wacky Warning Labels Contest or not, but you should be.

Every year they select winners for the most preposterous warning labels on consumer products

Here are some recent winners:

A 7-inch decorative globe that came with the warning, “These globes should not be referred to for navigation.”

A baby stroller that said, “Remove baby before folding”

A T-Shirt that said, “Do not iron while wearing”

Or, one of my favorites, A warning label on a small tractor that says “Danger: Avoid Death.”

It’s unbelievable to me the amount of warnings or rules we can come up with.

And it’s no different in our Christian faith.

There’s just something about us that gravitates towards rules.

Now, rules/commands/laws don’t have to be a bad thing, they can be a good thing in fact.

But we can also make them a bad thing.

And maybe that’s happened in your life.

So I want to talk this morning about the place that rules oughta play in your life.

We’re going to be rejoining “The Kingdom” series this morning.

Our Kingdom series is on the book of Matthew, which is one of the 4 books in the Bible that is specifically about the life of Jesus.

We are going chronologically through the book for about 15-20 weeks this year, and covering as much as we can.

We’re going to be rejoining the book in chapter 12 this morning.

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Going to take a look at a conflict between a bunch of overly religious people and Jesus.

(Matthew 12:1-8) – NIV

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Okay, there’s a lot of references in there that you may or may not be familiar with, so I want to break this down a little bit.

First of all, they’re talking about the Sabbath, but the real issue here is what to do with rules…and who makes the rules…how do you interpret the rules?

Because the Bible says, you should take a Sabbath. Rest for a day.

It’s the 4th commandment actually.

But these Pharisees, these religious folks who are obsessed with rules…have added some rules to the Sabbath in Jesus’ day.

Because, I mean, what does it really mean “to rest” anyway? That’s the question they’re after.

Do I have to take a nap?

What if I go to target? Is that not restful enough?

Even more complicated, what if I enjoy running and that’s relaxing for me, doesn’t sound like resting!

What is it “to rest?!”

So, they come up with a list of 39 rules of what “work was” and what it means “to rest”


They came up w/ a rule book on how to take a day off.

And one of them was: You can’t prepare food. That’s working. No slaving by the oven on the Sabbath!

You need to make all your food the day before.

But they catch Jesus and his disciples “preparing a meal” by grabbing grain and eating it (cuz SEE that wasn’t laid out on a plate the night before…you’re working!!)

So they’re breaking the rules!

The question is just: Who’s rules?

The Bible’s rules? Or their rules?

And let me make an important distinction right away.

When I say “rules” today, I’m not saying “principles” or “tips for life” or “good systems to implement”

Like, a “good idea or principle” is “Read your Bible every morning”

But you wouldn’t say you were sinning if you read it at night.

The Pharisees set up rules.

Rules that said, “I know the Bible doesn’t say exactly how to rest, but if you don’t rest exactly how we say, “You’re sinning against God.”

That’s a rule…added to the Bible…and that’s a problem.

And that’s why Jesus brings up King David

Cuz King David, when he was running for his life from Saul, showed up at the tabernacle where the priest gave him some of the consecrated bread.

Which was 12 loaves of bread…symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel.

They were placed in the presence of God every Sabbath to show that God would provide for the people of Israel.

But Jesus points out that “David too was a holy man, and he was doing good, he was starving, so it was fine.”

I mean the Bible (not the Pharisees rules) even had a law in Deuteronomy that if you were starving, you could walk through someone’s field and eat (like the disciples were doing)

You couldn’t stash extras in your purse, but you could walk through and eat.

But the Pharisees main problem is that Jesus broke one of their extras rules about resting.

He’s a Sabbath breaker to the Jews!

They saw him do it in the fields!

By the way, think about the setting here.

Jesus is where?

He’s out in the fields. The religious people are STALKING him in the fields.

They’ve got that stalker “Find my Friends” facebook app, and they’re following Jesus everywhere!

See, this is why our guide for instructions is just the Bible. There isn’t another source.

Because once you start adding extra rules on what is and what isn’t sin, you’re on really dangerous ground. You’re saying, “Nah, God didn't get it all quite right. Let me improve on it”

But God’s rule for the Sabbath (rest on it) is fine and good enough

In those days, the Sabbath (for Jews) was on a Saturday, and it still is.

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, Christians moved it to Sundays.

I’m not sure the actual day really matters honestly.

And if that bothers you, maybe you’ve got too many extra rules J

It’s like, “do you actually know when the 7th day was when God rested? Maybe it was a Wednesday J

Don’t add extra rules to it.

The point is: Take a day off. Rest. Recuperate:

Physically, mentally, spiritually.

I take a Sabbath every week. I encourage my staff and leaders to do the same.

Around here, as you might have guessed, we don’t get Sundays off J

So I take every Monday off.

I even wore my “Closed on Mondays” shirt to prove it today.

I don’t work on Mondays at all.

My staff knows that if they call me on a Monday, someone better be in the hospital or something better be on fire.

I don’t check my email, I don’t do hardly anything with my phone, and I just play with kids all day and relax.

But again, the point is to take a day off…recuperate…physically, mentally, spiritually.

Let’s not make rules about it. Saying, if you don’t do it this way, you’re a sinner…remember, we don’t add to the Bible.

You might have a good principle about it…or a good tip, but you can’t make a rule… (that’s what the Pharisees were doing)

Like, I don’t like to touch my phone much on my day off…but maybe playing nerdy games on your phone where you kill aliens is how you relax.

Then by all means “save the galaxy for us.”

Jesus got grief for “preparing a meal” on the Sabbath because he was supposed to be “resting.”

But for some of you, baking cookies is how you relax.

What I want you to see here is that Jesus isn’t abolishing the Sabbath, he’s merely challenging their interpretation of it.

Saying, they missed the “heart of it”

And he’s challenging their obsession with extra rules.

He’s challenging their legalism


Legalism is trying to earn God’s favor by obeying all of the rules…

And one of the most common forms of legalism is when we say, “God’s rules are not sufficient, so we’re going to need to add some rules to that, so people know what sin really is AND so we really know how to please God.”

You may think, “Yeah, that was just in Jesus’ day though”…but trust me, it’s still around.

Let me give you a bunch of examples.

I see this in parts of Catholicism

I went to a Catholic school, so I’m quite familiar with this.

And so are many of you. We have so many Catholics here, I sometimes think we should just change our name to Renovation Catholic Church.

Best growth strategy ever.

All the Catholics would be like, “We can go here?”

I suppose I couldn’t have a wife then…so nevermind

Now, I think lent, in principle is a good thing, but there have been a lot of extra rules added to it.

And I don’t just mean tips, principles and good advice.

I mean, like if you order the Cheeseburger at McDonald’s during lent instead of the Filet-O-Fish, you are sinning

But that’s an extra “rule” somebody added (that’s not in the Bible) to say who’s sinning and not.

A form of Legalism.

And let’s pick on protestant Christians for a bit

Alcohol is an easy example here.

A lot of Christians are made to feel like if they have one drink of alcohol, they are sinning.

A lot of Christian institutions even have rules that you can not take a drink of alcohol if you want to attend or work there

Because, you know, you don’t want to be like Jesus and drink wine

Now, the Bible clearly says that getting drunk is a sin, but unless you want to call Jesus a sinner, you can’t add an extra rule saying having a drink is a sin.

Or we say things like, “Godly people only listen to Christian music”

Have you listened to some Christian music?

I’m pretty sure it’s sinful to listen to…it’s that bad. J

A lot of it’s great…it is.

But l don’t listen to just Christian music. There’s plenty of wholesome secular music too.

You don’t watch just Christian TV do you?

Or, maybe you make the rules up for yourself…

Like you say, “I shouldn’t watch porn on the internet. That’s bad.”

But if you watch some sci-fi show on HBO that happens to have nudity in it, that’s fine, cuz that’s TV

I’m sure God’s going, “Oh, he’s watching it on a TV, not the internet…that’s a-ok with me!”

And I want you to think long and hard today, “What is it that you’re treating like a Biblical command in your life that maybe is just an extra rule?”

Now again, you might have some good principles, guidelines, things to live by that are really helping you grow spiritually…and that’s great! Keep that!

But my hunch is, like me, you also have some extra rules that you’re putting on par with Biblical commands, and they simply don’t deserve to be on that level.

A related piece to all this…something that helps us avoid falling into this trip…is simply…

A) Knowing and learning the Bible (so what are the real rules)

B) Knowing how to interpret the Bible accurately.

This is why you’ve just got to take our Mining God’s Word class this summer…where we’ll teach you HOW to interpret the Bible with accuracy, tools, and skills.

So you won’t unknowingly abuse it in your own life and for others.

And eventually theology classes.

Seriously, take a class this summer.

They’re 8-9 weeks. You’ll love it.

You can record Wipeout on DVR.

Do something worthwhile with your summer

Remember why you’re here. To change the world.


But why is it that we gravitate towards rules so much?

And in particular, adding extra rules?

Let’s take a look at a few more verses in our passage before we answer that question:

(Matthew 12:9-14) – NIV

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Now, remember, they have 39 extra rules on what “Work” is on the Sabbath…

And one of those rules is that you can only give emergency medical care on the Sabbath (someone’s giving birth, choking to death, etc.)

But the guy with the shriveled hand, that’s not an “emergency,” so Jesus would therefore be “working,” and therefore be “sinning” in their eyes.

The Pharisees miss it in a couple of ways in Matthew 12

Ironically, in trying to please God w/ their extra rules, they miss God’s heart.

Think of it this way:

Let’s say you’re on your way to church, and your friend calls and says, “My spouse just left me…they said they’re leaving…and not coming back…I need a friend right now”

What would you do?

Well, there’s no verse…there’s no command in the Bible that says, “Attend church 52 weeks a year.”

Is it good for you? Is it honoring God to? Should you be here as much as you can? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

But is it a Biblical rule? A command? No.

And what’s God’s heart?

It’s get the sheep out of the well!

It’s heal the man’s hand!

It’s go help your friend!

It’s not stick to a “cultural rule about being holy”

Now, this is a fine line because we can’t disobey the Bible just to do what we feel is right. Absolutely not.

And you can’t say it’s God’s heart that you stay home and clean your garage…He isn’t comfortable w/ all that dirt.

But we also can’t be so obsessed with dotting all of these extra i’s and crossing all of our extra t’s for God, that we miss his heart in the first place.

That’s why Jesus says, “What I desire is mercy, “not just your religious sacrifices”

I desire your heart…and that your heart is aligned with mine…not that you just go through the motions!”

But it’s not necessarily easy to live that way is it?

In fact, I think so many of the Pharisees are gravitating towards all of the extra rules simply because that’s the easier way.

It’s simpler.

Many have said that legalists tend to present life with God as a paint-by-numbers sort of life.

You have so many rules so you can know exactly how to act in each situation.

And guess what? Everyone’s painting looks exactly the same!

That way I can tell if you’re being a good little Christian or not!

Here’s the thing with paint by numbers though – I liked it as a kid.

Even preferred it. I couldn’t do normal art. Too hard. Never turned out right…

My chances of messing it up were a lot lower if I did paint-by-numbers.

Legalism comes out of the same reasoning.

It’s just simpler if I know exactly what I’m supposed to do…

And sometimes life is confusing, and in our pursuit to bring clarity to chaos, we add rules.

And then we make them for everyone, so they can know exactly when they’re doing it right.

That may be simpler…but it’s not what God wants from you.

God doesn’t want a robotic relationship from you.

Just like I don’t want a robotic relationship with my wife…or with my kids either.

God is not elf on a shelf.

You know the elf that reports to Santa and tells him if you’re been naughty or nice?

That’s an ugly version of God.

He doesn’t want robotic obedience, he wants your heart…your life.


I think a lot of this simply comes out of a misunderstanding of what rules are all about.

I heard Pastor Mark Driscoll say this once: Birthday Cakes don’t need rules. You just eat them. Doesn’t matter how.

When you give your kids a birthday cake on their first birthday, it’s not like your one year old is saying, “Can I tuck my napkin in my shirt first? Where’s my fine china?”

A) Cuz they can’t talk

B) Cuz they don’t care

They just dive in and enjoy the cake

Here are some pictures of some kids from our church eating cake.


See, you need to enjoy God like a 1-year old eats their birthday cake.

Instead, some of you are trying to enjoy God like a person tries to enjoy food on their first date.

When Lindsey and I went away for our 10-year anniversary last week, I made a pact to eat donuts everyday (some of your rule-a-meters just went up!)

On one of the days, Lindsey was enjoying a powered sugar donut and I asked, “Would you have eaten that on our first date?”

She said, “No way.”

But that’s how a lot of us live with God…tip-toeing around…hoping we can impress Him. Hoping He likes us all clean and pretty.

Making sure we obey every single rule…and a bunch more we made up…all so he’ll see us at our best.

But I got news for you: He’s seen you in your mess and He loves you anyway.

So enjoy him!

Now, don’t swing too far here.

God does give rules in the Bibles. Commands.

But rather than be rules like, “Eat your birthday cake with a napkin and fine china, they’re more like…don’t eat paint chips…it won’t go well for you”

One of the main things God wants for your life is for you to enjoy Him.

And BIBLICAL rules play a part of that.

But THOSE rules serve a different purpose.

For instance, I grew up in a neighborhood with a ton of kids…until I was in 5th grade, and my parents made a horrific mistake of moving me to a neighborhood surrounded by retired people.

But in the neighborhood with the kids, we’d play games outside ALL THE TIME!

And when you played games like “kick the can” or “Annie annie over,” you needed rules.

But you always hated the kid who had like all of these new and extra rules…

“Now, when the can is kicked, it doesn’t count unless you say “Kick the can” when you kick it…and you have to kick the can at least 3 feet…we will be measuring.

It’s like…way to ruin the game buddy!

But the opposite was also true.

The worst was playing one of those games and there were no rules.

Or everyone played by their own rules.

It doesn’t’ work.

It’s miserable.

The same is true for your life.

God’s rules are there for me to enjoy my life.

I enjoy my life and my family a lot.

But that’s also because I’m following some of God’s basic rules.

If I disobey one of God’s Biblical rules and commit adultery, I’m not going to enjoy my life as much.

And I do it not just because it’ll bring me joy, but because He has brought me joy…because He died for me, so I WANT to live for Him

So, let’s apply this to the Sabbath then…

The rule from the Bible (rest a day a week) is there for you to enjoy life.

But as soon as you start getting burdened and worn out by all of these extra rules…you’ve missed the original intent…TO REST!

The intent of God’s rules is meant to honor Him.

And it’s also meant to serve you, not for you to serve the rules.

Here’s another way to look at it:

In Mark’s telling of the same story, he let’s us know something else Jesus said:

It’s a passage I always had a hard time making sense of when I was a new Christian

(Mark 2:27) – NIV

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

In other words, The Sabbath was made so YOU could rest, it’s not that YOU were made to make sure you obey a rule.

Or think of it this way: As my kids get older, I’m going to tell them, “ Don’t play in the road”


Because I want them to enjoy life!

The guideline is there for them. It’s to serve them.

But I’m not going to add extra rules to it and check their progress.

I’m not going to ask them each night, “Now how many steps did you take in the road? Did you touch the sidewalk that’s ATTACHED to the road?”

Remember, principles, guidelines can be good.

God’s rules in the Bible are good.

But ultimately, even the good rules shouldn’t’ be your ruler.

The chief aim of your life is to glorify God, enjoy Him, and change the world.

If you let the rules rule, and make that the chief aim, you’ll never accomplish those things.

So don’t let your rules rule, let Jesus rule.


Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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