Although good rules serve a useful purpose, they are not an end in themselves
as a free gift from God), they can restrain evil. However the heart is not changed by legalism through imposing external rules and regulations that only affect the outward compliance not the inner motivation (Isa 29:13; Gal 2:8,9; Col 2:20-23).
The commandments and laws given in the OT were to help the Jews to love God ‘with all their heart’ and respect other people (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18). However, over time humans added more supplementary regulations until they became a confused mass of obligations and became legalism – rigid standards imposed with the expectation people must conform.
In NT times, the Gentile believers were probably aware of many of the Jew’s laws, yet only four specific ones were set down for the believers to observe as the Church leaders did not want to bring people back into bondage to regulatory systems. As Christ taught, Christianity is not about rules to be obeyed, but rather a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Act 15:10,19-21,28,29). These key principles made a good starting point for their new faith, and over time they received more teaching in what God expects of His children besides personal conviction of the Holy Spirit working in their conscience about how to live a life pleasing to Him (Isa 30:21; 1 Cor 8:7-13, 10:23-33).
This new perspective – a loving connection with a changed heart, transformed by His power that focuses on how we can please Him – forms the foundation on which we are to live, applying the principle of the ‘golden rule’ of only doing to others what we like them to do to us (1 Kgs 8:58; Ezek 36:26,27; Mk 12:30,31; Lk 6:31). Observe what are good character qualities in others and copy these, noting there are no restrictions or rules about being too good!
This does not mean though that rules no longer serve a purpose. Earthly rules are to be obeyed, providing standards of value and guides to direct all facets of society in an orderly fashion (Act 16:4; Gal 5:7; Heb 13:17). In the keeping of rules, logic must not override compassion. The religious leaders tried to carrying the rules too far, so Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for a man’s benefit and not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-27).
Rules, when enforced and obeyed, bring order to what they relate to
wants us to live so we can live God-honouring lives doing what pleases Him and be blessed (1 Jn 3:22). Even games have rules to make things fair so play according to the regulations (2 Tim 2:5). There is freedom to operate within the boundaries of the rules. As the Jews of Jesus time demonstrated, too many rules lead to rituals and bondage – stifling life and innovation by becoming a burden to people through unnecessary control. Ultimately laws only condemn and lead to death, whereas the Spirit brings life (Ezek 18:4,20; 2 Cor 3:6). The moral law is helpful to point out sin and show us how to live God-pleasing lives but the forgiveness of sin only comes through the grace and mercy of Christ (Rom 7:10-8:2). Christ has set us free from sin’s bondage; this is not so we can do whatever we desire, instead so we can serve one another in love (Rom 6:1,15; Gal 5:1,13,18). We are following a different set of rules because we have a new ruler (Rom 6:11-22).