There are several things that really bother those of us who are natural rule followers. People who ride on the left side of an escalator while blocking others from walking past them, for example, or driving slow in the left lane. We are the jerks who use our horns too much, call you out for cutting in line and leave notes on office microwaves. I know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, you’re those people?!”
I can’t help it, it’s in my genes. From a very young age I have always tried my best to stay within the bounds of the rules. A lot of that came from never wanting to lose the respect of my parents. I benefited from being the youngest in that I got to learn a ton from my three older brothers’ mistakes.
This way of thinking follows me wherever I go. I’m constantly trying to make sure I’m following the rules. When my wife and I took a trip to another country one summer, I’m pretty sure I annoyed her with how much time I spent trying to figure out the proper customs. The last thing I wanted to do was feel like an idiot, not greet someone properly, or not tip enough. Bah! I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.
On good days, we somehow manage to find the grace, compassion and kindness for others who fall out of line, but the bigger problem comes when we break the rules ourselves. When I break a rule, it sends me down an ugly path. I start to hate myself. I can’t stand the thought of myself being disrespectful or selfish. If I set the rule, I feel like a hypocrite.
Recently, I’ve been on a strict diet. I get pumped by the number of days I can go without having a cheat day. I managed to start the year on a 20-day streak, until it came to a big anniversary meal with my wife to celebrate our sixth year of marriage. I tried my hardest to follow the rules of the diet, but the restaurant had a hard time staying within my guidelines. My streak ended and although the meal was delicious and tasty, it got to my head and I started to beat myself up. My mind robbed me of the joy that meal and time with my wife was meant to be. It happened again recently during a connection event. I ordered a meal that was within the rules of my diet, but then the waitress brought out the wrong order. I didn’t have it in me to tell her I had the wrong meal. After eating it, I hated myself for what I did. I wanted to quit and ignore all the progress I had made. I wanted to throw it all away because I couldn’t be perfect, and it’s easier to be on a plan that has no rules at all.
Why is it so easy for us to have grace and compassion for others but not ourselves?
Thankfully there is hope for us!
As Romans 20 says, “The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” This should be comforting, not demoralizing. It shows us how much we need a savior. The writer Paul continues…
21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
Is it a sin to be a rule follower? No, but it is if we think that following the rules is what is going to save us. Only Jesus can do that. Don’t put your faith in how good you can be. Don’t put your faith in being right. Put your faith in the one who paid the price for us all. He doesn’t see you as a failure, and neither should you.
Your Fellow Rule Follower,