613 was the number of laws that the Jews had to follow in Jesus’ time. While many are stated in the Old Testament, mainly in the first five books of the Bible, the majority of them were created by the Jewish religious leaders. The whole day-to-day of their religion was about following the rules. It was all about the dos and don’ts. Their chief concern was that they avoid displeasing God by breaking one of the hundreds of rules. Could you imagine trying to remember 613 rules, let alone follow all of them? Heck, we struggle to follow the two that Jesus laid out, love God and love people. Just imagine the pressure that they would feel and the constant worry that they would unknowingly break one of the laws.
Unfortunately, that line of thought has managed to trickle down into modern-day Christianity. The notion that God exists as a prodding principal that makes sure everyone is standing in a straight line and not talking out of turn has yet to dissipate. There are many preachers who delivered a sermon this past Sunday that did nothing but brow-beat the congregation and drive home the idea that our relationship with God is centered entirely around our obedience to the rules. Now, I need to offer the caveat that we should be obedient to God and the Word. I do believe that the difference is the heart behind the obedience. If the motive is to earn God’s love, favor, and blessing, then the motive is mistaken. That was all taken care of for you by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The reason that we should seek to be obedient to God is out of our relationship of mutual love. My favorite image of God is as our heavenly father. Think about your parents when you were growing up. All of them had rules in which you were to follow. Now, I do know that some parents have abused their authority, and this can conjure up negative emotions and hurt. I was blessed with loving parents, and they certainly had their rules that I had to follow. Why did I choose to adhere to them (most of the time)? It was because the love and respect I had for them. Of course, there was the desire to not get into trouble, but, if I am being honest, I could have gotten away with a lot more than I did. However, the greater drive behind this was that we had a great relationship, and I trusted that they had my best intentions at heart. This is the reason why we should follow God’s word. It is because he loves us, and always has our good in mind.
It’s not about the rules. Jesus says in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is freedom from the yoke of having to obsess over following the law, which the Pharisees and Sadducees used to oppress God’s people. This freedom was bought for us with Christ’s life. We are to not abuse it by hurting others, freely giving ourselves to sin, or to get personal gain. We are to use the freedom to build a true and meaningful relationship with our heavenly father. He does not ask us to follow 613 laws. All that he asks us is to love him, love others, and be loved by him. It’s not about the rules; it’s about our relationship with him.