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Become a Radical: 3 Rules You Should Break Today

Funny SignRebellion is bad, right? In the sense that we are all born bent away from God toward sin, yes. But when God gets hold of us, changes us from the inside out, and sets an entirely new agenda for our lives, it is then time to become a radical and rebel against everything our old nature would have driven us to do and everything the culture pressures us to do.

This is especially true when we are tempted to live out the new life in the pattern and power of our old nature. In other words, when we reduce life to a list of rules and rituals rather than seeing it as an ongoing, life-giving relationship with our Creator, it’s time to rebel. Here are some rules you and I ought to start breaking today…

1. The Prayer Rule.

Wake up. Pray. Check it off the list.

If that’s your pattern, throw the list away! Tim Keller put it this way, “To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule – it is a failure to meet God as God. It is a sin against His glory.”

Instead, pray because God is worthy of seeking, powerful to respond, and a delight to have as a close friend. Prayer isn’t a rule to keep, it’s a relationship waiting to blossom. Break the prayer rule. Start a praying relationship.

2. The Church Rule.

Dress up. Get to church. Smile no matter what transpired on the way. Check it off the list.

I don’t need another thing to do every week just because people expect me to do it. What I do need is community. I need fellowship. I need practical, biblical teaching. I need people to do life with and with whom to join in God’s mission together.

It’s entirely possible to enjoy gathering with God’s people. It can be rejuvenating and encouraging, especially when I decide to go with the ministry of encouraging others on the forefront of my mind. It’s also possible that the assembly of God’s people can be a place where we get real about our struggles together rather than mutually upholding a mere facade of outward, performance-based holiness.

Break the church rule. Start leaning into your forever family, wherever they gather each weekend.


3. The Bible Rule.

Read 3.5 chapters. Check it off the list.

It’s always sad when I take the most exciting story ever written and treat it as a mere classroom textbook.

Got through Leviticus again! I don’t remember any of it, but it’s DONE!

The Bible is the written record of God’s redemption of lost mankind from utter desolation to life and heaven through the blood of His sacrificed Son. It’s filled with adventure, with wild men and women doing crazy things for God, with people who blew it and recovered, with wisdom for every situation we’ll ever face. It’s a story of up’s and down’s and all around’s. We’re disheartened over defeat in the lives of its godly characters, then delighted in the victories that inevitably occur, culminating in a mysterious picture of the final, eternal destination of all who trust the Redeemer of the story.

It’s a living book. A life-giving book. A holy book. A God-breathed book. And it’s useful to make us everything God knows we can be in our new relationship with him.

Break the Bible rule. Don’t just read it. Lie asoak in it. Be drenched in the drama of redemption. Be changed by its challenges and shaped by its truth.

If you aren’t praying yet, start. If you don’t have a church to gather with that feeds your faith and causes you to flourish, find one. If you aren’t spending time daily in the Word, start afresh. But resist the temptation for these things, and dozens of others like them, to become the end, rather than the means to the end, which is more of God and more of his blessing.

God Has Great Ambitions For You

RulesGod never peddles Christianity as a spiritual benefits package to be enjoyed without challenges or adversity. He knows we’re going to go through some hard stuff. He remembers that we are made of dust. And He is all too familiar with our sin nature and how incapable we are of achieving perfection in our own power.

But He never softens His challenge. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually lifts up the highest possible standard…

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

– Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

What a standard, right? Perfection. When we face our imperfections, Jesus is our sacrifice. When we face our inability to grow into completeness on our own, Jesus is our source of power.

Jesus came to relieve people of the legalistic burdens of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but He didn’t lower His standards. He actually raised His standard for us, but He did so with grace and with a willingness to receive, save, and empower us.

God knows your weaknesses, and in spite of them, God believes you have huge potential!

photo credit: Gord McKenna

Where Exactly Do We Stand?

Grace Based LivingEven though none of us actually plays by the rules (according to Romans 3:10, 23), we still try rather hard to do so. We’ve all sinned and fallen short, but in our broken condition, we just keep on plugging away in hopes that in eternity all of our trying and fighting and working will somehow qualify us for heaven in God’s eyes.

Most of us find ourselves living a rules-based life. We have an assumption that our Creator will someday evaluate our performance to see if we’ve measured up to His standard. If we’ve been mostly good, we’re in! But Scripture is clear that God has already evaluated our performance. And the bad news is that He has already concluded that we don’t measure up. So that issue is settled. We can stop trying, stop fighting, and stop working.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he expounded significantly on the subject of the grace of God. In chapter five, he proclaims that, “since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1 NLT)

Think about those words. We have been made right in God’s sight… not by our trying, working, and fighting, but because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Instead of struggling to produce a strong performance, we can fling ourselves at the foot of the cross and trust in the mercy and grace of God to save us and sustain us. Let me challenge you to make an enormous and monumental shift in your life – from performance-based living to grace-based living. I can stand before God in my own righteousness, and I’ll never measure up. Or I can stand before God in the righteousness of Christ and be accepted on the basis of His performance.

John Phillips points out about this passage that there is a difference between our standing and our state. We live in a state of struggling and progress. But if we’ve trusted in Christ alone to save and sustain us, we have a right standing before God, regardless of the state in which we find ourselves.

To have a right standing with God – to stand confidently before Him someday – trust in the performance of Jesus Christ on the cross when He paid the penalty for all of our sins. Enjoy the journey of a grace-based life!

How Can I Be Legalism Free?

I like rules, lines, and boundaries. I feel safer if I have clear parameters, which explains my love for graph paper. I like it when everything is nice and tidy. The problem is, life isn’t always nice and tidy. People around me don’t always play by my rules, and I’m the biggest boundary breaker of them all.

It would seem that the alternative to rules-based living would be no rules living, rebellion, and abandonment of moral restraint. But what if that isn’t the best alternative to legalistic living? Jesus’ greatest confrontations happened with legalists who not only lived by rigid sets of rules, but quickly judged others by those rules as well.

The New Testament message – the gospel – is one of liberation from legalism, but it isn’t an encouragement to rebellion either. It’s about being free to really live. But how? How can I really live a life free from legalism and still grow into the godly character that Jesus saved me to be?

Establish Some Foundational Principles

We can know certain things to be true, no matter what. They are unbreakable absolutes that cannot be compromised. For example…

  • God’s Word, the Bible (including the “Law”), is perfect, good, without any mixture of error, and therefore completely trustworthy as the basis for living life.
  • Holiness, complete maturity, and Christlikeness is God’s goal for every believer in Christ.
  • Legalism never gets us to that goal. (So let’s move on…)

Diagnose Thyself

My name is Brandon Cox, and I’m a legalist. At least I still struggle with the remnants of legalism in my life. I guess I’m a “recovering legalist” who still slips into the old frame of mind sometimes. In fact, I think we all tend toward legalism to varying degrees and the longer we’ve been believers, the more susceptible we are.

How can you tell if you’re a legalist? Here’s a quick checklist…

  1. I determine whether God likes me or not based on how well I’ve kept the rules.
  2. I might acknowledge I was saved by grace alone, but I think my effort has something to do with staying saved.
  3. I tend to pray less when I fear that God is probably mad at me about something.
  4. I think I’m disqualified from the Christian faith because I’ve messed up, in spite of the fact that I’m still alive and breathing.
  5. I tend to notice the “bad behavior” in others without giving thought to their past pain, poor upbringing, or unknown circumstances.
  6. When other sinners suffer for their choices, I hear a tiny voice saying “serves them right.”
  7. I’m more passionate about the rules I find easy to keep, and minimize the ones I personally struggle with.
  8. I’m all about being “in the Word” but sometimes fail to let the Word get into me.
  9. I love going to Bible study more than serving or witnessing because it “feeds me” and makes me feel more spiritually mature.
  10. I recognize that traditions are not necessarily biblical… unless they’re my traditions.

Thoroughly self-diagnosed yet? Let’s talk about the cure.

Heal Thyself

You need to know, up front, that you’ll never completely get over being a legalist. Since the garden of Eden, God has been all about grace. It explains why God made coats of animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. And since the garden of Eden, we’ve tried (with Satan’s help) to re-write the gospel to somehow include merit. As humans, we are rules addicts.

But we can break free. Jesus invites us to His freedom…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Paul developed a distinctive theology of freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

~ Galatians 5:1 NLT

Here are some steps to take…

  1. See your sin for what it is. It’s an offense to God to sin. No, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, but you also shouldn’t vindicate yourself on the basis that sin “isn’t a big deal.”
  2. See Jesus for whom He is. He’s your sacrifice. Nothing you’ve done could have prevent Him from going to the cross just for you. He’s the only perfect and righteous Savior.
  3. See the cross for what it is. The cross was where He died for your sins. In other words, your sins are paid for. Stop trying to pay the debt yourself. Every time you do, you ignore the cross and insult His sacrifice.
  4. Embrace grace. Revel in it. Bathe yourself in the idea of it. Roll around in the concept that you are free… free indeed!
  5. Embrace grace… more. Don’t stop thinking about it. Read about it. Read about how Jesus showed it. Understand that you’ll never totally understand it, but don’t stop trying.
  6. Show grace. In fact, mob people with it. Show it when you don’t feel like it, when it doesn’t make sense, and especially when it would feel better to do otherwise.

I recently joined the People of the Second Chance. No, it’s not a cult. It’s just this…

People of the Second Chance gives voice to a scandalous movement of radical grace in life and leadership. We challenge the common misconceptions about failure and success and stand with those who have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives. We are a community that is committed to stretch ourselves in the areas of relational forgiveness, personal transparency, and advocate for mercy over judgment.

We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage them as a source of strength and character development.

People of the Second Chance have experienced a second chance so we actively support social justice organizations and advocate for the vulnerable, forgotten, and left behind.

We are People of the Second Chance.

We extend grace in our relationships, workplaces, and in the world.

We refuse to be victims and are not defeated by our past. We courageously open ourselves to personal forgiveness.

We sacrificially give our time and resources to the work of renewal, restoration, and social justice.

You don’t have to join a movement, attend a Bible study, or wear a badge. Just embrace grace! Celebrate it and never look back. You can be legalism free. Jesus said so!

Also, if you’d like a nice downloadable pdf of this, check out the same post on the Grace Hills Church website.

Thank God for His Boundaries


Our condo is two floors, with all the living space upstairs over the garage, so when you come in, you go upstairs. At the top of the stairs is a gate with a lock. This is a good thing, because Sam just started crawling and he heads for the gate all the time. So the rule is ALWAYS check the lock on the gate. Boundaries are good.

Why is it that we, as humans, have such a problem with boundaries? Isaiah said that like sheep, we have all gone astray. We’ve turned every one of us to our own way. We don’t like boundaries. They feel like restrictions on our happiness. If I were just allowed to _____, I’d be happy, or so we think.

But God has put into place some clear boundaries for our protection. He does it because He loves us. If we all lived by God’s commandments, we’d have a peaceable and safe society. We’d live longer lives. But we rebel.

Many times when I talk to people who seem to have a belief problem, I sense that it isn’t really a belief problem at all, it’s an authority problem. It’s a disagreement with God’s boundaries. If I believe Him and take Him at His word, I’m going to have to adjust to His principles and precepts. Jesus asked Saul on the road to Damascus, “why do you kick so hard against the goads?” Like an ox who doesn’t want to be prodded, we rebel.

Ever wonder how much better life would be if we stayed inside the boundaries? It’s true on the road – that’s why the lines are there. It’s true in coloring books and standing in line for a ride at Six Flags. Maybe boundaries aren’t such a bad thing. Maybe, just maybe, God means them for our good!

And when we stray outside the boundaries, or better yet, try to punch right through them? Bad things can happen. Just ask Beau, our dog, who excitedly bounded up the steps after we came in for a walk. When he got to the gate, his little doggie mind decided to just punch right through and… he got stuck.


Disclaimer: No animals or children were harmed in the production of this blog post. Beau is doing just fine in the gate. We feed and water him there each day…

Boundaries, by Cloud and TownsendRecommended Reading: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Cloud and Townsend, is a classic now revised and re-released.