The truth about rules (October 8, 2023)

How do you make the right decision when there isn't always a clear choice, asks British Hyrams?

Outlook Standard Lesson for October 8, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Romans 7:1-12

What is really going on here?

Have you ever noticed that most examples of great messages on church signs are ones that are funny or catchy? A quick Google search produces examples of all kinds: “CH CH: What’s missing? UR” or “Sign Broken/ Message Inside.” Personally, I have never seen one that seriously takes up the issue of sin — those are all humorous too.

Some, dare I say most, churches are reluctant to talk about sin directly, straight up, or head-on, but the Apostle Paul is not. In fact, he is the exact opposite. Though the subject is complicated, in chapter 6 Paul gives stern warnings: “Don’t let sin rule your body” (v. 6). He also (re)orients the Jewish and Gentile Christians’s perspectives regarding what new life in Christ means: “In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11). This is the backdrop leading up to today’s Scripture.

Rules. Laws. Mandates. Commands. Orders.

For a segment of society, the very thought of being told what to do or not to do makes them shudder. Others perhaps welcome a sense of structure or where a safe zone lies. In general (not always) laws, rules, etc. are meant to protect us and others. They deter chaos. They are meant to teach us. They were never meant to replace the triune God!

In chapter 7, Paul describes how the Jewish Christians in Rome who have had the law, the Torah, for centuries have now been released from the law because they died to the law in Christ (v. 4). They have also been raised with the resurrected Christ for new life in the Spirit.

Excuse me? This is a vastly new and shocking concept and way of being for them! It begs a question that Paul seems to anticipate: Was the law bad? (gasp) His answer: Absolutely not!

The truth of the matter

People of all ages seek to name other people, behaviors, policies, opinions, perspectives, etc. as good or bad, right or wrong. However, with a bit of experience or intentional investigation, we soon discover that plenty of situations in life are not always clear-cut. Whether you are quick and decisive, an avid pros and cons list-maker, or one who gets caught in the throes of analysis paralysis, most of us want to make the right decisions or “do what is right” in any given situation. But it doesn’t take much living of life, many days of “adulting” before you realize that what is “right” can have a variety of interpretations.

What rules apply in the following situations? Have the rules that apply to these situations changed over time?

  • Does the pastor attend her child’s last soccer game of the season or the church’s handbell choir concert?
  • Do you hire a well-qualified Gen Z young adult who has changed companies every 1.5 years?

Bottom line

We are required to live in a perpetual liminal space. A liminal space is described by author Susan Beaumont as “times of transformation and deeper relationship with God.” We live in a society and world that is in a constant state of change and our decision-making is challenged at every turn. We may be faced with doing what is right in the eyes of God and our faith even when it violates human law. However, figuring out what is right means constantly drawing close to God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This happens in our worship, prayer, biblical study, and other spiritual disciplines. It is our life’s journey to grow in faith and discern what is right. By the grace of God, we are able to actually do what is right.

All of this is in full acknowledgment that there is conflict and turmoil within us. As Paul shows us later in chapter 7 (vv. 13-25), our inner being is a complex space that produces sinful ways even though we don’t want it to.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Recall the last time you made a faulty assumption about the “right” choice in a situation. What did you learn from it? If you can’t recall a time, what does that mean — are you always right?
  2. How has your study of the Bible helped you internalize God’s laws, meaning have them in your heart for daily reference?
  3. When faced with making a “difficult” right choice, how do you intentionally ask for and hear God’s direction?