“I want you to go out and play a game of basketball and the only rule is that there are no rules.”
Those were the only instructions given at a Christian camp a few years ago, to a group of teenagers. No rules – enjoy yourself!
You can just imagine the resulting chaos. Kids stole the ball and ran to nearby basketball courts to shoot unopposed. Others scored points by shooting at their own basket. They couldn’t even agree on how to score. Some wanted to deduct points for every basket. What started out as great fun quickly became both frustrating and futile for everyone. But, they got a great lesson in the value of having structure in their lives – rules they could all depend on to make life work! And, it created a teachable moment.
When I heard this story, I thought it would be a perfect way to introduce our grandchildren and yours to the wisdom of God’s moral laws. You can achieve the same results playing a board or video game without rules. But, beyond the fun exercise of playing a game without rules, the following are some ideas for leveraging the resulting chaos to pass on to the next generation an appreciation for God’s rules.
We don’t always think about it, but when God created this world he didn’t simply create “stuff”, like dirt, planets, animals, and water. He also created natural laws to make this stuff “work”. Waterfalls “work” because of gravity. The earth orbits around the sun, only by a combination of centrifugal force and gravity. The laws of thermodynamics and physics make warm air rise causing clouds and rain to water the earth. If it weren’t for these unseen, but absolutely essential natural laws, creation would fall apart and there would be chaos.
Moral laws were also created by God. Some moral laws were introduced by God to Adam and Eve before “the fall”. He told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree, but they did. And, with the fall, sin came into the world requiring God to “amp up” his moral framework, these rules of life so that relationships between he and mankind and also between other individuals, families, communities and nations would work.
God’s moral laws come to us in two primary ways. The first is through our conscious – his moral rules “written on our hearts”. Every human has a conscience and knows some things are always wrong. (Romans 1:18-20)
We also have God’s moral laws as found in Scripture. Moral laws tell us what things we ought to do (the positive commands) and those things we ought not to do (the negative commands). Some are specific like the Ten Commandments. Other moral laws are more general, urging us to love others, serve, be forgiving, etc. God knew that without some moral order (rules) we would have chaos just the way nature would have chaos if there were no natural laws.
All God’s rules or laws are important
There is a common misunderstanding that science (or natural laws) cover facts that are constant, reliable, and true, while moral laws and religion are based on values that can change with time if enough people believe they ought to change. A Christian or biblical worldview draws no such distinction. It insists that all God’s laws, physical and moral, govern all creation.
The reason these two types of laws (moral and natural laws) seem so different is that in the physical world, stones fall, planets move in orbit, all with no choice in the matter – because nature does not have freewill. However, humans do. God has chosen to rule indirectly, entrusting humans with the task of living in community, doing justice, producing art, educating children, etc.
And although a stone cannot defy God’s law of gravity, human beings can and do rebel against God’s moral and social order. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a simple, objective, purposeful, and planned universal order that covers both nature and humans.
Jesus – the source of all truth
John in his gospel reveals the single source of that order – Jesus Christ himself. “In the beginning was the Word”, The Word means “truth” and is another name for Jesus. He is the source of all created things, including both natural and moral laws. “Through him (Jesus) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1)
The irony is that humans have accepted the truth regarding physical laws as a scientific fact, but largely ignores the creator of them. No scientist doubts the natural laws of thermodynamics, gravity, the rotation of the planets, etc. In fact, we depend on the reliability and truth of those laws for our very existence, and everyone agrees that to ignore them is foolish and dangerous. If I step off a ten story building, what will happen next is perfectly predictable. The only reason humans obey God’s physical laws is because they have no choice in the matter, unless they want death, or chaos. However, humans, even Christians can and do violate God’s moral laws because often the effects of doing so are not always immediate and obvious.
I once asked my older grandchildren if they could think of a single sin that had no consequences other than disappointing God. One brave child admitted that, “I’ve told a lie and I wasn’t caught. So, I got away with that.”
I don’t think he did get away with it and here’s why; when anyone lies, and we think “get away with it,” it actually emboldens us to lie again and we learn to become better liars, which eventually catches up with us and causes God, as well as others to trust us less.
However, because the consequences of sinning are not always immediate and obvious, people are always trying to “beat the system” and disobey God. And, when one person disobeys a moral law and thereby gains a momentary disadvantage, it creates a powerful incentive for us to do the same. For example, if we observe a person telling a lie and apparently getting away with it, I’m tempted to do the same to save myself from some painful consequence of telling the truth. This is why immorality in society is so difficult to stop.
The truth is that both God’s moral and natural laws are his gifts to us. They are like the rules and boundaries that good parents establish with their children to protect them and make for an orderly household.
To trust Christ is to obey all God’s laws, trusting that he knows better than we do what’s best for us. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” Psalm 19:7-9
If not, the result is chaos.
I’d suggest that you not read this blog to your children or grandchildren, but use it to shape your own explanation to them in your own words. They need to see in your eyes, your love for God and personal conviction of God’s moral laws. Admit to them how you’ve tried to get away with certain sins and the consequences to you and others when you did. Personalize this teaching to be your own, not mine. And in doing so you will be living out God’s instructions to parents, “Impress them (God’s laws) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut. 6:7
Note: I’m indebted to the late Chuck Colson for many of these ideas expressed so powerfully in his book, How Now Shall We Live?
Question: Would you please share with us other ways you’ve thought about this topic or have taught it to others?
Following Jesus in Real Life