Rulekeeping vs. Character Development


I’m almost finished reading The Divine Conspiracy, and I’ll have to say that it has grown on me along the way. Lots of very good stuff interspersed with the rest, and though I’m not buying the whole farm, there has been much I’ve needed to hear.

I’ll post a few longer excerpts and ask for your thoughts in the next few weeks, but one specific sentence is enough for me to chew on today. Dallas Willard writes, “The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law.”

I think that is worth donning a bucket alongside Gomer Pyle and “taking a think.”

I was raised with heavy emphasis on religious “rules to keep” and little talk of “becoming a kind of person.” Though it makes perfect sense, it is a revolutionary thought to my religious system that Jesus was most interested in one becoming the type of person whose actions “naturally conform to the law” as opposed to getting people to do the right things.

Is it too bold to attribute the thought to Jesus, “If you do the right things, but without the right heart, than what’s the point?” I don’t think so. Even Paul’s soliloquy on love argues that religious heroism such as martyrdom and vows of poverty are useless without being “the kind of person” that would do these naturally.

I was raised to “hope” people become that kind of person, but it wasn’t the most important thing. “Being saved” WAS most important. From hell, that is. And for many that remains most important.

I don’t believe “being saved from hell” is the most important thing. Not anymore. Not even close.

We have so much else to “be saved” from before even worrying about what might happen when this life is over, and chief among these is being saved from ourselves.

Which would mean that “becoming” something trumps following a set of rules hands down.

8 Responses to “Rulekeeping vs. Character Development”

  1. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I never buy the whole farm but Willard has blessed me, or God has used Willard to bless me, in ways that are hard to articulate.

    Bobby Valentine

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Interesting thought. Not that I have anything original to contribute, but I’ve been reading a book recently about the O.T. which discusses the law and especially the 10 commandments and how part of the problem with how the Israelites approached them was that they saw them as the Pharisees did — a list of things to do or not do. When they should have interpreted them as reflections of God. God is loyal and wants people to be loyal. God is peaceful and wants people to be at peace.

    So I agree that the goal should be “becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law” sentiment. And I think that’s why the N.T. is much more approachable for many of us. It’s much more about the heart than the actions. (Not saying actions aren’t important, but it’s the heart that leads to the actions that is emphasized.)

    Kind of funny, though, given our religious background. How we were either implicitly or explicitly taught the rules and not the reasons for them. So I think we misinterpret the New Law just as the Israelites often misinterpreted the Old.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    A few brief thoughts come to mind in reading this post and the comments.

    — The Sermon on the Mount, if read thoughtfully and taken seriously, would cure this rulekeeping mindset among anyone seeking to be like Jesus, as he utterly rejects it as impossible, there. In CsofC, of course, it historically hasn’t been read much and pretty much never thought about.

    — This whole heart vs. actions thing seems to me very context-dependent. For example, Martin Luther King once said if he had to choose between people who did the right things for the wrong reasons, and people who did the wrong things for the right reasons, he’d take the former every time.

    — A question about the book you’re reading, Mikey: what does it do with the fact that, according to the Hebrew scriptures, this “peaceful” God repeatedly ordered the Israelites to annihilate other peoples — men, women, and children — and repeatedly sent other peoples to punish the Israelites by murdering and enslaving them? If his point was to say he wanted people to be at peace, ISTM the Israelites can be forgiven for having missed it.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks to everyone.

    Given the insightful MLK comment, I have to retract a part of my post. There is a point to doing the right thing for the wrong reasons – it is at least the right thing to do.

    I’ll just restate that Jesus calls people beyond that (and the opposite) to a world it seems many churchgoers either hesitate to go – or aren’t aware even exists.

  5. Michael Lasley Says:

    Agreed, JU. I always have problems with the killings and slaughters in the O.T. The book, which I can’t remember the name of, and haven’t looked at in a week or so…I can’t remember exactly how, or if, it addresses it. I think it would be something along the lines of God wanted HIS people to be at peace. Even when they began taking the promised land, as long as they were loyal to him and didn’t break his rules, none of them got hurt.

    Personally, I still struggle with the “what about the other people” part of it all. Doesn’t seem too peaceful for them, so I take your point.

    I’m also too tired to know if I’m not making a point or not.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m pretty wrung out at the moment, too, but I’ll add that the genocidal violence doesn’t present a problem unless one has an a priori commitment to some extra-biblical notion of inerrancy. Otherwise, one reads those passages as what they most likely are: a nation writing its deity’s approval into the story of that nation’s birth.

  7. Unicorn Says:

    Never heard it put in those words exactly, but I like it.

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Thanks. I write the songs that make the whole world sing.

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