If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I periodically like to revisit this idea of "keeping rules" vs. "living by faith and in grace". I think there is something important in revisiting this topic from time to time, as even Paul did so when he spoke with the New Testament churches. Perhaps he was just aware of how addicting and binding "rule-keeping" actually is. It is one thing to know a rule, another to keep it, and yet another to keep it out of willingness and submission. I know lots of rules (laws) - I have even been known to break a few of them on occasion! There are still other rules I have been trying to keep all my life and have been very unsuccessful at maintaining them with any consistency. We struggle with rules because of the "binding" power of rules - keeping them proves to require a whole lot more effort than most of us want to exert!
The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: “The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that’s the real life.” Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: “The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.” (Galations 3:11-12 MSG)
Right relationship with God is my focus - not that I keep all the rules. I will occasionally break a rule here and there - not because I set out to, but because I am less than perfect and my human nature gives me challenges on occasion. I daresay you are in this same boat. Our purpose in this life is relationship with God - pure and simple. A good relationship is not based on keeping the rules, though. If I had the opportunity to be in relationship ONLY if I kept all the rules of the relationship, I'd probably never be in relationship very long. It isn't easy keeping the rules, let alone keeping ALL of them. It is like being in a relationship with "strings attached" - do this, and then you will get that. God doesn't operate on that level in relationship with his kids and we should be eternally grateful he doesn't!
With God, relationship is based on grace - he makes a way where no other way is possible. We embrace what he has arranged for us - we don't make our own arrangements for relationship with God. If we did, we could take credit for the work of salvation in our lives and this is definitely not the case. It is foolishness to think we could ever keep enough rules to keep in right relationship with our God. We get this relationship backwards if we think it is us doing things for God which gets us into heaven. In fact, the very best of our efforts (like when people make the argument that they are "good" people), is really pretty limited. We could never cheat on our taxes, always give to the poor or those down on their luck, volunteer at the soup kitchen every week, build homes for under-privileged families, aid in world relief efforts, and adopt twelve foster kids. All would fall short of the one action Christ took on our behalf!
Sometimes we think if we keep enough rules, we will eventually "connect" with what God expects from us. The truth is God expects nothing from us that would compare with the one thing he has given to us. The gift of grace is embraced - lived out daily in our lives. It is not earned, nor is it merited. It is purely embraced. All we have to do to embrace is to open our arms. When we do so, we let go of all we hold onto so tightly. It is impossible to embrace with "full arms" - we have to let go of all the rules, good deeds, works, and the like. Then, with empty arms and even emptier hearts, we are open to embrace grace - God's gift pure and simple. Anything more is really us trying to complicate this "gift" with some sense of "earning it".
The sad part of living by rules - trying to work our way to God through religious actions - is the distance we still maintain between us and God. We burden our arms with actions and things which don't need to have a place in our lives, but which needlessly consume our time, talent, and energies. All the while, we maintain distance between us and God - something we are desperately working to reduce! To decrease the distance, we need to eliminate the load we are carrying and then be open to run into his wide open arms with our now unburdened and open arms. Just sayin!