A few weeks ago I started a study on the book of Genesis. I’ve read this book in the Bible more times than I can count, but during this particular review I noticed something interesting (at least to me). In Genesis 3:2-3, Eve is reciting to the serpent God’s command about the forbidden tree. Here’s what she says:
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’
“Wait. Is that what God said?”, I thought to myself. So I went back to the direct quote in Genesis 2:16-17:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Now that’s interesting. Where did the “neither shall you touch it” part come from? God didn’t say it. Now, there could be many explanations for this inconsistency. It could be that for some reason, unbeknownst to us, that part of the command was omitted from Genesis 2. Or perhaps after Eve was formed, there was an unrecorded time when God repeated the command for her benefit and took the opportunity to add the “don’t touch clause”. Or maybe Adam felt compelled to add it while he was giving Eve the garden tour on her first day in Eden. I suppose anything is possible but we won’t know for sure on this side of eternity.
However, I couldn’t help but to think about how people (including me) have a tendency to add extra rules to God’s commands and wondered if Eve’s recitation to the snake was the very first occurrence. In my observation, there seems to be a few different motives that drive this tendency. First, self-righteousness. There are times when we think adding an extra “rule” and being able to keep it will make us a little holier than the person next to us. The Bible says don’t get drunk but we may add don’t ever drink. In fact don’t ever go to an event or location where there are drinks and shun everyone who does. Second, is the desire to be our own Holy Spirit. God says don’t commit sexual immorality so we add don’t sit next to a member of the opposite sex during worship service. And don’t you dare hug them during fellowship break! We believe that setting these proximity rules will guard and change our hearts as effectively as the Holy Spirit. And lastly, distrust of God and disrespect of His character. This one’s a little tricky but it goes like this. God is out to get me. He gives me a command but I must read between the lines to figure out all the angles He may use to entrap me. Then I make rules to cover those angles. The rules protect me from God. I think this last one is the worst of all.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with establishing boundaries for yourself. If you have been getting drunk for your entire adult life and are now living in Christ, not frequenting bars may be a wise and beneficial boundary. But boundaries should be guided by the Holy Spirit not our own logic. Our own logic will make boundaries into hard and fast rules. The problem with our hard and fast rules is explained in Colossians 2:21-23:
“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
Making rules does not help conquer evil desires. In fact, if we are honest, adding our rules to God’s commands seem to drive us to sin faster. I think it’s because it cultivates an unhealthy perspective on God’s Word by associating God’s loving, protective commands with our oppressive, burdensome rules. And the next thing we know, our resolve to follow our rules shrinks, our resentment toward God’s commands grows, and we reject them both, to our own peril.
Obedience is not just about following the rules; it’s about surrendering your life to the control of the One you trust will preserve it.
What has been your attitude toward God’s commands…honestly? Have you been a “Rule Maker” in your spiritual walk? If so, how and why? How are you relying on the Holy Spirit for obedience?
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