Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is a creation account of the universe, the world, and man. It is primary revelation about the creativity and power of God. Followed by that, the book of Exodus ends with God using Moses and Aaron to rescue His people from Egypt. Then, in the next book, those people are given law. They are given civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. In other words, two entire Old Testament books are filled with rules and ordinances.
This merely sets the background for Jesus coming in the New Testament to fulfill that law, and establish a new reign and a New Covenant. This New Covenant is again filled with law.
Does this fly in the face of the commonly used expression that the Bible is not in fact a book of rules?
Often, the heart message behind the expression is very good. Essentially, what is trying to be expressed is Paul’s main message to the Galatians; law and Gospel do not mix. The Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith. Yet, because man made religions still saturate the culture, many people are still stuck with the idea that what Christians are asking of them is to get right with the law and earn their salvation. Thus, it is important that the Gospel be clarified as what it is, a Gospel of grace, not law. In that sense, the overall purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal God’s redemptive plan in His Son Christ Jesus in the salvation of sinners by His grace alone, and it is in that sense that the Bible is not a book of rules to follow.
However, it may be good to simply express this message as was done previously rather than through a cliche.
The unbelievers being witnessed to are dead in their trespasses and sins; they love their sin (Ephesians 2:1). Often times the phrase “the Bible is not a book of rules” is interpreted as “you can live how you want because their are no rules”. It can look very dishonest then when the unbeliever who loves their sin, buys into a system they were told had no rules, and then begins to read the words of Jesus and His apostles preaching about repentance, church discipline, rules and law. The fact of the matter is, God is very concerned with how we live even though salvation is achieved through a separate means.
Paul makes this point very clear during his argument in Romans. In his famous text Romans 3:21, Paul reminds his readers that man has all fallen too far to ever think their works could avail before a holy God and that they must be saved apart from their wretchedness by grace alone. Then, he answers the obvious and inevitable hypothetical question to come: “If we are saved by grace, do we get to live however we want then?” And what is Paul’s response? In Romans 3:31, Paul instructs them that because of grace they are to uphold the law rather then nullify it. Paul actually argues the exact opposite: there is more of an obligation and duty to follow the law precisely because we salvation is achieved apart from it. Paul is hitting at a fundamental aspect of the Gospel that needs to be understood by the modern day evangelist. The Gospel is to free man to work. Telling people the Bible is not a book of rules will always be interpreted as being free to sin, when the Gospel is actually a call to be free from sin. As a response to the unmerited mercy and grace of God in salvation, changed hearts are now free to work. Following the Bible’s rules is blessed thing.
Christians are “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Christians are freed from the slavery of sin and are then enslaved to righteous living.
Paul speaks of those in the flesh as being unable to please God and not being able to submit themselves to the law of God (Romans 8:6-9). God’s law is good. Those who love their sin and are enslaved to their sin aren’t able to submit to His good and holy law, they are already following a “book with no rules”; Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The unbeliever does not need another system of lawlessness and anarchy; that’s why they are dying. The beauty of the Gospel is that it frees man to be holy; it frees man to love and follow a just and beneficial law.
Is the Bible a book of rules? In one very real sense: no. It’s ultimate and final purpose is not to be a rule book. It is to reveal God’s love for His people in Christ Jesus. It is to reveal His glorious plan to save a rebel people apart from themselves for the highest glorification of His Son. And that faith alone, grace alone message needs to be articulated with clarity in the mission field. We are not saved by law. In fact, the majority purpose of the prescriptive laws are to demonstrate man’s need for Christ; not to provide a way of salvation.
However, articulate that Gospel in more of a biblical and less misleading way. For the fact of the matter is, the Bible is filled with rules. Jesus enforces rules. The apostles enforced rules. We are called to live holy lives. Sanctification is a very important aspect of salvation, and the Holy Spirit is devalued if that is neglected. The Gospel does not free from law, but to law. God is holy and reveals holy purposes for people. When hearts are converted, they are freed to follow that law and to do so out of love for what that holy law giver has done.
Allow the the opening words of the Psalms to encourage hearts in this matter:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.“
and again, allow hearts to be reminded of the role of the law in the believers life:
1 John 5: 2-3
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
God’s law is good.