Rules and Hearts

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34

The temptation is to think that Christians have it made on this one. That somehow we’ve moved beyond the law to a relational faith based in Jesus. Because it is relational, we reason, it’s not about rules and regulations, but truly is a covenant written in our hearts.

Not so fast!

People are by their very nature, it seems, rule makers. So we good Christians who have been offered the gift of relationship with Jesus Christ have just as many rules, regulations and laws about faith as anyone else. Depending upon your theological orientation these “laws” are about prayers that need to be said, practices that need to be engaged, good deeds that need to be done, or beliefs that need to be held. These are what provide entre into the relationship or prove that the relationship is genuine. It’s all rational, cerebral and in almost all cases can be quantified. Even churches do it, keeping detailed accounts of the number of programs offered, pastoral visits made, baptisms perform, attendees in worship, and the size and growth of the budget. This, we assume, is a sign of faithfulness and provides assurance of God’s blessing. But it’s not about the heart.

Faith based in the heart is relational in the truest sense. It is fostered in love and shows itself in love. It dismisses rules and quantifiable criteria and lets go of the need to prove anything to anyone. This is the relational love we celebrate in the Incarnation. And the truth is it is so foreign to the way the world operates, we need to take significant time to prepare ourselves to receive it. That’s what Advent is about. It is a time to let go of the law that governs our existing and embrace the love that give full, abundant and eternal living possible. This is the covenant that is within, the gift that is offered to us at Christmas.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Jeff Jones, writer, teacher, pastor, child of God.

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Rules and Hearts”

  1. O yes–behold the heart! One of my favorite passages in scripture reminds me that we are what we think in our hearts but too often the head rules with it’s rules. What a great message in preparation for the Day of Nativity. Thank you, Jeff.

  2. I think we have to ask ourselves the basic question you address so well here: do we have rules and patterns to help us seek God, or do we have rules and patterns to avoid seeking God? It seems like a both/and reality sometimes. Thanks and peace, Johnna

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