Which is First, Rules or Relationships?
I know this is not the most quoted “which is first” quandary. That whole chicken and the egg thing has it beat hands down. Of course, if you believe in creation then obviously the chicken came first! Anyway, though this “which is first” is not the most quoted, it is clearly much more important than the chicken or the egg thing.
Have you ever joined a club or some type of organization that had a set of bylaws or rules? Most of us have. The idea is that if you agree to play by the rules you can be a part of the organization. That “commitment” is made right up front. If you don’t like the rules or refuse to agree to them, you can’t be a part of the group. Unfortunately, that’s how many people think that God operates. The logic is essentially that God has given a set of rules; and though no one can keep all of them, God grades on a curve and if you keep enough of the rules you get to go to heaven when you die. I know that someone reading this post thinks that. But that’s not how God operates.
Rather, God gives mankind rules to help man enjoy the relationship that God has with man through Jesus Christ. The rules follow the relationship. This is made very clear in the words which precede God giving the 10 Commandments. God says that the people He is giving these commands to are ALREADY His people, because He chose them. (Exodus 20:1-2) The rules are not a condition of the relationship. The rules are intended to serve as guidelines for the relationship. You don’t get into heaven by not coveting or not committing adultery; however, your life goes a whole lot smoother if you follow those two rules. You gain entrance into heaven by receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior, by having your sin forgiven because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, not because of what you can do for God.
So, as far as mankind’s relationship to God is concerned, the relationship is first; then we have a desire to follow the rules. It is not the other way around.