I’ve just finished reading a novel which took the form of a parable of a man’s journey to faith. This guy is a technology whizz kid, and at one stage he decides that the best way for him to help people follow Jesus is to go through the Bible and draw together all Jesus’ teaching into a computer programme so that anybody facing a difficult decision can load it up, input the details, and the software would tell them what to do, based on all the information from Jesus’ teaching. The angel who is guiding the man doesn’t think that this is such a good idea. He explains that following Jesus isn’t about following a whole series of complicated rules, and much more about knowing and being known, loving and being loved, fighting and dying alongside Jesus so that we can also live in his triumph.
When I was preparing for this sermon, it struck me that if we were going to demonstrate our love for Jesus by obeying his commands, then it would be good to know what they were. So I did a bit of a search on the internet and found lists that people had very helpfully prepared by going through the gospels, and every time Jesus says “I tell you” noting down what he said. Most of the lists had around 50 commands on them.
But as I read them the points that the angel in the book made came back to me. Surely following Jesus isn’t about pinning up a list of rules in church, or on your fridge at home and making sure you stick to them. We know from the whole of the story of the people of God through the Old Testament that maintaining a relationship with God on the basis of rules doesn’t work. People can’t do it. We know that the only way that we can walk with God is by the gift of Jesus, it is only by grace, God’s riches at Christ’s expense, and not by works, not by the things that we do, that we are rescued from the darkness of our own selfishness.