Have you ever longed for something that is not yours? Once, when I was a kid, my mother set me up to experience the power of forbidden fruit.
While putting some chocolate bars in the cupboard, she said, “Joshy, don’t take these chocolate bars…” Then she left the room. This is like telling someone not to think about pink elephants! When the coast was clear, I took all the chocolate bars. I then relocated them to a safer location—underneath a sun-bathing couch. A few days later, my mother found them melted to the carpet and came hunting! “Joshy, did you take these chocolate bars?” As an intelligent four year old, I thought blaming my younger brother might help: “No Mommy, Caleb hid the chocolate bars!” As you can probably guess, this didn’t end well for my rear end.
Why Does God Make Rules? Forbidden Fruit
As a 4-year old, I probably didn’t understand my mother’s reasons for keeping the chocolate bars from me. I could think of only one thing: how tasty those chocolate bars would be in my mouth. As an adult I can list multiple reasons why my mother didn’t want me to eat those chocolate bars. Perhaps, it would spoil my supper, or maybe I already had eaten enough sugar that day.
Most of the time, if we look hard enough, we will understand why a rule exists. However, there is one rule I find hard to explain. In the book of Genesis, God commands Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in the center of the Garden of Eden. On one occasion, Tim Keller was asked to explain why God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree:
And I would say, ‘If you only obey me when I explain it to you, then you’re not obeying me, you’re just agreeing with me. I want you to obey because I’m forty-five and you’re ten. I know a little more about life than you do, and I don’t want to have to explain it to you because I couldn’t get into your ten year old brain.’
So God says, ‘Don’t eat from the tree’, and no explanation. The point is, ‘I want you to obey because you love me. Just because I’m God and you’re not. I want you to do something, not because it profits you, not because you know the reason why, but just because I’m Lord and Savior, and you’re not. Just do it because you love me for myself alone.’ And they didn’t. “Q&A with Tim Keller – Reason for God? Belief in an Age of Skepticism” from the Veritas Forum, available from: … Continue reading
My chocolate bar theft pales in comparison to Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God’s one rule. But in most cases, boundaries are made to protect blessing. Keller explains elsewhere that
In obeying his Father, Jesus reverses the curse of the first Adam and thereby releases an entirely new way for humans to relate to God.
Don’t Light Candles at Noon:
The difference between the Old Testament and the New is best explained by contrasting the “do not” with the “do”. Remember how Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is. Notice how he answers not with negatives, but with two positive commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” One preacher from over a hundred years ago explains it this way:
As the Bible shows, humanity will always function under boundaries. But the gospel shifts humanity from living under boundaries that restrict freedom, to boundaries that empower freedom. This is why Galatians 5 says: “if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” Through the Holy Spirit, Christians no longer desire forbidden fruit. Instead, we produce the “fruit of the Spirit” which “is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”[Tweet “Old Testament law said “Do Not!” But when Jesus sums up the law he says: “Do!””]
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|↑1||“Q&A with Tim Keller – Reason for God? Belief in an Age of Skepticism” from the Veritas Forum, available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=L9jHlrMRJAo#t=4620|
|↑2||Timothy J. Keller, Encounters with Jesus : Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (New York: Dutton, 2013), 163.|
|↑3||William Lincoln, Lectures on the Epistles of St. John (J. F. Shaw & Co., 1871), 107-108.|
4 thoughts on “Forbidden Fruit: Why Does God Make Rules?”
Although I haven’t read your article . . . I believe the ‘instructions’ of the Old Testament were given in the same spirit that you are suggesting in your lead to the article. It’s people who interpret them and implement them who emphasize the “You can’t do that!” Living as a person of God has always been relationally driven.
Thanks Mavis Mulder. I like the reminder that relating to God has always been about relationship. I agree that God’s rules were always given to protect humanity’s relationship with people. The point I want to make here is that when Jesus was asked what the most important law is, he doesn’t tell us something we can’t do but tells us what we can do. The Spirit brings freedom and empowerment for obedience, so that we no longer need OT rules that restrict, but are blessed with rules that empower us. When you have a moment, take a read through the article and let me know what you think. I hope I am not guilty of caricaturing the Old Testament law just to make a point.
I think I’m arguing that the OT rules weren’t about restrictions. Instead Torah means teaching or instruction, not rules. I think there is sufficient instruction in the OT about what we can do. Paul quotes from the OT when he says, “The just shall live by faith.” I get frustrated by the dichotomy that separates the two testaments because it often justifies not using the OT as a source of instruction for living life well. When we do that we eliminate 3/4 of the revealed word of God. I’ll read the article when I find time.
And conversely, there is a lot of NT instructions that are cast in negative form.