Starting Point | The Role of Rules


Practically speaking, rules are often the centerpiece of religious life. Many people think the Ten Commandments are rules that make a relationship with God possible. If you follow the rules, God will be happy. If you don’t, he won’t. But what if a relationship with God doesn’t depend on our obedience? When it comes to your relationship with God, what is the role of rules?

I. Rules are often the centerpiece in religious life.

  • Five Pillars of Islam
  • Ten Commandments
  • Sermon on the Mount

II. Rules always assume a relationship.

Family Model vs Club Model

In the world of faith and religion, this gets confusing.
Is it the family model, where you don’t get kicked out, just disciplined?
Is it the club model, where you are in or out based on compliance?

III. God fulfilled His promise to Abraham.

Abraham > Issac > Jacob (Israel) > Joseph

Joseph, sold into slavery, becomes the Prime Minister of Egypt.
A severe famine drives Jacob (Israel) and his family to Egypt in search of food.

Jacob and his family settle in Egypt but are eventually turned into slaves. This slavery lasts for 400 years. And then... 

IV. God sends a deliverer: Moses.

Moses eventually leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, and after three months of traveling, the Hebrew people find themselves at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses begins to climb the mountain to appear before the Lord, and the text says that God called out to Moses from the mountain. This is staggering. No other god would have been caught dead inviting a human into their presence. 

It is here that God gives the new nation the Ten Commandments.

The list doesn’t start like we think it would. It doesn’t start with a command. No “Thou shall” or “Thou shalt not.” It begins with a statement — a statement of remembrance. 

Exodus 20:1-2a - Then God gave the people all these instructions: “I am the Lord your God…”

God begins by announcing His relationship with the nation.
How did this happen?

Exodus 20:2 - I am the Lord you God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

I’m the God who did something for you without requesting anything from you.

The Ten Commandments weren’t a curse on the nation of Israel. They weren’t punishment for failing to live up to God’s standards. God didn’t bring them out of slavery to make them His slaves — He was teaching them how to live now that they were no longer slaves!

The Ten Commandments were confirmation of — not a condition of — Israel’s relationship with God. God wasn’t giving them laws to “get in.” He was giving them laws because they were already in.

V. With God, relationship precedes rules. God opted for the Family Model over the Club Model.

As their God, God would discipline the nation when they disobeyed. Of course He would.
God refused to give up on His people, even when they gave up on Him.

The relationship was initiated by a single act of trust.

The Role of Rules: The rules are confirmation of—not a condition of—a relationship with God.

God gives rules to those who are in relationship with him.

But what if God was just playing favorites?
Maybe, the rest of us better behave, or else! Maybe, it’s the club model for us.


To Abraham, God promised:
Genesis 18:18 (paraphrase)
“ . . . all the nations on the earth will be blessed through you.”
To Israel, God promised:
Isaiah 49:6 (NIV)
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This was never about Abraham or Israel. This was about the entire world—you and me.

John 1:12 - Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.


  1. Growing up, did you feel like religion was based on the family model, the club model, or the neighborhood association model?
  2. What is it about a rule that makes it feel controlling instead of caring?
  3. What happens to a relationship when someone breaks a rule?
  4. In general, how do you react to rules? What rules are the hardest for you to keep?
  5. Talk about a time when you made rules for someone else. What was the purpose of those rules?
  6. Have you entered a relationship with God through the door of faith, or have you been trying to behave your way in?


You can find out a lot about a person by the rules he or she imposes. They tell you what the person values. They tell you who the person values. This is true of God’s rules too. They’re not a condition for a relationship with him; they’re confirmation of that relationship. They provide us with a framework for healthy relationships with God and others. His motive is one of provision and protection for the people he loves.