We would rather be under the rule of man, and man’s laws than we would be under the rule of God, or the Holy Spirit.
Why is this?
Man’s laws are easily obeyed. The rules are right in front of you, you get immediate gratification if you do obey the law. You get approval, you get acceptance from the human rulers, and from the people around you. You are not exposed to ridicule or contempt because you choose to live within the confines of the law. Except that with this acceptance of man’s laws, you are then exposed to the fear of man, because you are being ruled over by men, rather than God.
If God was your king, not man, you would not fear men, or what they could do to you.
Religious communities impose fear upon others. Even religious people impose fear upon others. Religious people who say ‘do this or I will punish you, don’t do that or you will be rejected’ have their own set of laws. They don’t even have to be in a church environment, they simply exist in order to impose their rules upon everyone else. Communities of religious people gather in order to live in this self-imposed rule based existence so they can both show themselves approved by living by the laws of the community, and they as ‘the good, approved, person’ gets a payoff. The payoff is to live a peaceful life, apparently accepted and loved by a group of people who all espouse the same beliefs and exclude those who don’t. You get to be what is termed in some circles a ‘good christian’. You also get to be in the ‘in’ group and thank God that you are not in the ‘outer’ (generally considered headed for hell) circle.
However, there is also a down side to all of this. Human beings, in the flesh, are rebellious, anarchic people. They will look for loopholes, shortcuts and rules which cancel out rules in order to avoid penalties or get away with breaking the law in whatever small way they can. They want to impose their own self-will upon this legal system so they can feel ‘alive’. They enjoy the thrill of cheating and getting away with it, moreover, they enjoy living outside the law even if they are only breaking a ‘small’ law. Next time you knowingly go over the speed limit and smile smugly because there is no cop around to ticket you, you will be ably demonstrating this fact.
Added to this, you have people who use the laws of the religious community to gossip, character assassinate, set up enclaves within the community so that they can delineate within their own minds, or their own sub-set, who is acceptable and who isn’t. In essence, you have a legalistic lifestyle which looks for approval from the ruling human, or humans, and justifies itself by getting approval. There is a term, ‘crab-bucket syndrome’ which illustrates this unpleasant truth very well. Long, ugly claws reaching out to pull somebody back in just as they are escaping from the whole jostling, uncomfortable and ungodly mess.
God never meant us to live like this. When the Jews wanted a king, God told them the king would rip them off and send them to war. (1 Samuel 8) God himself wanted to rule the Israelites, but they wanted a king, to ‘be like other countries’. (verse 20) Perhaps they feared if other countries saw that they had no king, they would try and invade and set up their own kings. Perhaps it was only that they saw how much the kings of other countries managed to accumulate in the way of material possessions, land and wealth. They actually said they wanted the king to fight their battles for them. I don’t know how this works since without an army a king is not much cop. They figured God would not want this so they would not have a very rich lifestyle. Either way, it was the sin of unbelief which stopped them accepting God’s rule of law.
As Christians, we opt to serve men. We want conformity to outward appearances not inward change. We want to live in a place of safety from intruders, from marauding kings, however, the ‘kings’ which maraud, are in fact demonic forces which insinuate themselves into our religious communities through the open door of rebellion. How does living in a religious community and obeying religious law open the door of rebellion? Because we are choosing to live by law, not by the life of the Spirit, and if we life by law we are under the law, and in the flesh. (Romans 7) If we are in the flesh we are at enmity with God (Romans 8:7) and therefore open to the vicissitudes of the spiritual forces in this world.
Yet as I said, you don’t have to be in a religious community to have this problem. There are individuals outside of churches who live according to their own set of laws. Anyone who disagrees with them, and their own way of living is immediately cut down. You have to agree with them completely, in fact you have to approve of them 100% or they will, set you outside the gate and reject and shun you. If you tell them they are right, that they are approved of by you, there is nothing they won’t do for you. However, you will also get totally swamped by their own legalistic version of ‘the way things are’. They will tell you what theology to believe, what way to view the world, what type of prayers to pray and how to pray them. They will in fact, be informing you to the letter of their own law, and if you don’t ‘obey’ them, they will get very nasty with you. They will more than likely not say this to your face, for religious people are very good at living behind the mask of religious ‘nicety’, telling you to your face that they will ‘pray about’ whatever it is you disagree with them on, but behind your back they will simply disavow you and wait for the soonest opportunity to cut you off because you are not living according to their ways. They are serving a king, themselves, whilst at the same time claiming always to be totally surrendered to God who gives them this prophecy or that dream, or that vision or that agenda to follow.
People like this have a dozen and one projects. Everyone they meet is the next ‘disciple’ or ‘co-worker’ in their agenda, you are immediately employed as either a cheerleader or a fellow suffragist in their movement. God help you if you ever disagree with them or dislike something they say to you, because they will immediately turn on you with fury and put you in your place. Do not touch their pet project or they will immediately castigate you.
These people can be identified by their dogmatic theology, their very long list of people who are ‘heretics’, and an equally long list of former friends who have been alienated and rejected by them because they are not ‘true believers’. These people can topple any religious community, and while they are well meaning (I know right?), and in truth, highly sensitive, usually deeply wounded and very disturbed people, you can’t really help them. The only help they will accept is to agree with everything they say, and the moment you show any sign of having your own mind on a subject, they will be deeply offended. You are no longer living by their ‘rule of law’ and their kingdom has been breached by treachery and disloyalty.
They see everything in black and white and do not expect you to gainsay anything. They are threatened by people who think for themselves or who do not live by the rule of human law, and they believe their version of events (theology, worldview) is the right one. Their version is usually one cobbled together after a very long career trying out different communities (Pentecostal, conservative, authoritarian, independent, charismatic etc) and cobbling together a list of laws which they have lived by for a long time and suit them, but only by virtue of familiarity, not by virtue of truth. They do not live according to the truth of God’s word, although they believe they do, they have a million and one idols, and these idols are set up as ‘God told me’s’. God tells them which ‘versions’ of the truth are right. They can be cessationists, charismatics, pre, post or mid tribulation rapture believers, complimentarians or egalitarians, but the thing which marks them out is their total and utter belief in themselves and their rightness.
All at once, they are totally convinced they are right with blinkers on (mainly through fear) and they are also totally terrified of being wrong. The thing they fear the most is not outright opposition, they thrive on this. The thing they fear is friendship, because if they let their guard down you will discover who they really are, deeply fearful and insecure people whose only strength is in the strength of their flesh, not the strength of their faith.
Genuinely faith filled people are able to humbly admit when they are wrong, openly share with others what is in their heart, and they are also open to being deeply wounded. This kind of wounding is something they then take to the Lord for healing, and through their non-violent working through of this pain and hurt, they learn to lean harder on Jesus and be less dogmatic and less insistent with others. These are the ones who truly change and become more Christ-like.