Am I a Rule-Maker or a Rule-Breaker?

It depends.


I’ve made lots of rules for dieting in my day. During my teen years my growth spurt ended and my weight spurt began. I had to do something about that. So I began to set up increasingly meticulous, I mean ridiculous, rules. Only one sweet a day. Only one sweet a week. No sweets. No carbs. OK, fine. No food, except every other day if you really have to.

At a certain point I would give up and go crazy, eating everything in sight. At that point my only rule was “No rules!”

Then after the food coma wore off, I’d start over again…no snacks after dinner. No desserts except on weekends. No potato chips. Ever.

Two Ways, One Goal

It turns out that rule making and rule breaking are twins, possibly evil twins. They are two routes to the same goal. They are two sides of the same coin–the one that’s meant to buy my happiness.

It’s happiness that I want. Rule making and rule breaking are opposite ways to go after it. My rules might change along the way, at one point expressing the law of dieting (calories in, calories out), at another following the law of karma (good deeds in, good results out), at still another pursuing the law of individualism (I have to be true to myself). But I still want the same thing. To be happy.

To be blessed.

The Third Way

A recently published book by Sinclair Ferguson traces these twin strategies for finding happiness right back to the Garden of Eden. He names them “Legalism” (trying to earn God’s blessing by obeying his law) and “Antinomianism” (trying to grab God’s blessing by going around his law). He argues for a third way.



He draws a picture of a God who is so good that he sends his Son to obey his law¬† and then die for our disobedience so he can place his happiness in our hands. The good news for our legalism and our antinomianism is the same–Jesus. Our perpetual quest for happiness that vacillates between radical rule making and flagrant rule-breaking finally leads us to Jesus.

This modern struggle is just the latest version of the ancient one. Will I believe that God is good? Will I hear his command as generous? Will I take the blessing he offers so freely?

Or will I drink the serpent’s poison?

The Whole Christ

I love Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance, and I want you to love it, too.

He takes an 18th century controversy in the Scottish church and makes it utterly relevant to today’s rule makers and rule breakers. He does it by opposing the serpent’s lie and recovering God’s reputation.

¬†This, in fact, is the lie that sinners have believed ever since–the lie of the not-to-be-trusted-because-he-does-not love-me-false-Father.

Ferguson rehabilitates God’s reputation by pointing to the gospel of his grace in the most surprising places. And ultimately he reminds us that “Christ himself is the gospel” (p. 51).

  • “…a right understanding of the work of Christ leads us to a true understanding of the matchless love the Father has for us” (p. 66).
  • “Legalism is simply separating the law of God from the person of God” (p. 82).
  • “The gospel never overthrows God’s law for the simple reason that both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace” (p. 88).
  • “…antinomianism¬† and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace” (p. 156).

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. Jesus is the end of our rule making and rule breaking. He is our happiness.

Get this book. Read it. And rejoice!

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