When I was younger, I remember my dad making a comment about certain other drivers. He’d say that the vehicle in front of him was, “taking his half out of the middle of the road”. The fact is, a standard four-lane highway has plenty of room for two cars to drive side-by-side, but not everyone stays entirely within the lines (especially when texting, but don’t do that!).
You may have heard the story of a king who was looking for a new carriage driver. Here’s a good re-telling of that story:
Usually, as in the case above, this story is told as a reminder to keep away from temptation. The point is that we should not intentionally seek out sin (or try to see how close we can get to temptation or sin without getting pulled in), but rather, we should stay as far away as possible.
That’s good advice, to be sure. When we know our weaknesses and challenges, it is wise to stay well away from what we know will pull us towards sin. Let’s not contradict that important point.
However, sometimes, we find ourselves more constrained than God intended. Over time, well-meaning leaders, speakers, and cultures have established guidelines to help people remain free from sin. While well-intentioned, these guidelines sometimes develop into rules that people are instructed to follow on their own merits, rather than just a means to help them achieve their actual goal (of not sinning, or of avoiding other forms of harm). And, this is the best case; in other cases, rules are made up to suit the personal interests of the rule-makers, or are completely arbitrary.
However, once our sins – past, present, and future – are covered by our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are actually free. We are not free from the principles of right and wrong, but we are free to live a full and abundant life. God created a universe full of so many things for us to do and to enjoy, and we should not be constrained by extra rules that didn’t come from Him. Jesus reserved some of his harshest condemnation for those who added rules to what God had commanded, and who did not actually help others whom they had so burdened.
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
Matthew 23:1-4 NASB
To be clear (as was mentioned above), there are boundaries that are appropriate to follow, where they prevent us from falling into sin. This is especially true for those who are young (who require the care and protection of others) or are new to the faith (and still learning the difference between right and wrong). However, rules piled upon rules – especially when prescribed to address someone else’s weaknesses, or from a different culture where temptations are different from our own – can be unnecessarily restrictive.
The way to life is narrow. Jesus was clear about that.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 NASB
However, while there is only one Door to salvation, our changed life – once we have accepted that salvation – is one of freedom and many positive choices. The way may be narrow, but we can use the entire path that Jesus presents to us. Sometimes, He may lead us one way to serve, or another way to love others, or maybe we’re called to just stay on the path as a positive example to others. In Jesus, I believe that we have freedom to use the whole of the narrow path, as He leads us.
Having said that, this freedom comes with a clear responsibility. Note what Paul said in Galatians.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Galatians 5:13 NASB
Our liberty does not free us to sin, but rather to serve. We may be called to a particular part of the narrow path, in order to show love to someone else, choosing to limit our freedom for the good of someone else.
Jesus, our example, was not encumbered by rules made by man (those that missed the point of the commandments that they were intended to enforce), only the rules of right and wrong established by God. As a result, His disciples didn’t have to go hungry on the Sabbath (see Mark 2:27-28), an afflicted woman didn’t have to spend one more day in her condition (see Luke 13:10-16), nor did Jesus leave a man sick when He had the power to heal him (see Luke 14:1-5).
May we never miss an opportunity to love and serve another person because of constraints imposed by people, rather than prescriptions from God. Instead, let us stay on the narrow path, but use all of it in a life of service to God, and to those He loves.