Remember the first day of just about every year you were in school? You show up wearing your new outfit, hoping that people think you look good, only to find out that fashion changed over the summer and you were the only one that did not get the memo (pre-Facebook). The next thing you realize is that everyone else grew 4 inches over the summer and you didn't budge. Before you even made it to your first class, all the self-esteem you thought you'd built up coming into a new school year was lost.

Class starts. You remind yourself that this is a new year, full of new possibilities; new opportunities to finally blossom into that person you know you will one-day be. What's the first thing the teacher hits you with?

Rules.

Before you even have a chance to think, you are reminded that you have no control. You have no hope. You are ruled by a 65 year-old woman whose greatest joy in life is making your life miserable.

You go through the standard list of 'don'ts' and then the school year begins. For the next however many days of school you live in fear of breaking the rules, try to break the rules without getting caught, or blatantly break the rules as an act of defiance. Either way, the rules dictate your life.

It's no wonder then that we look to rules to dictate how we relate to God. We either fear his wrath because of our disobedience, quietly live life trying to ignore the rules all the while feeling guilty and pretending that we are a 'good' person, or completely run from the idea that there even is a God because we think that no God who claims to love us could command so much from us.

In short, we exchange life for a list.

Here's the thing, the six-hundered-and-whatever rules that are found in the Old Testament aren't there to show us how to live life. They are there to show us how impossible it is to gain favor with God through our actions alone. No one in the history of everyone has ever lived a life that measured up to what it would take to earn their way into heaven. No one in the history of everyone was ever perfect.

Romans 3:23

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

So there you go. I just proved my earlier statement to be true, right? How can there be a God who claims to love us, but who also demands perfection full well knowing that none of us are perfect? What kind of sick practical joke is he playing on us? Why even create us if we are all doomed?

Romans 3:24

Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

The penalty for our sins is death. We've all sinned. We all deserve to die. It doesn't matter if you are a serial killer or a monk. The demand is perfection and none of us are perfect so we all equally deserve death.

Yet God, because of his great love for us made a way to fix what we have broken. We turned from God. We brought sin into the world. We ran from him. We spat in his face. And yet, he loves us. He humbled himself, walked the earth as a man, in the form of Jesus, showed us that this life thing isn't about rules, but instead about relationship. He died for us, took on all of our sins, and wiped us clean. He made us perfect. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

That's love.

What does he ask for in return? What monumental price to we have to pay in order to receive this gift?

We are asked to accept that gift, to love him, and to love others.

That's right, it's free. A good friend of mine likes to say, "If it's free, it's for me." He's a pretty wise dude.

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

That's it. That frees you from the rules. You no longer have to live life trying to make sure you've followed all the rules to a T. You're free. Free to live. Free to love. Free to build healthy relationships with those around you. Free to say to that guy driving way too slow in the fast lane, "I love you" (I'm still working on that one. I mean come on! How hard is it to get out of the way! Can't you see I'm right behind you? -- Forgive me. I've spent a lot of time on I-4 lately).

God doesn't want you living your life following rules. He wants a relationship with you. He wants to see your love manifest itself in helping your neighbor; in loving your community, in moving out in ever-widening circles to change the world.

It's time to shift your focus from rules to relationship and see what God can do in your life.

Gather with us this Sunday as we continue our Shift series. Invite a friend. It'll be cool.