Most people in the tennis world would now agree that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player that ever lived. He represents or embodies what it means to be a tennis player. He is the standard by which all tennis players will be measured by, for (at minimum) at least the near future. What makes him so great is not his ability to follow the rules of tennis (even though he does this), but it is his sheer tennis mastery on the court which makes him so special. It almost cannot even be put into words. Another way to say it is, it cannot even be codified. It’s like Roger is “tennis incarnate” because he demonstrates “tennis holiness.” He’s just that good.
If one wanted to improve their tennis, one could not look to the rules of the game to improve, but they would need to look to something else.
Because, the rules do not tell you how to play tennis better. They are only meant to give you what the parameters of the game are, not what is needed to triumph. Instead, one must not look to the rules but one must look to those who demonstrate great tennis acumen (like Roger Federer). The same goes for any other sport. One would need to look to, for example, an athlete like Michael Jordan if one played basketball, or Tiger Woods if one played golf, or Michael Phelps if one was a swimmer, in order to improve at getting better at such sports.
For someone to only be exposed to what the rule book says, rather than being exposed to what it looks like to play the game at the highest level, such would then rob the less experienced player of the opportunity to ever become anything more than the level of player that they currently are. In other words, without ever being exposed to what the game actually looks like when it is exemplified by the best of the sport, the immature player would simply remain childlike in their ability.
Does this mean that the rules do not matter?
The child who plays 10 and under tennis must adhere to the exact same rules as does Roger Federer. Another way to put it, knowing the rules is required for playing the game at any level.
The point here is that merely knowing the rules alone, inside and out, does not then make one a better player. What makes one a better player is how well they execute that play within the confines of the rules.
The same goes with our Christian walk. There are obvious parameters to life which we (Christians) are obliged to never cross under any circumstances, such as murder or adultery. But, merely avoiding to commit murder or to simply be careful of never committing adultery is not the point of our walk. Even an Old Testament scribe or Pharisee could handle that.
No, our walk is about something more than just keeping the rules. It’s about demonstrating that which is not exactly codifiable.
It’s about being holy…
1 Peter 1:13-16 (HCSB)
“…with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.”
Why do you think the New Testament writers say things like…
1 Corinthians 4:16 (HCSB)
“…I urge you to imitate me.”
Philippians 3:17 (HCSB)
“Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.”
Hebrews 13:7 (HCSB)
“Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.”
They say these things because without being shown what the Christian life looks like, it would then be impossible for the brethren to then mirror said life.
Again, remember the scribes and Pharisees?
This is what Jesus said about those who are merely concerned with the rules…
Matthew 23:27-28 (HCSB)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Rule adherence is not what the Christian walk is about.
Let’s go back to sports…
Suppose that my child wanted to get better at hitting a baseball. Should I then hand him a baseball rule book? Of course not. That’s not what the rules are designed to do. They are not designed to make a person a better hitter. They are designed to give the stipulations regarding the game… which are extremely important! To ignore the rules would be to ruin the game. However, at the same time, to assume that the rule book is the means by which my child would then become a better hitter is to also ruin the game. What must be done instead is to expose my child to someone who demonstrates a great ability to properly execute a baseball swing. Someone like… Ken Griffey Jr.
This is why Paul encouraged the reader to imitate him and to observe those who live according to the example you have in us, and why the writer of Hebrews encourages the reader to carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. It is not a codified list of rules that the Christian needs.
It is example…
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (HCSB)
“We always thank God for all of you, remembering you constantly in our prayers. We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing your election, brothers loved by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit, and you became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit. As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the Lord’s message rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith in God has gone out. Therefore, we don’t need to say anything, for they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
The Christian walk is not about rules. It’s about exemplifying holiness…
John 13:12-15 (HCSB)
“When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.‘”
Godspeed, to the brethren!