I recently read an article by Robert Eschauzier in which he promotes living our lives by principles rather than rules. Although he did not intend it, he has some important things to say concerning how we Christians should live our lives.
Principles are developed internally through logic and objective reasoning. Principles motivate me to voluntarily do the things that I know are good and right. Well defined principles (e.g. non-aggression) are absolute, not subject to negotiation or debate. Principles tend to be quite simple, often requiring no more than one or two words to be expressed without ambiguity. Principles are to philosophy what natural laws like gravity are to physical nature.
People who live by principles have in doing so acquired an internal (moral) compass to guide them in all decisions about right vs. wrong. Having full confidence in this compass, they tend to easily develop the discipline to use it constantly in daily life. Rarely will they need more than half a dozen principles to make up the entire compass.
Rules (aka “laws”) are externally and arbitrarily developed by others. Rules coercively compel me, through force or threat of punishment, to involuntarily do the things that someone else deems good or right. Rules are arbitrary, frequently subject to negotiation and endlessly debatable. Rules tend to be extremely complicated, usually requiring many lengthy paragraphs and highly convoluted language for their definition, resulting in massive ambiguities. Man made rules and laws are to philosophy what weather is to a solo sailor in the South Pacific.
People who live only by rules are essentially rudderless. They have little or no internal ability to distinguish right from wrong. They mostly distinguish only legal from illegal. Problem is, there are literally hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations. Having no or limited confidence in their knowledge of all these rules, they rarely develop a consistent discipline and instead follow or break on an ad-hoc basis the rules they are aware of, living in constant fear of error.
In this blog, we have established that God has given us the freedom to live as we please. The Bible teaches that we are to live by just two principles—love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5). The problem is that many Christians do not use this freedom. Instead they live their lives based on rules. They depend upon someone else to interpret the Bible for them and to tell them how they should live. The world would be an entirely different place if Christians lived by God’s two principles instead of our “Christian” rules.
We follow God’s principles because we want to. We follow man-made rules because we must. It should be obvious what the superior moral position is.