It’s clear that when someone devotes their life to Christ, something about their behavior should change. With the help of the Holy Spirit they should be transformed into a new kind of person. Their lives should be marked by grace, mercy and righteousness. But I’m unconvinced that focusing on people’s outward behavior as a marker of change is what Jesus was all about. In fact I get the opposite picture.
Jesus’ harshest critiques were not directed at sinners. Instead they were reserved for the religious who were consumed with following every letter of the law. Jesus over and over again condemns them for obeying the law and keeping evil in their heart. He accuses them of being white-washed tombs and of only washing the outside of the cup. It’s clear that their outward obedience was not a credit to their righteousness. It did nothing to endear them to Christ. Should we expect it to be different with us? I can’t imagine how a church that is truly devoted to the teachings of Jesus can be consumed with orthopraxy.
I’m convinced that Jesus is unconcerned with our behavior. Instead, what he is after is our character. A heart that looks like his. Obedience to rules (even if they come from a church) doesn’t make someone a true follower of Jesus anymore than the ability to pass a theology test.
Listen to these words from Paul:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . .
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23)
Look at verse 20 in the KJV: Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances
I agree, they lack any value in restraining sin. Only developing a character that loves what Jesus loves gives us the ability to live a truly different kind of life. (which is what Colossians 3 goes on to talk about)