A Rule Of Life And Learning How To Swim

by Gavin Linderman

The concept of the “rule of life” was formed within the early monastic communities. Most well known would be that of the Rule of Saint Benedict from the 6th century, which includes vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Often when thinking of rules, a person is tempted to assume traits of restriction, oppression, or some form of legalism. That is, doing something that you don’t want to or doing it for the wrong reasons. However, a rule of life is intended for freedom, not denial.

A rule of life is an ally to help shape and form a person or community into the vision of intimacy to which God calls them. In this framework, we can see that the “rule” really serves more as a guideline for flourishing. If one is to make their rule of life “honesty in speech, decisions, and being,” you can imagine how that would begin to shape each part of their life. The beauty of this life then becomes not the rule itself, but the way the rule creates space for greater intimacy with Jesus. Understanding it in this way protects us from legalism or making the disciplines that the rule requires the object of our affection instead of the life with Jesus it helps to create. 

Jesus really is our teacher and primary guide for flourishing. In fact, He has already given us many “rules of life.” Consider His command to “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ ” (Matt. 5:37). Submitting ourselves to such a guideline frees us from the trappings of commitments and promises that we can't really keep. But it’s more than that—it allows our word to truly be our word and we begin to live in a reality in which we don’t have to promise or create contracts. Here we can ensure that what we say is accomplished because we have become, in our freedom, the kind of people who always do what we say. In doing so, the “rule of life” has created the space for trust instead of the enslavement of distrust.

In the beginning, any “rule of life” will feel like voluntary restriction—but only temporarily, for ultimately the grace of God supersedes. Eventually what is always found is that the rule is no longer necessary—not because it's no longer a rule, but because it has become a way of being. Transformation has taken place through Jesus and the life He gives. This is the same reason Jesus can say, “I didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). It doesn’t have to serve as a guideline anymore, for you have become the guide because you have now been where Jesus has been Himself. It’s much like having a fence around your pool while your children are young. The fence serves as a guideline for a time so that they may flourish and not drown. But the intention is not to leave the fence there forever, but instead for your children to become the kind of people who no longer require the fence because they can now swim themselves