4 Effects of Rules Without Relationship (From the Book of Romans)


Untwisting Scriptures: Book 2 Patriarchy and Authority is available now! Subscribe to this blog to be the first to get notification of when the Kindle version (regularly $5.99) will be available as a free download.

And as you read this blog post, you’ll find an excerpt from the book sneakily inserted. And yes, it’s about Doug Phillips.

And now to our regularly scheduled broadcast . . .

The excitement of Bible study

Have you ever had the experience of studying a book of the Bible on your own?

That is, without using a study guide that someone else wrote? Without referring to commentaries? Just reading and praying and asking the Lord to open your eyes?

We’ve been told, perhaps, that this is dangerous, that we need to build our learning on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and I do understand that to an extent.

But I’ve also seen that the requirement to buttress every argument with some already-published and recognized author (even if it’s simply someone who was published because he’s good at marketing) can mean that I’ll be hampered in my ability to think for myself and be led of the Spirit on my own.

(This, by the way, is what happened to Martin Luther when he decided to read and study the Bible on his own.)

Doing it with Romans

So, sometime in the 1990s, I set out to study Romans. I wasn’t as regular then in asking the Lord to open my eyes to His truth, but I really, really wanted to understand His Word that He had given us, so He was gracious to me anyway.

I printed it out on paper, with plenty of space in the margins, and I put it in a red folder. (I still have it.)

I color coded words to try to find themes. I drew lines connecting common phrases.

On the facing pages, the empty pages, I drew diagrams and stick figures. I made charts and graphs and lists.

I knew other people had done all this before. Someone might have said to me, “Why re-invent the wheel?” But I knew what I was doing was not the same as invention. This was a seeking for heart understanding. This was a seeking to know God. I didn’t want to be spoon fed.

Every place I read something that I didn’t understand—and there were plenty of those—I put a question mark in the margin and asked God to help me understand it.

About a year or two after I finished studying through the book, I studied through it again.  During the interim I had been studying other books of the Bible, so I found that a few of the question marks could be erased because I understood what these passages meant.

A couple of years later I did it again. And more were erased, with explanations provided.

And again.

By this time in my Christian journey, much of what I had thought was true (from fundamentalism) had been upended, and Tim and I were seeing so many things in new ways. By this time in my Christian life one of my prayers was for the Lord to strip away preconceived notions of what everything “had to mean” and show me what it really meant.

As I continued to study the Word of God and seek to know what He really said and what He really meant, more and more of Romans came clear to me.

Through Romans and the other Bible books I was studying, important Christian Life truths began to crystallize.

Living by the List

In Romans, one of Paul’s main themes is refuting the concept of Living by the List in order to find the path to God, or God’s favor, or a loving relationship with God. For Paul’s audience, the “list” was the Old Testament law and all the extra trappings that had been added on to it.

I grew up living by a list, so that was familiar. My list was the list of Independent Baptist fundamentalism, and I’m telling you it took me a long time to shake it—I was even in it to some extent while doing this study. (The fact that I’m still quite conservative in my Christianity isn’t meant to be taken as indication that I haven’t shaken Rules-as-Means-to-Relationship now—I have.)

As I studied Romans, I saw two clear responses to Living by the List.

Hypocrisy and self-satisfaction (Romans 2). Paul was addressing the Jews who lived by their list, but I could see that it applied to me. Especially if you make your list outward, superficial, easy to keep, and fairly short, you’re good. My list growing up consisted of what I didn’t do—I didn’t drink or dance or go to movies or play cards (that all sounds so antiquated now). And what I did do—I wore my skirts to my knees, for example, when the other girls wre wearing miniskirts. It was clear that I was better than everybody else. Right?

(At that time I was totally unaware of the far greater hypocrisy taking place in our churches and parachurch organizations.)

Or, on the other hand,

Discouragement and depression (Romans 7). If you as a List Liver start taking the Christian life more seriously and read the Bible in order to focus on the To-Dos as a way to gain God’s favor, and you don’t understand the Life of the Spirit, then discouragement and depression will be the inevitable result.

This was me when I was a little older because I could never repay Jesus, I could never speak to every lost soul I encountered, I could never live as right as I knew I should, I could never, never, never do enough. Heavy and heavier burdens.

I ended up being a curious mixture of Hypocrisy and Discouragement.

It took me longer to see that there are two more categories as well, maybe partly because I didn’t fit in those categories. But a lot of people do.

Because the Law “makes offenses abound” (Romans 5:10; 7:7-13) and declares everyone guilty (Romans 3:19) and brings a curse (Galatians 3:10-12) among other terrible things, and because I observed the lives of Christians who claimed to believe that List Living was the way to please God, I saw this:

Apathy. I think this comes from realizing that the List is impossible for us to do.  Eventually, even though you may still go through some outward motions, you give up and turn your attention elsewhere. There are plenty of distractions all the time to help with that.

And then there’s the last one, which came clear as I looked at the descriptions in the book of Romans of the Gentiles, the ones who rejected the Law of God from the beginning. As I observed the lives of some of the children of those who had followed List Living, and others who had been faithful List Followers in an earlier day, I saw this:

Rebellion. Some may try very hard to keep the List. Some may observe or even experience the hypocrisy or the depression or the apathy (or all of them) among failed List Livers. Finally, ultimately, they see no life such as the New Testament appears to promise, and it makes them sick. (I didn’t know then that they may also become the brunt of someone else’s evil hypocrisy and be traumatized.)

They toss the whole thing and walk away.

So here they are:

— Hypocrisy

— Discouragement

— Apathy

— Rebellion

It took me a while to see that there’s an acronym there, because it is HARD Living by the List.

What’s the answer?

The answer to the HARDness of Living by the List is to be found in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.

The List Life was never the way to relationship with the Father! The way to relationship with the father is by faith.

Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, nailed the List to His cross (Colossians 2:14). He lived and died to accomplish all the Law (ceremonial, civil, and moral, an artificial distinction that the Bible never makes) and to fulfill His own “List” of Love in us naturally, as we have faith in Him and receive His Spirit.

And His love plays out not in an impossible checklist, but through the power of His Holy Spirit in works of justice, mercy, truth, faith, and love.

His commands are accomplished naturally in me as He loves me, as I love Him, and as He loves others through me. The burden to DO is lifted. The HARDness is gone. This is where we can find true holiness in Jesus Christ.

This answer mentioned in the next Untwisting Scriptures book

Most of the chapters in this new book are taken from blog posts, but a few are new. One new chapter, chapter 6, is called “Doug Phillips in the Old Covenant.” It talks about how the erstwhile leader of “Biblical patriarchy” had his feet planted firmly in the Old Covenant, as did most of the patriarchalists.

And this was the reason his admonitions to daughters to stay home under their fathers, from Numbers chapter 30, was doomed to failure from the beginning.

This chapter of Untwisting Scriptures describes the superiority of the New Covenant in much greater detail than what I just gave here in this blog post. And it displays the beautiful truth that we as believers in Jesus Christ do not live in the Old Covenant, but in the New.

But here’s an excerpt from the end of the chapter:

As you understand it more deeply, by digging into the New Testament to see how the Lord wants us to live, you’ll also see that—unlike the Old Covenant—He has provided all that we need to do it. All that we need.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

For me, there came a time when I finally understood I didn’t have to figure out which Old Covenant commands to obey, and how. I didn’t have to spend time reading scholarly debates on how the Old Covenant Law applies to our lives. I could let it go. Because the Lord Jesus Christ has not only fulfilled all that law, but when we ask and seek, He will show us the new way under the New Covenant. And not only that, but when we look to Him in faith, He will also empower us to go in that way.

This is good news.

It’s called “the gospel.”

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1 year ago

Great article, I love it. God showed me the same things about Roman’s. In Paul’s time, “the law” meant OT Judaism, Jewish law. But what is “law” to you? What has become a law in our own lives? It could be anything.

1 year ago

Another great Blog post❤️ THANK YOU. And i just went to purchase my second “Untwisting…” book – i hope it is as helpful as the first one has been in helping me see the many blind spots i grew up with that sounded so spiritual!

You are a true Warrior for the Wounded and all of God’s people who are willing to learn!❤️

1 year ago

LOVE this, Rebecca!!!
AMEN to all you say… It seems odd to say, but in some ways, I was fortunate NOT to grow up in a Christian home… at lease not a legalistic one. I grew up un-churched, and found a love relationship with Jesus when at 17, I cried out to Him to help me… and boy did He. I truely fell in love with Him.. but, as the years went on, the tentacles of ‘another Gospel’ encroached. (Going to listen to Bill Gothard in college didn’t help.) I have learned to hold tight to the the freedom, love, and joy that I first knew.. and YOU have helped me to spot the lies – that sound like the truth!

Joel Horst
1 year ago

Yay! Can’t wait to get my new copy of the book! I loved volume 1 and I’m pretty sure I’ll love this one, too. Amazon tells me I have to wait until the 23rd. Hurry up, Pony Express!

1 year ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Kindle version came immediately

Julie Kong
Julie Kong
1 year ago

Rebecca – Amen, love this. Listening through all of Romans in one sitting, many times, continues to be an incredible growing-experience for me. I now make it a practice to do the same with much of the NT. And I mark up my Bible like crazy as I’m reading on my own. (And additionally as I learn from others.)

I did read this and was a bit surprised:
“His commands are accomplished naturally in me as He loves me, as I love Him, and as He loves others through me.”

Mmm, careful. That statement needs more fleshing out to be biblically sound? What do you mean by the words “are accomplished naturally??” To me, they seem to imply that I do not need to work out my own salvation. Yes, the Spirit works powerfully in me….. but I *also* need to be reaching forward toward what is ahead – the Christian life is *strenuous.* “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” John Owen said. The Spirit empowers us to put sin to death. I would not use a passive verb to describe this process. And I would not use the word “naturally.” It’s not in my old nature to be killing sin. It’s the new Spirit man that is enabled to fight the battle with the old flesh man.

And I’m definitely not saying here *everything* that needs to be said, and probably not saying it perfectly biblically correctly. 🙂

I’m interested in your response …….

Yes, it’s all motivated by *love*, mutual love both vertically and horizontally. Amen.

Julie Kong
Julie Kong
1 year ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Rebecca, I just read the other blog post you referenced here (I’m a relative newcomer to your blog), and am learning so much. We have so much in common – loving Jesus and his grace for starters, and running to him in joy, knowing what he has done for us and how much he loves us – but it’s fascinating to me how we see some things a little bit differently, based on our own experiences. So we each have our own lens (as does everyone).

I do not come from a legalistic background (my sympathies for you and others). Growing up, I barely new the basics of Christmas and Easter. In college Jesus began a new work in me …… My lens was love and joy, but my knowing him didn’t go that deep because I did not begin to know the *depth and heinousness* of my sin until many many years later. So Owen’s words, written I assume in the context of reckoning seriously with the sin that will always remain in us until final redemption, are a breath of fresh air to me. I want to take my sin seriously because of how much I love Jesus and how much he loves me. I want to grow to be more like the one who is my brother and my Savior.

So…… you and I come to this with very different experiences. I think I can understand yours quite a bit because you tell of it so well. And recently, I have experienced a type of Gothard oppression, so that also greatly informs my perspective.

Re Romans 6 – have you read Sinclair Ferguson on it? I believe there’s a chapter in “Devoted to God” in which he makes a very strong case that from the context, we are delivered from the *reign* of sin – it is no longer our master, we are no longer its slave – we are set free from sin’s *dominion.* This perspective, to me, makes sense of all of Romans, and the entire NT. Perhaps you would also agree?

I appreciate this discussion – clear thinking and discerning the truth, knowing the one who set me free, has been an anchor in a desperate time. Thankful for you.

PS I can see how Owen’s words interpreted from a different angle might be problematic. I have never seen the original context – I want to read more of him.

Julie Kong
Julie Kong
1 year ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Amen. I just read your “thick darkness” blog and was blessed, even though my struggle is a bit different (I was made to question my sanity through gaslighting and then a counselor not believing me about the gaslighting – it was *my sense of knowing Jesus* that I questioned, doubting my own thoughts – takes a long time to recover from that trauma.) I’m sure you would agree that the *principle* of the “dark night of the soul” is certainly in the psalms, using different words? Jesus knows, and he gave us the words he knew we’d need. Thank you again.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Hi Rebecca,
I have come across your blog very recently. I agree with so much of what you write. Also in Romans: “sin shall not have mastery over you” is a verse God used to encourage me with while I was in a legalistic church. The church was divided by constant fighting over doctrines of Calvinism and such. I found my joy and even my love and faith in the Lord Jesus shrinking. I finally got on my knees and shared my heart with Jesus, telling Him that He is all I want. As Corrie Ten Boom was fond of saying, “With Jesus we have the victory and the best is yet to come!” We left that church and Jesus has been my constant companion, restoring my joy and simple faith in Him.. God bless you for sharing your heart.

1 year ago

Love this post Rebecca! Because of Jesus, we can be in relationship with God. That’s amazing!

Resting in His love
Resting in His love
1 year ago

Rebecca, I lived through similar things! My early life as a born again Christian was spent in an Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church, complete with a “standard sheet” and many, many rules. I added to those rules my own checklist: Read the Bible every day. Pray. Make homemade meals for my family. Homeschool. Keep the house clean. Sew clothing. Do, do, do it all. I loved God with all my heart but lived a HARD life as I checked off my list or failed to accomplish my own standards and felt guilty. I, too, was taught graciously by my Heavenly Father to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. When Christian pastor or leader tells me, “You are sinning! You likely aren’t even a Christian because you made a bad choice there!” I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are wrong. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow ME.” I love living in relationship with Jesus. I hear His voice. I know the indwelling Holy Spirit leads and guides. And I know the deep, deep love of the Father whose mercies endure forever. May the series of books you are writing open the eyes of those who are stuck with twisted up Scriptures ruling them.

1 year ago

It seems so many of us grew up learning about Christianity and the Christian faith through some sense of legalism.. I myself lived in a legalistic group through my childhood and youth, one that really did define the ‘right faith’ by the things you’re not supposed to do. Yes, not drinking, not dancing, not going to the movies, not watching TV… those were the main outward points of faith (and were the common standard among most churches and pietist groups until the 70’s and 80’s..),while the essential core was obedience and blind submission to the community.

No restrictions on the dress though – I hadn’t even heard about all this ‘skirts only’ mindset being so common in America, until I was in my 30’s.
(that would not work well here, where practical and sensible clothing have been viewed as normal even among the most legalistic and conservative sects… however, in Siberia, Russia, in many Baptist and Pentecostal churches women do wear skirts as the norm! )

What I now see as a contradiction though, is how one was relatively free having one’s private thoughts and preferences, as long as they were not conflicting with the group norms. While TV, movies and theater were banned, many people would read secular literature. Even some really questionable stuff.. I remember seeing some borderline pornographic comic book in one family’s home… People were not expected to ‘renew their mind’, as long they outwardly complied and did not rock the boat. Thy could live as individuals within the strict lines carved for them inside the community.

I met much worse form of brainwash and legalism in some Charismatic circles. the demand to be close to God meant to crucify all your own interests, desires, hopes and dreams. One had always to strive to stay in the anointing, to be spiritual, to hear God, etc etc etc… your spiritual stature was constantly under scrutiny.
The methods used were mentally much more intrusive than those rules in the legalistic form of Christianity I knew in my childhood – even if make up and earrings were allowed 🙂
That’s why I hate all kinds of control attempts and manipulation so much, be it legalistic or spiritual in nature… both are damaging and twisted.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

It was actually ‘easier’ to ‘please God’ in legalism. One knew what was expected; as long as one did not question the doctrine.


[…]  And I learned that I am enough. Not because of anything I do. Not for following a legalistic list of “do’s and don’ts”. […]

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