There are a few YouTube videos documenting a number of British women converting to Islam. Some search for structure, and some for protection against the evil in the world. In some cases, the Islamic State and Sharia Law are seen as the ultimate solution for a perfect society.
Are they right? Or wrong?
Is there a Christian response?
Outside In Living
Outside-in living is an attempt to search for meaning and direction from the outside. Rules and laws provide the structure for individuals and society, and as long as they are followed, life is good… for everyone. And when the rules aren’t followed, there is punishment (sometimes severe depending on the culture).
It sounds very appealing. It’s very black and white, controllable, and logical. But does it work?
History is replete with examples of rules-based societies and religions. Perhaps the best-known example to Western societies is the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They were meticulous rule keepers, tithing even 10% of their spices! (See Matt 23:23). Yet Jesus saves his most pointed comments for this crew of uber-rule-followers:
““What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matt 23:13–15 NLT).
In short, the Pharisees were so focused on following hundreds of rules that they neglected the big picture: taking care of others, demonstrating God’s love, hospitality, and showing mercy. And what’s worse, when they converted people, they laid the same narrow picture and heavy burdens on their converts!
If rules and rule following were the proper approach, Jesus would have been praising them! Instead, Jesus condemns them.
So what’s the problem?
The problem isn’t actually the rules… rules can be good things. The problem is the human heart:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 ESV)
A deceitful heart will find ways around rules. And no matter how good the rules are (the external controls), if the heart is bad (the internal control), there’s going to be trouble.
In other words, no matter where we go, we carry the problem inside us.
What’s worse is that if we build our society on solely external controls (rules and laws) while we neglect the heart, we set ourselves up for failure. Don’t believe me?
Let’s take an example from America; the land of freedom and democracy. We live by a set of good rules… on paper. But take away power and logistics from a major city for just a few days, and watch what happens. (Think “The Darker Side” of Hurricane Katrina). Once the thin veneer of civilized rules crumbles, chaos ensues… and in short order!
The outside-in approach to living is simply not adequate. And I fear for those who seek refuge in rules alone.
I think Jesus is on to something here:
““Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt 5:8 ESV)
But wait, I thought you just said the heart was deceitful above all things… how can a heart be pure?
And that, my friends, is the question of the day: How can our hearts be pure?
In the context of Matthew 5, Jesus calls those who would follow him to a different way of living, where we are guided, healed, and live from the Inside Out.
Stay tuned for more, but in the meantime… what are your thoughts? How does all this play out in your life?