I’m trying to find some congruence between the rules of religion with the rules of writing. Here’s what I think: rules of writing are discovered post-hoc, and good writers do not use them per-se, except on questions of appeal. But the “rules of writing” as laid out by rationalists (this is how most people learn in school) can never teach a person to write well.
The rules of religion likewise, I believe, do not lead a man to godliness. They are written post-hoc in an attempt to make sense of true religion, just as the rules of writing are written post-hoc in an attempt to rationally understand writing. What people often don’t understand is that the rules are an effect, not a cause, of good writing and good living. The goodness would exist without the rules or before the rules.
Christ came and removed all of the Mosaic rules—every last one—and taught that true religion is inside your heart as love and comes out of you as expressions of kindness, respect, giving, obedience to his word, and service to others. It comes out of your soul’s sincere desire for goodness, not from externally imposed rules.
That said, rules can help us when we are learning, ignorant, or have a difficult choice. I choose to read the scriptures every day because I believe in it and know for myself the spiritual effects of doing it. But if I miss a day of scripture study I have not sinned, even though I have a rule that says I should read my scriptures every day.
Perfunctory acts of goodness have some minor residual benefit, just as mere exposure to worldliness has some minor residual harm. But the true power over our souls comes when we believe what we are experiencing (either in print, or television, or hearing, or otherwise) for good or evil. This is why there is a difference between “feasting on the words of Christ” and just reading them.
It also illustrates the difference between living by “revelation and the word of wisdom” rather than “commandment or constraint”: one teaches and liberates, the other at best requires no thought and gives little benefit, or at worst induces guilt when not fully completed well.
What complicates it is that God does not hand out mid-term grades. It’s all self-grading: we need to somehow assess how we are doing on our own. The best gauge for me is the freqency and intensity of spiritual peace, how often I feel in harmony with God. The modern Church also helps by giving standards, but unfortunately these sometimes become like the Law of Moses to some: the standard becomes the end goal.
Instead of a broken heart and contrite spirit, we just have to pay our tithing, go to church and be saved.
We have a place for commandments (the Lord gives them to us), but they’re not the same as our rules of religion we make for ourselves. I think God would rather not just be having to boss us around all the time and we sit here obeying without giving any thought. There’s nothing hard about that, and we learn little about ourselves or about God this way.