"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3)
I was saved as a young child and as I entered my teens, I desired to grow in the Lord. To know more of His Word. To be holy.
In my pursuit of holiness, set-apartness, and Godliness, I put away many things. My life began to be driven by rules of what I could and couldn't do. Many times, I would add to this list when a preacher or friend would suggest something that sounded like what a Christian should/shouldn't do.
"But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" (Galatians 4:9)
My salvation rests not in the good works that I have done, but in Christ Jesus and faith through Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). Now that I am saved, why would I turn again to good works and rules in my pursuit of holiness? These only bring me into bondage.
"For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." (Galatians 5:5-6)
I am to live through the Spirit...by faith...by love. Wait. Did I see "good works" in that list? Rules and regulations? This chapter, rather, speaks against works alone for holiness. While we do not circumcise today, there are many areas in which we hope, by our works, to attain the same holiness that the Jews hoped for in circumcision--a holiness that is not attained through faith in Christ Jesus, but a holiness that is attempted by fleshly works.
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16)
You see, I had it backwards. I thought that doing things would draw me closer to God. Rather, it is drawing close to God that enables me to live a holy life, spurning the lusts of the flesh. It is drawing nigh to God that comes before we can cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (James 4:8).
As a personal example, I had put away all books that were not by Christian authors when I was a teen--even "Christian" books that did not have a deep, strong spiritual message. I almost felt guilty if someone caught me looking at a cover of another book. Dirty if I read one paragraph. This rule was based on conversations I had with a friend and my personal desire to be holy and cleansed from the dirt of the world. And honestly, I do believe it was best for me in my teen years (when daydreams run rampant and the girl's heart seeks fairytale stories).
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." (Galatians 5:1)
Now, a few years later, I realize that my motive for shunning these books was incorrect. I did not do it in a desire to please my Lord, but rather because it made me feel cleaner and holier. I realized that there is freedom in Christ. No, I am not saved to do exactly how I please and I know that many Christians sin under the guise of "liberty in Christ." However, just because I made myself a list of "this is right, this is wrong" did not mean that the Spirit was leading. I did not realize until later that because of the rules I had placed on myself, the life I was living was in bondage. I was shackled to regulations of my own making, not of the Spirit's leading.
Back to the books, I noticed a vivid example of the difference. A few years ago, I would not have touched a book by Jane Austen, based on my rigidity (before I go further, I do not condemn those who read Jane Austen, this is just what the Lord taught me). To do so, I would feel this guilty condemning verdict placed upon me. This year, I started reading Sense and Sensibility. As I read it, I noticed the frivolity of life and the use of the Lord's Name in vain. As I read, I began to sense a check in my spirit (particularly in "condoning" a book that used my Lord's Name flippantly) and before long, knew that I could not finish the book. God did not drive me into the dirt because I was reading this book, rather, He gently led me away from it.
"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25)
So...I wouldn't have read this book six years ago, and I couldn't read it this year, but there was a difference. Before, it was rooted in my set of rules. Now, it was rooted in the Spirit's rule in my heart.
Where are your rules rooted? What is your walk based in? The flesh only brings bondage, but the Spirit brings freedom and liberty.