Do I Obey Out of Ritual or Relationship?

Date: September 18, 2023

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. I John 5:3


Did you know it’s a legal requirement to smile at all times except at funerals or hospitals in Milan, Italy? Or that on the island of Samoa it’s illegal to forget your wife’s birthday?

We humans love our laws and regulations.[1] The religious leaders of Jesus’s day, also loved their laws. In addition to the Old Testament law, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8 ESV) they created a list of 39 specific things that you could not do on the sabbath, like carrying something, cutting something, writing or erasing.[2]

It was a sabbath day when Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years. The religious leaders missed the healing, and were livid that Jesus had broken the sabbath law by telling the man to “Stand up, pick up [his] mat and walk…. They said to the man who was cured, ‘You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!'” (John 5:8,10)

How many years had the religious people stepped over the sick man laying there on his mat on the ground? (John 5:1-15). They, they proudly told themselves, were not sinning on the sabbath!

A Bible commentary explains, “Legalism is the establishment of standards carefully selected by people for the purpose of celebrating human achievement under the guise of pleasing God.”[3]

But what about me? Do I obey God, out of my love for Him and desire for His way in my life, or just for an illusion of holiness? The holiness God values comes from the heart.

[1] “Top 10 Weirdest Laws from around the World.” The Lawyer Portal, 14 Apr. 2023,

[2] The 39 Melachot – Chabad.Org, Accessed 22 Aug. 2023.

[3] “Waging War on Legalism.” Olive Tree Blog, 1 May 2023,