More Than Rules: Moving Beyond Levitical Law

The Heart of the Matter

Here’s the thing: Levitical law was a clear listing of rules and ways to live that could be followed through human will alone. We aren’t in the time of Levitical law, so let’s stop acting like it.

When Jesus proclaimed the sermon on the mount, he called his followers to a new ethos. A new way of living that was not based in human will, but rather was based in opening oneself up to the Father.


Much like schoolchildren learn to read by first learning the alphabet, then phonics, and then building on that knowledge to read, God was teaching his people how to be fully human in steps. Levitical law was one of the first steps on that journey.

Jesus came and turned the volume up. He told the people of Israel “Hey, you’ve had some good practice at the first step. It’s time to take the next step.”

Jesus took the Levitical law and deepened it. He said thing like, “Ok you all know the law says don’t commit adultery, but I’m telling you it’s not just about the physical act of adultery, it’s about what’s going on in your heart as well” (That’s obviously paraphrased, you won’t find those words in the bible. If you want to dig in, see Matthew Chapter 5 for the Sermon on the Mount).

Christianity is not just about following rules. It’s so much more than that.

Unfortunately, it’s often presented as just following rules.

Starting With Why

Young Jewish children learned to read using Leviticus. They started with the rules, but that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus met people where they were in their sin. He befriended them, he loved them, and he called them to sin no more. Jesus showed mercy while not allowing the sin.

absolution during Confession


To the woman caught in adultery, he didn’t start with “well yes, you sinned so the punishment is fair, go ahead and stone her” NO. He told the crowd, “look into your own heart. You’re condemning someone who has sinned. She made a mistake. She got caught. But what about you? How have you sinned this month, this week, today? Stop looking at everyone else’s sin and focus on yourself.  Go and repair your relationship with God before you go condemning others.” Again, you won’t find those exact words in the bible. See John Chapter 8 for the story of the woman caught in adultery.

That woman’s life was transformed because Jesus didn’t focus on checking the box and following the law. He focused on what was going on in her heart. That’s what Jesus is calling us to. Look into your heart and ask Him to heal what is broken.

Healing the Heart

You can’t heal your heart by yourself. It’s not possible. This is one of the big differences between the new covenant and the old one: this Christian ethos about the heart of the law. Our religion is not just following a set of rules, our religion is about intimate relationship. Jesus wants to befriend you; He wants to love you and fill you with His Spirit. When you’re living a life filled with the Spirit, the rules no longer feel like rules, they are just how you live. It’s not that any of the rules go away; in fact, someone living filled with the Spirit fulfills the rules more fully than anyone.

Think back to learning to read. If your schooling was anything like mine, you had lists of phonics to memorize. What does “ou” sound like, what does “th” sound like. I hated memorizing those phonics because I didn’t understand the point. I was told it was how I would learn to read, but I didn’t even know what reading meant. No one had explained the why. No one had talked about the adventures that fiction novels would take me on, no one had explained the incredible insights I would learn from personal memoirs or the knowledge I would learn from a textbook, no one had explained the relationship building I would have with God while I read the bible. I was just told I needed to learn to read.

bible study outside
bible study outside

More Than Just Rules

How many of us have this relationship with the rules of our religion? “You need to learn these rules and live by them, or else” we were told. But that isn’t how Jesus approached it, and that’s not how we should either! Jesus said, “come follow me, come be in relationship with me. As we get closer, I’ll help you learn how to live in a way that is fully human and free from sin.”

He’s saying that to you right now.

Come, my friend, follow me. Come and befriend me, allow me to show you what it means to be fully alive, fully human, fully free. All I need from you is openness.

Ellen Holloway
Ellen Holloway
Ellen Holloway is the host of Charting Toward Intimacy, a podcast focused on NFP, fertility awareness, and sexuality all from a Catholic perspective. Ellen speaks and writes on topics ranging from gender ideology to marital intimacy to Theology of the Body and everything in between. To connect with Ellen, find her at or on Instagram @chartingtowardintimacy.

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