Rules and laws come in a variety or shapes and sizes, from international law down to local custom. They tell you what you can or cannot do, threatening punishment to anyone who steps out of line. From speed limits to dress codes we are used to our lives being boundaried in this way, and are generally aware of the sanctions that will be applied if we don’t obey.
Laws come in a pecking order: international law is at the top, then European law, then national law, all the way down to the places we work or the clubs we belong to. At the bottom of this legal ladder we have our own household rules - the way we expect things to be done in our homes. At their best household rules require no threat of punishment. The message is simply: this is how we do things here; if you are part of our family, please do things our way - thank you.
And then there is God’s law. How does that fit into this picture? Religion and law have gone hand in hand as long as there has been religion, and religions have a bad habit of placing their laws high above all others. The threatened sanctions of religious law are no less ambitious: if you don’t keep within this god-given law (as we interpret it) you will be eternally damned. No pressure then!
In his letter to first century Christians, John, like Jesus and Paul before him, sought to turn this right upside down. We are not God’s subjects or his servants, such that we would be subject to his laws. We are God’s children. There are no laws for God’s children, and if there are no laws there can be no law-breaking (sin), and if there is no law-breaking there is no fear of punishment.
As God’s children we are not threatened into submission, we are loved into loving.
As God's children, all we have to do is follow two household rules: Love God (who loved you first), and look after each other. (You achieve the former by doing the latter.) This is how God does things; if you are part of his family, please do things his way - thank you.
Sadly, down the centuries, those who have claimed to be following Jesus have failed to keep it that simple. Laws have crept in, lots of them, with the religious leaders claiming that the laws came from God.
God doesn’t do law and punishment, he does love and forgiveness. There's just the house rules. That’s all.