The Beauty of Boundaries
by Jacob Hudgins
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die’”(Gen 2:15-17).
When God made man, he gave him a place to live, a work to do, and things that were off-limits. Within the context of tremendous freedom (“you may surely eat of every tree”) there is a boundary. Our world bristles at boundaries, duplicating Satan’s charge that they are arbitrary or that God is self-serving (Gen 3:1-5). Yet boundaries are a tremendous blessing rather than a burden.
Boundaries protect us from things that are bad for us. God’s words “for in the day you eat of it you will surely die” are unclear as to whether they are a threat of punishment or the simple consequence of eating this particular fruit. But the end result is the same: God’s prohibition was for Adam’s good, even though it meant he had to be deprived of the fruit of one tree. When God forbids sin, it is not an arbitrary whim because certain things annoy him. Sin is terrible for us now and in eternity—whether it is covetousness, anger, lust, complaining, or lying. They corrupt us and damage us, just like eating from that tree. God’s commands are “for our good always”(Deut 6:24)—even if they mean we cannot always have what we want.
Boundaries keep us from hurting others. When Adam and Eve cross God’s boundary, they suffer. So does everyone else. Even today, you and I suffer the consequences (although not the guilt) of their sin (Rom 5:12, 19). Paul warns about lying because “we are members one of another”(Eph 4:25) and teaches us to watch our mouths so that we “may give grace to those who hear”(Eph 4:29). We never sin in a vacuum. Our sins hurt others. Ask Achan’s family—ask Aaron weeping over his disobedient sons—ask Joseph. Boundaries are a blessing because when I stay within them, I bless others rather than damaging them.
Boundaries help us become the people we want to be. Absolute freedom is not possible. We will always be restricted by money, laws, time, and power. It is not a question of whether we will have restrictions on our behavior, but which ones. But when we have a vision of the kind of person we want to be, we are limited by that. Consider: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things”(1 Cor 9:25). If I want to be an excellent athlete, certain things are now off-limits. Those boundaries will help me pursue my goal. If I want to be an excellent husband, certain behaviors and words are not allowed. If I want to be holy in my sexual life, certain practices are off-limits. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life”(Rom 6:22). Yes, we are slaves of God, but it is in that slavery that we produce the fruit we most desire. All people have an idea for the kind of person they want to be; it is boundaries that enable us to become that person.
These thoughts produce a certain attitude in me. If I acknowledge that the character of Jesus is worth pursuing, then I admit boundaries are worth respecting. I no longer want to test those boundaries, questioning the wisdom behind them and challenging their validity. I don’t resent those who live by them as if they are simple-minded because I know the noble goal they are pursuing and the trust they demonstrate. I willingly submit my life and choices to my God.
God’s boundaries are beautiful! Let’s honor them!