Walking the line between freely given grace, and the practicalities of boundaries can seem like walking a tightrope. We want to love, bless and forgive with abundance, but to do so without wisdom or understanding can instead cause harm. We need boundaries to protect us and to be efficient in life, but being too strict can also cause harm. Yet the Bible tells us that there is freedom in living the life God has called us to live. So how do we cultivate wisdom to live with grace towards others, while also maintaining good boundaries?
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A Principle of Living
We are all bound to come across a whole myriad of different scenarios where it may seem a balance between grace and boundaries is being tested. Yet when we look beyond the practical considerations of what to do in that particular situation, we find that our decisions ultimately stem from the values and principles we hold in our heart.
If we base our Iives on the gospel of God, we already have two overarching principles to follow – to love God and love one another (Matthew 22:36-40).
We can test our decisions against these principles. The Bible tells us that to love God also means to obey His commands (1 John 5:3), so one thing we can do when making decisions in life is to test things against the word of God. Will we honour God and uphold His values?
We also love accordingly to how God loves. Society today sometimes confuses and complicates the definition of love, but as believers we have the benefit of knowing true love, the love of God. This is a love that is truth-based, merciful, faithful and independent of return. God’s love does not ignore the consequences of sin, but provides a solution for it through grace. It is constant, regardless of our receiving or rejecting it. However, it does not impose itself on our free will.
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Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. – (1 Peter 4:10)
The passage surrounding this verse shows us what it looks like to serve as stewards of God’s grace.
- We live according to the will of God, even if others choose to live a different way, and even if they are surprised by the way we choose to live (1 Peter 4:2-5)
- We are self controlled (1 Peter 4:7)
- We love one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8)
- We serve each one another with whatever gifts and abilities God has given us (1 Peter 4:10)
- We are not surprised at trials or persecution, but continue to rejoice in Christ and obey his commands (1 Peter 4:12-13)
As we love one another, we also serve one another. Earlier in the year, my husband and I listened to a sermon by John Maxwell about “adding value to people”. His five suggestions to help us do this were:
- Value people
- Think of ways to add value to people
- Look for ways to add value when you are with people
- Ask yourself at a close of every day, did I add value to people today
- Encourage others to add value to people
(Watch the full sermon here: How to Have Your Best Year Ever | Dr. John Maxwell)
It takes grace to add value to people. It takes grace to lay our selfishness down and serve others with humility and love. It takes an understanding of the immense grace we have received from Christ to show this kind of grace to others in the words we say to them, and in the way we treat them.
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If we have love, and grace, and forgiveness, does that mean we continually “turn the other cheek”? Jesus did not call us to be pushovers, but to be wise. He also gave us instructions to help us live in the fullness of life He had prepared for us. This is where boundaries come in.
It can be difficult – how can we serve people with all we have, while maintaining integrity and excellence in the way we do this? Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend have a few principles in their book “Boundaries”. I would definitely recommend it for a read as they draw practical applications straight from the word of God.
Two paragraphs in the beginning of the book grasp my attention. Firstly, that boundaries are there to protect us and help us to grow.
“Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 7:6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside, and the pigs outside.”
Secondly, that God Himself demonstrates boundaries in how He defines who He is and who He is not.
“The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes and dislikes.”
There are many things we could say about boundaries, and there are so many areas of our lives where they can be applied. Again, I think Drs Cloud and Townsend do a great job looking at this in their book.
For right now, however, I want to think about how we can show grace to others while maintaining boundaries. Here’s a thought – our boundaries define who we are, and what our values are. Therefore, while every situation is different, we need to choose the words and actions that hold true to these values, even if that means saying no to someone else’s request.
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I think of my work as a doctor. One of the things I hate most, is having to tell a patient “no”; no to the drugs they want but that will harm and potentially kill them, no to driving right now until their eyesight is fixed because of the dangerous consequences their poor vision might have for themselves and others on the road. While I dislike the conflict, I need to say “no” to these things because it is the right thing to do, and in doing this, the patient is actually being protected, whether or not they appreciate it. Grace in these situations is not shown by just giving in to a dangerous request, but can instead be demonstrated in the way the information is communicated.
At church, it might be a situation of conflict with another believer, or a point of disagreement. Grace might be seen in going directly to the person to clarify the issue, rather than gossiping. It might be seen in a willingness to forgive. It might be in the humility of acknowledging our own wrong and saying sorry. Boundaries in this situation might be seen in being able to explain why something had hurt or concerned us, or even in taking another person with us to mediate the situation.
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Ultimately, the way we apply the principles of grace and boundaries in our lives comes from us understanding our identity in Christ. We can love and forgive others when we remember how much He first loved and forgave us. We can stand true to our values and uphold those boundaries in life when we understand the importance of the truth of God, and obedience to His ways. We can discern how to navigate tricky situations of grace and boundaries when we trust God, and make ourselves attentive to the leading of His Holy Spirit.