It’s easy to see the negative consequences a lack of boundaries can cause. Bringing work home from the office leads to burnout. Kids with unfettered internet access experience the trauma of seeing inappropriate content. Overspending results in financial stress, and overcommitment leads to exhaustion.
But for many Christians, setting and keeping boundaries makes them feel like they are lacking grace, engaging in sloth, or not loving sacrificially.
When someone we know is struggling, aren’t we called to step in and bear their burdens? When someone hurts us, shouldn’t we turn the other cheek? These sorts of misunderstandings of Scripture and what Jesus has called us to lead many followers of Jesus into a life teeming with unhealthy boundaries.
So, how should our faith inform the ways that we establish our boundaries? First, we must understand that boundaries are not intended to keep others out but are a tool by which we can understand what we are (and are not) called to control.
In their book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend define biblical boundaries this way:
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.
Here are a few practical ways Scripture encourages believers to uphold boundaries.
1. With Time—Understand Your Limitations
From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. (Acts 17:26 CSB, emphasis added)
We are finite beings who can only exist in one place and can only do one thing at a time. God, in his goodness, created us and allows us to live out our lives only in a particular, small part of history. Understanding that, in our limited time, we are meant to impact this world right now can inspire us to be present to those around us. When we don’t set healthy boundaries, our time to be present with God, those we love, and ourselves can be easily stolen.
Setting a boundary with our time is not selfish. Instead, it honors the way that God designed us. Choose time with the Lord, time for rest, and time with family to stay aligned with how God calls you to live.
2. At Work—Identity in Christ (Not Career)
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2 CSB, emphasis added)
Technology and modern pressure have blurred the lines between work and home. Movies and shows make workaholism appear glamorous and make out career success to be the pinnacle of one’s self-worth. But as Christians, we are called to put our identity in Christ, not our careers.
Instead of working overtime, checking your email incessantly, and allowing your work to define you, consider how you might reframe your existence around the God who loves you even when you achieve absolutely nothing. It is in this context that we can truly approach the work God has for us from a place worship rather than worthiness.
3. In Parenting—Let Kids Fail
Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. (Galatians 6:2–5 CSB, emphasis added)
Watching our kids struggle or fail hurts. However, constantly jumping in to rescue them will cause more significant and long-lasting issues. After setting clear expectations (no matter their age), we must let them experience some consequences now so they will understand the weight of their choices later when the stakes are far higher.
Kids who understand the impact of their choices and actions will learn responsibility, wisdom, perseverance, and respect for others and, over time, will grow in self-confidence.
4. In Conversation—Avoid Hurtful Banter
Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself. (Proverbs 26:4 CSB)
Our words have immense power—and we should guard them carefully. It’s easy to be drawn into gossip, slander, rage-filled words, or other hurtful conversations at work, with other parents, or with friends.
God desires his people to be set apart by how they love others, and our words can be our example to a watching world. Even if it is uncomfortable, choose to walk away or stop destructive conversations.
5. In Relationships—Stop Enabling
In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” For we hear that there are some among you who are idle. They are not busy but busybodies. Now we command and exhort such people by the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and provide for themselves. But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:10–13 CSB, emphasis added)
Watching those around us struggle—especially those we love deeply—is a terrible thing. It is natural to want to assist when someone is in need. However, there are times when bailing someone out will only harm them in the long run. Furthermore, setting boundaries in relationships can allow you to protect yourself from causing further harm of those seemingly unwilling to change.
In fact, there are times when God clearly teaches us that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:8, Proverbs 22:8). And though we are called to love, forgive, and not judge those around us, continually allowing someone to harm you, themselves, or others through their foolish or sinful actions is not what God intends.
Allowing someone to face the consequences of their repeated choices—especially when those consequences include you setting up new boundaries in your relationship with them—can allow them a chance to grow and develop into who God is calling them to be. Simultaneously, this also protects you from their actions. Instead of jumping in to rescue them, consider supporting them through prayer, encouragement, or accountability.
How is God calling you to grow in your understanding of boundaries? Reflect on how God is calling you to establish boundaries. Pray for the wisdom to understand what is in your control and the courage to release what is not.