Galatians 5:13-16 13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Galatians 5:13-16 (MSG) 13 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. 14 For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. 15 If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? 16 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.
It is great news that God has redeemed us from the slavery of sin and that He calls us and enables us to live free. Freedom is a huge blessing, a wonderful gift, and a heavy responsibility. Why do I say freedom is a heavy responsibility? It is because freedom suggests exploration. Freedom suggests permission. Freedom suggests self-expression. Learning to handle freedom is more important than learning to handle money or learning how to drive a car or learning how to live on your own after moving out from under your parents’ roof. This critical skill of learning to manage our freedom, we see is often lacking in young people who leave for college and by Thanksgiving they have become someone their parents’ hardly recognize. Words like, “You were raised better” and “You knew the consequences of doing something like that” are often spoken. And the young people agree. They were educated and warned about the dangers of doing what they just did, and often they are as surprised as anyone that they did those things.
Why is it that someone who was raised in a Christian home where good boundaries were set and good boundaries were taught can often in just a few short months or years live a reckless life that leads to chaos and destruction that they live to regret for years? You’ve seen the TV shows about college kids gone wild and where a crime is committed and people who are interviewed are dumbfounded and in disbelief that the accused could have done whatever it is they are charged with because “that’s not how they were raised” or “that’s now how they have ever been.” What happens to these disciplined, well-monitored and prepared people that they wind up in such trouble? Perhaps it is an inability to deal appropriately with freedom.
It doesn’t just happen with college-age students. It can and does happen to all of us including me. When the promotion comes and we get our own office in which no one is looking over our shoulder . . . How do we manage that freedom? We start to make a little bit more money which gives us some flexibility in our spending and we want to start having more “fun” on the weekends. How do we manage that freedom? Our kids grow up and leave home, and our “empty nest” gives us more time for hobbies and outside interests. How do we manage that freedom? Our job gives us opportunities to travel and be away from home and our spouse once in a while or even frequently. How do we manage that freedom? The world is at our fingertips through the internet. Pornography is just a touch of a button away. Interesting people from around the world want to be our Facebook friends. How do we manage that freedom?
Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5:13 that while we were called to freedom by God that our freedom isn’t what should drive our decision making. It isn’t what should drive our desires. Our freedom is not ours in order that we may serve ourselves, but it has been given to us in order that we may obey the Spirit of God freely (vs 16) and in order that we may serve others in love.
Taking the approach that because we are free that we can do whatever we want will never lead us to obey the Spirit of God and serve others in love (Galatians 5:13). It will lead us to indulge ourselves. So having the strong-willed approach that “It’s a free country, and I can do what I want,” or “I’m 21 so I can do what I want,” or “It’s my body, I want do what I want” is the wrong mindset for a Christ follower to have because it won’t lead you down the path after Christ, but it will take you down the path of self which will not only hurt you and hurt others and harm your witness and your relationship with Christ, but it will destroy the very freedom you enjoyed, the freedom for which Christ had set you free.
Healthy Christian people who want to grow in the grace and knowledge and obedience of the Lord) are people who not just love Him and have a desire to serve Him, but they are people who accept that the boundaries in the Bible as the way to maintain and guard their freedom.
- Boundaries are lines of distinction. God’s boundaries separate His followers from the rest of the world.
- Boundaries communicate messages. They reveal to non-believers messages about the holiness and expectations of God.
- Boundaries establish relationships. They help people understand who we are as their friends, co-workers, and neighbors. They tell people “how we roll” if you will. Boundaries identify principles and values in our lives. Our actions communicate what is important to us whether it is something like pulling out of our driveways every Sunday to go to church or abstaining from the Club on the weekend.
- Boundaries keep us safe. Everything God has established for us in His Word as a boundary is for our protection. It is for our benefit. It is so that we can enjoy life to the fullest without the yucky consequences that come from feeding our flesh.
Having boundaries and maintaining them isn’t just a good idea. It isn’t just important. It is critical. Think of personal boundaries as a road map. You won’t get where you truly desire to go as a Christ follower with them.
So we know God has established boundaries for us in His Word. Take for example, the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
That is the big boundary, but what boundaries will we set for ourselves in order to make sure we can honor the big boundary God has set? The huge freedom we have is that God says we can enjoy many things. Shopping is fun for me whether I have money or I don’t plan on spending a dime. Visiting antique stores is fun for me. Watching college basketball is a highlight in our home. Traveling once in a while is very enjoyable for us. I love a good spy movie. Going to concerts whether at the Symphony or to see a great Christian group is always on my life for a good time. For me it doesn’t get any more exciting than riding the Diamond Back or Beast roller coasters at King’s Island. Watching my daughter dance or my son play basketball fill up a lot of our fun time, and we love it. Going on dates with my husband is at the top of my fun list! I don’t live a boring life.
I don’t wake up feeling deprived or like I want to trade places with anyone (well, maybe with someone who has a housekeeper, but other than that J). I enjoy life in a variety of ways. But as Christ follower, I am told not to have any other gods before God. No shopping trip will get in the way of me honoring God with my money through giving of my tithes, giving offerings above that and spending my money in a God-honoring way. Watching basketball on TV won’t take the place of me getting here for worship or serving in some way.
It’s about priorities. Who and what is first and what boundaries do we need to set in our lives that help us make sure God is first? Our son Josh is on a travel basketball team and is having a great experience. They play on the weekends and he participates in the games that are on Friday and Saturday and in the ones that don’t conflict with church time on Sunday. Not every person who plays sports is able to work out that arrangement with the coach and team, and I know it’s hard. We may not always have such an understanding coach. Each one of us needs to assess things like that for our own selves, but for us at this time it was the only way we felt comfortable allowing him to participate because one way we are committed as a family to honoring God as being first in our lives is through weekly corporate worship.
What is it for you? What could get in the way of you acknowledging God as first in your life? If your pursuit of money gets in the way of your pursuit of God, if your desire for entertainment keeps you from giving God the worship He deserves, if your need to be noticed or popular forces you to put your social life and weekend parties ahead of meeting with God, if your work demands so much of your time that God is an afterthought, you have got to set some personal boundaries for yourself in order to make sure that you can keep the big boundary in place.
How about this commandment? “You shall not commit adultery.” For me to engage in a sexual relationship with anyone other than my husband is a boundary God says I must not violate. That’s the big boundary. If I am going to keep that boundary in place, what personal boundaries do I need to set for myself in order to make sure I don’t get too close to the line that could cause me to become an adulteress?
I don’t hang out with guy friends without my husband or other women being there. I don’t have relationships with men that my husband doesn’t know about. I don’t flirt with men. I don’t dress to try to get unnecessary male attention. I don’t accept friend requests from men from Scotland, England and Ireland whose profile pictures all look like movie stars and all seem to have in common that they are widowers. If someone says something to me that doesn’t seem appropriate I tell my husband. If I have to ride in the car with just myself and another man, my husband gets a call first to make sure it’s ok and to make sure he knows why we are doing so. That way, when one of you walks up to Thom and say, “I saw your wife in a car with Joe Schmo” he can say, “Yes, she called me to tell me they were together and why that needed to happen.” What I am trying to say is that I have to set boundaries that will keep the door closed to situations that could lead me down a road that could cause me to wind up committing adultery even if that was never on my list of things to do.
I was just 26 years old, was single and was employed in full-time ministry when I became friends with a young couple my age. We did a lot of stuff together and became good friends. They had a child. I remember thinking to myself one time, “If anything ever happened to the wife, (we’ll call her Cindy just for the story) if anything ever happened to Cindy, I could love the child.” As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I gasped. I realized I had become such good friends with that couple that I had put myself in a situation where I could be tempted to think things about the husband I shouldn’t. I took that thought captive immediately. I confessed it to God and my prayer partner and that was the end of it. I then started spending less time with that couple and more time developing friendships with others because I wasn’t going to start down that road. I had to put a boundary in place to protect my witness and my ministry.
Please turn to I Corinthians 6. Whether it is the temptation to steal or to lie or whatever the “big boundaries” are that God has set, we have to set up personal boundaries to keep us far from the line. And it can be difficult because in Christ we do have this tremendous freedom! Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 12 “Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Again, I love how The Message puts verse 12: 1 Corinthians 6:12 (MSG) 12 Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.
So Paul uses two the examples of food and sexual expression in the context of the freedom we have in Christ. I like the way The Message translation says that just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it is spiritual appropriate. We are good at finding loopholes. We are good at wiggling out of things on a technicality as if we can find a way to somehow trump the Law of God that is written on our hearts, right? This was a big problem in Corinth for the people to whom this letter from Paul was written. The Corinthians defended their sensuality by saying that since their actions weren’t against the law they were free to do as they pleased. What they wouldn’t admit was that sexual immorality wasn’t a form of freedom but bondage. Gluttony wasn’t a form a freedom but bondage.
Listen, we haven’t been set free by Christ for the purpose of experimenting with forms of bondage.As another pastor once said, “Where there are no boundaries there is bondage.” (Jeff Budzinski)
When we consider certain activities that we are unsure about we need to ask ourselves, “Does this have the potential to lead me into bondage?” If it does, we need to draw a boundary line and not cross it.
We need to ask ourselves, “Are we making this decision because we are hurt, angry or because it appeals to our sensuality and seems exciting?” If so, perhaps we need to put the brakes on, talk and pray with someone and make sure we have God’s perspective on what could happen if we move forward with a certain plan.
We have a lot of freedom. It’s true. But if in my freedom I cause someone who is weak in the faith or anyone in the faith to stumble in their Christian walk, I need to consider placing some boundaries in my life not only for my sake, but also for the sake of others.
Stay in I Corinthians, but turn to chapter 10. Paul keeps lifting up the principle that freedom doesn’t mean license. Freedom doesn’t mean all lights are green. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God– 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Hey, enjoy your life. Exercise your freedom, but if in the process of exercising your freedom you cause someone to lose faith in Christ or to want to turn from Christ then instead of exercising freedom, exercise restraint.
If you are 21 it isn’t illegal for you to go to a bar and get drunk. You are free to do that. You can toss them back and keep throwing your money away and no one can tell you to stop. As long as you aren’t driving, you can drink yourself under the table. But if while you are at the bar getting drunk someone there who is struggling with their faith who knows you to be a Christian and your actions cause them to question what it means to be a disciple of Jesus when they see you losing control of your words and actions then you have led them astray and away from their pursuit of Christ. That is why no one hear could ever say with a grain of salt, “Yeah, we went and got hammered last night for the glory of God!” It is impossible, right? Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should and beyond that the Word of God says we have a responsibility to behave in a way and to participate in life in a way that leads others closer to the cross not farther from it.
Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it is helpful or what the Spirit of God would lead us to do. Romans 14:12 tells us: “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” If it is against God’s desires for our lives it won’t matter if it wasn’t against the law. Each one of us will talk with God about our choices.
I want to say a word to the parents here because we are right there with you on the parenting journey. Our kids are at critical ages. Time is running out to teach and explain and model what we feel is a godly way to live. Helping them understand self-management and boundaries now is critical. If your students are of a dating age it isn’t about trusting them or not trusting them. It is about parenting them and helping them to set boundaries that will keep them from temptation. You may parent a wonderful student who has never given you a reason not to trust them. They could be exceptional in every way. That doesn’t make them exempt from temptation.
If we love our children we will set limits about being alone with a boyfriend or girlfriend and being in bedrooms and being out too late. Temptation can happen anywhere, but it is more likely to happen in some places and spaces than others so setting expectations and setting limits isn’t a form of distrust but love and protection. And students when your parents talk with you about those things be grateful that they are helping you manage freedom and helping you acquire life skills for when you have to set your own limits on yourself!
Co-signing for big loans and credit cards without limits and checkbooks too early can be too much freedom too fast. We know because many adults struggle to make good choices about their finances because of being given too much financial freedom too early. It can literally destroy your life.
But seriously, beyond wanting to live well, beyond wanting to just enjoy life, our desire as Christ-followers should be to be in pursuit of revealing the glory of God to the world. When we demonstrate that we can set personal boundaries we are communicating a message that echoes loud and clear. It is this: It isn’t about us. It’s about Him.It is about making Him seen and known to the world. Isn’t that worth saying “no” to myself once in a while? Jesus publicly hung on a cross of shame and humiliation wearing my sin. Everyone saw it. Everyone saw how vile, sick and disgusting sin was. Jesus’ bloodied, bruised, beaten, disfigured appearance gave sin a three-dimensional presence. He willingly showed what I was. Can’t I say “no” once in a while to myself in order to willingly show how wonderful, how glorious, how awesome He is?
What did Jesus say about people who would follow Him? They would have to deny themselves and take up their cross in order to follow Him. You see freedom isn’t about saying “yes” to ourselves, but it is about saying completely “yes” to following after Jesus. And as we set those personal boundaries whatever they need to be for each one of us they will enable us to have the freedom to fully follow Him. In order for me not to steal, my personal boundaries will probably be different than yours. In order for me not to commit adultery, the boundaries the Holy Spirit leads me to establish will be some different from yours. But in order for us to keep the big boundaries in place we are all called to maintain, we need God’s help to lead us to the individual decisions we each must make. And if we make those decisions with the goal of making the glory of God known to the world, those will be boundaries God can bless!