“Jesus Didn’t Have Boundaries, So I Shouldn’t Either”

The Called to Peace Ministries Women’s Retreat will be happening April 7-10 in the Asheville, NC, area. Joy Forrest, the founder and director, has said that the response in recent years has been so overwhelmingly positive that she and her team have decided to do it every year. Attendees have found it refreshing, joyful, and thoroughly Christian.

I’ll be doing a breakout session on principles for Untwisting Scriptures. I would love to see some of my Here’s the Joy subscribers there.

Early Bird registration ends on February 6th, so don’t delay! You can go here to register. And scholarships are available, so don’t let lack of funds keep you away.

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Christmas of 2007 my husband gave me the book Boundaries. I had never heard of it.

A couple of weeks later we had a long car drive to a wedding, and I read that book all the way there. I was crying. Suddenly I back-hand slapped my husband on the arm and said, “Why didn’t you give me this book a long time ago?”

The person I had needed to draw boundaries with was my mother, who always thought she knew best. She even often quoted the verse, “Do not remove the ancient landmark [boundary stone] which your forefathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28), to let me know that I should believe as she did about all things she deemed important, even as an adult with children myself.

In the book Boundaries, I read things that I had never thought about before–like that a feeling of resentment could be a sign that appropriate boundaries had been violated. I felt resentment toward my mother a good bit. I hated that I felt that way, but I hadn’t known what to do about it.

The very concept of “boundaries,” drawing limits in a relationship, was a new concept to me, especially when it came to parents, whom you were supposed to honor.

It was a rocky road drawing some boundaries with my mother, and I gave the book probably at least a couple more read-throughs. But finally there came a time when I was able to tell her (with dignity and respect) that I would no longer go back to her bedroom with her to endure the hours-long rebukes on the hot seat. Finally I was able to tell her that whenever she did want to rebuke me, it would need to be when my husband was present.

I still had very few words in my working vocabulary to describe the relationship with my mother, but I finally had the word “boundaries.” And I was beginning to understand the concept.

And I knew it was Biblical—both in principle and example.

So it has surprised me when I’ve heard from some believers that it’s not Christian to have boundaries. I’ve actually heard, “We shouldn’t have boundaries because Jesus didn’t.”

They are referring, of course, to Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross, with all the terrible suffering He knew that would involve. After all, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7b).

But no boundaries? That meant Jesus didn’t have boundaries?

Maybe the problem is a lack of understanding of the concept of “boundaries.”

Setting boundaries is all about setting limits to what others can demand of us and what others can do or say to us with impunity. As long as these boundaries (1) are set with dignity and respect (for ourselves and others), and (2) are set with an understanding of the larger picture—what is right and wrong, what is important and why—then they will be part of living a healthy and God-directed Christian life.

A life without boundaries is a life in which you would always do what others want you to do and always let others do to you what they want to do. That’s what it means to be boundary-less.

If we’re going to say Jesus didn’t have any boundaries, we can’t look only at the day or two leading up to His death. We would have to observe that His entire life was marked by this kind of boundary-lessness.

And lo and behold, if you know the Gospels perhaps you can see right away that this description doesn’t fit Jesus at all.

Do you remember how John 6 starts out with Jesus feeding 5,000 people, reaches a peak when the people tried to crown Him a king, and then He got away from them (boundaries)? But what’s more, this chapter ends with everyone except the Twelve leaving Him. That’s because He was purposely giving harder and harder “hard teachings” that drove people away. He didn’t want to be exalted to be an earthly king by a crowd wanting full bellies. Those hard sayings were a way of drawing boundaries.

Remember in John 10 when they wanted to stone him, but He didn’t let them? (It wasn’t time, and that wasn’t the way He was supposed to die.) Instead, He walked away.

When His mother and brothers wanted to speak to Him while He was talking to the crowd (Matthew 12:46-50), instead of hustling out to do as they asked, He used this opportunity as an object lesson, teaching how everyone who obeys the Father is His family member. Again, this lack of immediate compliance was a type of boundary.

He drew a pretty hard line with His disciple Peter when Peter told Him the death He predicted wouldn’t happen. “Get behind Me, Satan,” He said in Matthew 16:23. That was a kind of boundary.

Speaking of Satan, look at Jesus during His Temptation in the Wilderness. Though He allowed Satan to genuinely tempt Him, He did not give in. He drew firm boundaries in resistance to evil.

John 2:23-24 tells us that Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to some of the people who believed on Him. Why? Because He knew their hearts. He kept His limits.

And what about how He simply left the crowds who were thronging Him, so He could go spend some time with His Father? You can see that in Matthew 8:18, Matthew 14:22-23, Matthew 15:39, Mark 1:35-38, Mark 6:45, Luke 5:15-16, and probably some others I’ve missed. This is a very clear example of boundaries.

Another example I love to reflect on is how Jesus answered the Pharisees. Years ago someone asked me how to handle the nosy questions and inappropriate requests coming from her Alzheimer’s stricken mother-in-law. She didn’t think she should have to give certain information, but she was torn with wanting to be fully honest and straightforward, “letting [my] yea be yea and [my] nay be nay” (Matthew 5:37).

I pointed her to Jesus, asking her to consider the way He answered the Jewish religious leaders, who were always trying to entrap Him with their questions. She told me she had never really thought about that, so we considered it together: He sometimes answered a question with a question of His own, such as in Mark 10 about divorce. He sometimes “answered” a question without really answering it, such as the example about paying taxes to Caesar in Matthew 22:15-22. And He sometimes answered a question with a rebuke, such as in Matthew 12:38-42 when the scribes and Pharisees wanted a sign from Him. All of these are a way of drawing dignified boundary lines with manipulators. I will respond in the way I choose to respond. You will not dictate my response by the way you frame your manipulative questions.

Speaking of rebukes, Jesus was full of them. And every rebuke is a way of drawing a firm boundary line. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Blind guides, whitewashed tombs, brood of vipers. This is who you are, full of vileness, and you and I have nothing in common.

This challenge to the “authority” of the Jewish leaders, which continued throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, is in fact what led (from an earthly perspective) to His death. The Jewish leaders hated Him with a passion.

This brings us to His last hours leading up to His crucifixion. And now, with an understanding of what it means to have boundaries, we can see that even in giving His life for us, even in providing that wondrous salvation that meant death on the cross, Jesus still had boundaries.

Even in His last hours, before the high priest Annas and then the Sanhedrin, our Lord Jesus answered a question with a question—twice! (John 18:19-23), and for the most part otherwise refused to speak (Matthew 26:63). Even then He was in control of the conversation.

In those last few hours of His life, our Lord Jesus maintained dignity, even as they stripped His clothes from Him, lashed Him till He bled, crowned Him with thorns, and eventually hung Him on a cross. The final boundaries of our Lord consisted of inactive silence, refusing to speak or act when He was told to. He refused to do a miracle for Herod or answer Herod’s questions (Luke 23:8-9). And before Pilate (Matthew 27:14) He refused to reply to a single one of the (false) charges against Him.

To those who believe you shouldn’t have any boundaries “because Jesus didn’t,” I pray you’ll reconsider. While we praise Him for His sacrifice for us, we can also learn from the boundaries of dignity He set around Himself.

With Satan or his minions, we do well to never give an inch, with firm fences/hedges/walls in place. “In the Name of the true Lord Jesus Christ, I command that you stop whispering in my ear and leave me, go to His feet for Him to do with you as He will.” Solid boundaries.

(And oh, if there has been deep spiritual abuse, it can take often significant growth and change to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit from the voice of an evil spirit. God help us.)

When it comes to our relationship with God, our longing is for our lives to be modelled after Jesus in their openness. No walls, no closed doors, no fences keeping Him out. Even if this takes a while because of the fear borne of spiritual abuse, even then the effort to hear His voice and allow Him in—it’s worth it. He is love, and for His love to permeate all our being can be only a good thing. Jesus was filled with the Spirit without measure, and we long for more of His Spirit. No boundaries.

When it comes to our fellow human beings, oh how we who long after God need wisdom, clarity, and love! As we seek Him for those things and grow in Him, we can set appropriate boundaries. These boundaries can even change as we find bit by bit that we can allow some people into the secret places of our lives, but still, His wisdom and His love must be paramount.

As we do this, we can follow the example of Jesus, setting boundaries with our fellow human beings t​o help us to maintain appropriate priorities, to rebuke false teaching and false teachers, to maintain dignity, and to refuse to participate in the facilitation of sin.

As we do, and as we turn our faces in delight toward Him more and more, the Holy Spirit will fill us in a way that will pour out to others. Healthy boundaries can actually help us offer more of ourselves in the service of our King, not less.

And that’s what we wanted to begin with.

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Jane
Jane
3 months ago

Oh, Rebecca! Your journey is mine too! …even the Boundaries book! I read it too, years ago… and Boundaries with Kids saved our family. I really believed that having boundaries was UN-Christian. I had to write a book about it (My Path from Doormat to Dignity) to finally change my way of thinking, as Childhood abuse was part of the mix for me.
Looking back now, it’s hard to believe that I once truly thought that I was being “good” and “kind” to allow others to spew me with toxic garbage! In truth, I was dishonoring myself, them, and God! My best, Jane

Steve Nelson
3 months ago
Reply to  Jane

Jane, that same “Boundaries Book” was a master key to waking up this formerly Christian door mat! The church culture I had faithfully been in for 35 years rewarded humility, submission, and silence even in the face of obvious abuse (The Lord’s Recovery Movement of Witness Lee). Conveniently that church culture also discouraged the reading of any materials not published by them. Even after escaping that cult in 2009 I still suffered at the hands of (sometimes well meaning) church leaders who twisted certain scriptures in order to push for a quick & peaceful reconciliation at all cost (often to the victim) – simply crazy-making! At your website I thoroughly enjoyed getting a GENEROUS sneak peek into many chapters of your book. Because the church at large continues to harm God fearing believers with twisted scriptures it’s vitally important for writers like you and Rebecca to gain more exposure. Thank You for leaving this comment! Steve

Amy Bechtel Kimball
3 months ago

Way to go! Good stuff. When people ask, I always define boundaries as telling someone what you are going to do. In other words, for example, instead of telling someone, “you can’t talk to me that way”, you would say, “when you talk to me that way, I’m leaving the room”. Boundaries doesn’t seek to control others. It just shows people a fence when they are approaching disrespect.

Rebecca Prewett
3 months ago

For various reasons, I had a great deal of difficulty understanding the concept of boundaries, and I grappled with some of the same ideas you write about in this post.

My “breakthrough” came in viewing boundaries as being about my behavior, reactions, etc. rather than about the other person. For example, I established “listening boundaries” for myself, such as no longer being willing to sit and listen to gossip, disgusting language, or blasphemy. I established “speaking boundaries” for myself, as well as consequences for when I violated them (immediate apology, for example.) As I began establishing these and other boundaries, I felt no need to announce them to anyone, because they didn’t require any cooperation from anyone else.

Some of my boundaries had to do with how I would react to speech and behavior that I found egregious. There was one particular boundary that I did communicate to someone who had sinned criminally against me yet never repented. When he brought up his past crimes (yes, literal crimes) in an attempt to minimize and defend them, I calmly told him what I had prayerfully decided: if he ever repeated or attempted to repeat his crimes, this time there would be serious consequences. I left it at that.

What I learned and am still learning is that by holding myself responsible for how I choose to act and react, by establishing boundaries for myself, and holding myself accountable, the biggest “boundary pushers” in my life have gradually begun treating me far more respectfully. Part of it is that I’m no longer providing them with opportunities to treat me with disrespect. I’m no longer rewarding their sinful behavior or reinforcing it. And I’m not allowing myself to join them in their sin.

Carolin
Carolin
3 months ago

Love that last line. So profound and freeing. Thank you

Cindy Burrell
3 months ago

Thank you for this, Rebecca. I’m sorry you had to suffer as long as you did based on a disastrously false premise, but I’m also glad you finally understood the value of healthy boundaries and claimed your value with your mother. I too did not understand the value of healthy boundaries until many years into my abusive marriage. Even then, when you’re dealing with a boundary buster, there is a time to let such people experience the consequences of their behavior, while acknowledging what is right and true in all of its fullness.

Jesus was never anyone’s doormat. His sacrifice was voluntary and never for one moment did His actions accommodate evil. He made it clear, saying, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” Luke 10:18-19

We honor God by refusing to allow wicked or foolish people to exploit our value – or our faith – for their own selfish purposes.

Thank you for sharing this. I know many will be strengthened and encouraged by it!

Dena
Dena
3 months ago

“Boundaries” changed my life too! I related to every word you wrote and to this day, re-read it from time to time as a refresher.

Dana Lange
Dana Lange
3 months ago

Rebecca, thank you for this labor of love.
May the Light of Jesus Christ continue to shine through you, and may the beauty of our Lord rest upon you always.
i so appreciate the comments I’m reading here, too. Glory to God!

Debi Damron
Debi Damron
3 months ago

I read the Boundaries book several years ago, and I must say that it was instrumental in giving me the language and behavior necessary to follow through in my abusive marriage. Maintaining my boundaries kept me and my family safe, and ultimately free from my abuser. To God be the glory!
Excellent post.Thank your for your ministry, Rebecca!

Shelley Mills
Shelley Mills
3 months ago

Thank you Rebeca! I am reading the book, boundaries, again! What great timing! You gave a lot to think about.

Stacy McDonald
1 month ago

Thank you for this. I am in the middle of reading Boundaries in Marriage now – so good! Learning more and more how important boundaries are. For years, I basically equated my lack of boundaries as some sort of virtuous/sacrificial act of “dying to self.” I couldn’t understand why it always seemed to backfire.

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