Boundaries, Limits, and Self-Control

We live in a culture that’s constantly pushing its boundaries. More and more it seems as if there are “no limits.” Yet is this true for Jesus’ followers today?

It’s not just present-day culture. Throughout history mankind has tended to push the known limits. Discoveries in medicine, space, oceans, and the human cell have resulted from our drive to go further than anyone has gone before.

Even running a four-minute mile was seen as an impenetrable barrier until Roger Bannister broke it in 1954. Since then more than 1,400 athletes have run a mile in under four minutes, and over the last 65 years, the record time has dropped by 17 seconds. The sound barrier was considered a limitation to flight until 1947, when Chuck Yeager broke it in his X-1. Today flying through the sound barrier is only an annoyance on the way to hypersonic flight.

Scientific, medical, and physical achievements are continually being pushed to the limits and beyond. Unfortunately, so also are immorality, extravagance, and cruelty.

One of the conundrums of living a counter-cultural Kingdom life is the polarity between limits and no limits. Our culture says, “If it can be done, it should be done” or, “If it can’t be done, it still should be done.” Breaking barriers through science has resulted in greater comfort, better health, and increased longevity, but it has also created ethical dilemmas.

Our “no limits” culture pressures us to accept the mindset of faster, higher, better, and more. That expectation removes all boundaries and easily leads to hubris, dissatisfaction, disappointment, and addiction. Children are told they can be whatever they want to be, including whatever gender they choose. Debt, adultery, fatigue, and broken relationships are all symptoms of exceeding limits. Initially, we can usually get by with it, but eventually it comes back to bite us.

Yes, we Christ-followers do need to re-evaluate the “no limits” mantra. Scripture teaches that one of Satan’s strategies is to distort God’s good design by twisting it to feed our self-centered rebellion. It started in the Garden of Eden and continues to the present. The story in the Garden involved both beauty and boundaries. The man and woman rejected the boundaries, however, and the rest of history is the story of both the success and failure of God’s people to recognize, live by, and enjoy the limits set by God.

Scripture teaches that boundaries and limitations are part of God’s ordered creation, as these verses reflect:

  • “You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter” (Psalm 74:17).
  • “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).

Beyond the obvious moral boundaries the questions remain: Are there limits and boundaries for Kingdom living? If so, who sets them?

Jesus is the supreme model of one who chose to set limitations on Himself to accomplish a higher purpose, as the apostle Paul stated in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Paul also set limits for himself. He disciplined his body (set limits) and made it his slave (self-control) so that he would not be disqualified, could finish his race of faith, and receive the wreath of victory that would never fade (1 Corinthians 9:23-27). Paul did not depend on his culture to set boundaries for his life. Rather his Kingdom commitment set the boundaries.

Growing up in the mid-twentieth century, the culture around me theoretically supported a Kingdom lifestyle. Its morality and values had deep roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview. But as that support faded with the onslaught of moral relativism, I can no longer rely on the culture (even the church culture) to set my limitations and boundaries. Living on a budget (setting limitations) is not simply good financial advice; its application fits the rest of life as well.

Apprentices of Christ and His Kingdom set their boundaries based on an increasing intimacy with Christ and ask, “not can I, but should I?”

Questions for Reflection

  • Is there an area of your life that needs clearer boundaries?
  • What biblical principles can help set wise boundaries?
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