2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. – James 4:2 NASB

I have Boundaries

I have to confess, I have never read any of the books in the “boundaries” series. I’m sure I am about to brutally mischaracterize the message of these books. However, I hear people talking about boundaries in some form or fashion all the time. I’ve noticed a few things about how people talk about it. The idea is that, I am primarily and essentially a good and healthy person. There are some essentially toxic and bad people around me, while there are others who are basically good and healthy for me. To bring out my essential goodness and health, to nourish my spiritual and emotional well-being, I must weed these toxic people out of my life and find more of these healthy people to include in my life.

Yes It Is Selfish. So what?

You may think that my criticism of this is that it is self-centered. It makes all my relationships out to be only about me and how they benefit me. That it is probably true, but I think that is an unhelpful observation. If you think the aim is to be unselfish, you are in for a lifetime of disappointment. You are selfish and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. In some ways you need to be selfish. I find that this pretense at selflessness is a huge barrier to acceptance of grace. Please, walk in the light, and acknowledge your selfishness. In real life there are truly some very difficult people, and often we really do need some sanctuary if we are going to be of any benefit to anyone. The girl who is pregnant, with a 5 month old baby, whose husband is a heroin addict and wife-beater, needs some boundaries there. It’s the old trope – if you’re on an airplane and the oxygen masks come down, put it on yourself first, or you won’t be able to help anyone else. It’s really no use trying to pretend that you aren’t essentially selfish. It’s the human condition.

Everyone is Toxic

No, I have a deeper criticism. It is the assumption that there are two kinds of people around me: the good and healthy ones, and the toxic and unhealthy ones. It is the assumption that I am standing at my center as a good person, a fine judge of health and toxicity. This makes me out to be God, in charge of judging who can and cannot be in my life. It is essentially an arrogant position. It is the assumption that I know what I need and I know where I am headed, and I know who can help me get there. The Bible’s view of me is quite counter to this:


So the problem is, I am myself a toxic person, and there is no other kind of person around me except other toxic people. If anyone is going to be in my circle of friends, it will happen because they somehow reject all this boundaries balderdash. You may think, “that may be true theologically, but in real life I’m not so bad, and there are people who are real friends to me and people who are terrible to me.” Perhaps that is true. But if you get along on that premise, you are not non-toxic. You have found a group of people who are similarly toxic, and you formed a little exclusive clique which is even more arrogant and horrible than any individual could be. You have become the mean girls! In many cases, this describes the local church. You belong in the circle, not because you are really accepted, but because you have managed to at least appear to conform to the conditions of membership. Furthermore, that is not fellowship in the light, but fellowship by lying and pretense. There remains the fear that if your true weakness and sin were ratted out, you would be ejected in a heartbeat.

The Example of Jesus

The example of Jesus is that He had no boundaries to the point of death. You want to be truly Christlike, you will breathe blessings and forgiveness as you are being murdered, for your murderer. But I will hazard a guess that you are not like that. You are upset that someone ate the last cookie and left the empty bag on the shelf. You just bought those cookies dammit! You long for personal space where that kind of thing can’t happen.

I have to admit, this is one of the things that makes me so uncomfortable with Christian “ethics”. Here is a guy who beats his wife and steals the money needed to feed and clothe his family, to spend on drugs. Jesus loves this guy. He would die for him. He wants to save him – before he has changed. I can’t understand this. I am threatened by this guy, when he is around me. Who knows what he will do? He might kill me! Jesus says, so? Where’s your faith? I say, Jesus, you’re crazy. I can’t go there. I don’t want this guy around me. Jesus has crossed the line.

So, make your boundaries. There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t have them and who doesn’t need them. But don’t pretend that you do so from a position of righteousness and strength. It is the furthest thing from Christlikeness to say that you have boundaries. It is because of your weakness and your essential selfishness that you need boundaries. If you think about it, the human race has boundaries. We said to God – NO! And we crucified Him. He violated our boundaries with His grace and His miracles and His teachings. He embraced the toxic people we have boundaries against. He tried to get us to embrace them! And for once, the boundary couldn’t hold. Even though we killed Him, He rose from the dead, He found us locked away by ourselves, and He entered back in and forgave us. If we live by our boundaries, we live completely alone and isolated, and I think that will in the end be the very definition of hell. We say by our unbelief, I have boundaries. I can’t abide by this repugnant grace. I have standards. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, regardless of our boundaries, in that while we were yet sinners, He died for us (Romans 5:8). He has destroyed the dividing wall. The curtain has been ripped asunder and we have been welcomed – US! – into the very holy of holies. God Himself has declared in the cross that He has no boundaries at all.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. – Ephesians 2:13-18 NASB

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  1. Yeah, I think you need to read the book.
    Even more than that, you would need to have lived with a true clinically defined sociopath or narcissist to understand the crucial need for boundaries. Glad that you haven’t had to do that.
    I have learned the importance of boundaries in my life. There is no condemnation in that. 🙂

    • A. I have lived with a true clinical narcissist. We are currently living with someone with multiple personality disorder. We have lived with people who are very very crazy.
      B. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have boundaries. You did read the post, right?
      C. The whole point is that there is no condemnation. It is not laid at our feet to shoulder the responsibility to save anyone else. We are allowed to have boundaries. The point is, they are not a sign of strength. They are not a sign of Christlikeness. They are a sign of weakness.
      D. I think your comment is toxic and I don’t need you in my life. 🙂
      E. Yet I approved your comment and responded to it.

  2. This is some seriously low anthropology. I agree that we need boundaries because life is now “a toil.” I wonder who needs to set boundaries because of me? This is a logical corollary to “there is no one righteous, no not one.”

    • Absolutely. I think while sometimes necessary, this kind of thinking gets quickly out of hand. We’re constantly wondering if we’re the one people need a boundary against, or living such false lives in relationship that we still feel isolated. I think we all know that in the end, people should have boundaries with us. Fellowship is a miracle of grace.

  3. Yeah, I’m not sure if you are for boundaries or against them. And I did read the post.
    There is is this; “If we live by our boundaries, we live completely alone and isolated”. I strongly disagree. Without boundaries, we potentially live broken and dysfunctional.
    “Boundaries are not a sign of Christlikeness.” OK, but Jesus is my savior, not my example, so it’s all good.
    Toxic people and relationships are real. Those in them need encouragement to seek healthy people and relationships (which do exists), regardless if it comes from a place of strength or weakness.

  4. I think that in the end you have to realize that in their unique way, everyone is toxic. We are all sinners, not theoretically, but in a visceral real-life way. All ministry involves letting toxic people through the door. We minister the message of grace at bread and wine fellowship with homeless people, addicted people, chronic liars, and even thieves. We’ve had countless difficult people live with us. We dearly love each of them. We try to see, not an addict, but a person for whom Christ died. We don’t love them perfectly, and some of them we’ve had to draw lines with. But the homeless addicts who come in are always shocked that we welcome then and sit with them and talk to them, because EVERYONE draws boundaries against them. Where are they ever going to hear the gospel of God’s limitless eternal love if all Christians draw selfish boundaries against them? There are boundaries naturally. But God is in the business of destroying them. The celebration is when compassion wins.

  5. In that context, yes, I absolutely agree.
    In the context of something like sexual or spousal abuse, boundaries are imperative. People have been inadvertently guilted into staying in abusive relationships because it is “what Jesus would do.” Hogwash.
    That kind of thinking is harmful. Just want to clarify the difference.
    Context is everything.

  6. Wow!!! I was reminded of Isaiah when you quoted Romans that there is none righteous. Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” Then I realized anyone that hangs around me has to deal with my own toxicity. I must have been hearing you write this lol because I was thinking a while back “Lord you’re crazy” about something related to this post I think or just dealing with other Christians I disagree with on some things. Unfortunately I can’t hear like I used to so it makes it harder to be around people but I’ve been trying to change that and it means establishing boundaries but then I think surely I can at least hang around them sometime. But I don’t even feel good about that and I’m not sure how far I should go. I mean every time I don’t it’s like telling God you can’t take care of me in this situation. However I am free to be “rude” or ignore some people knowing Jesus did. Still none are righteous or as Jesus said “no one is good except God”. Thanks for the post Jim. I’ve missed you man.

  7. Thanks Gahigi – I really do mean to start posting more again. A lot of my energy goes into sermon prep these days, but I really want to get back into more writing and blogging.

    I think that we have the freedom to have these boundaries because we are under grace, but we can always realize that a boundary is a failure. But I think in this way we can kind of “sin boldly”. God hates divorce but He did allow it. God is not willing that any should perish, but some do.

    Thanks for your encouragement brother!

  8. Yeah. I don’t want you pressured to write more posts. You were talking to another commenter about these boundaries which was quite interesting because I thought about a toxic relationship even abusive that I’d been in. However in my case it was an older cousin that I loved and still do but as children he was somewhat abusive to me but I don’t even remember all of it now. It’s been about 25 years since I had to endure anything from him. But thank God he grew up and he doesn’t treat me like he did then and of course I’m stronger now but I haven’t had to rely on own strength to force anything from happening. I think it just goes back to the fact that God is working things out even during the messes we make. Anyway it is funny we can “son boldly”. We just need to take our freedom seriously.

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