Biblical Boundaries: A Primer

Do you have a relationship that take a toll on your energy? Do you have trouble say no to overwhelming obligations? Or are you just getting tired of feeling as if your life is out of control? If you answered yes to any of these question, you might have a boundary issue.

Often times, we think of boundaries as self-protection, a defensive move keeping us from being hurt by others. While this is true in part, Biblical boundaries keep relationships as healthy as possible by first establishing responsibility and ownership in our own lives.
Proverbs 25:28 - A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
God gave us boundaries so that we can live in freedom with the people on earth.

Boundaries are the ‘property line’ that helps us determine what we are responsible for and what we are not responsible for. There main functions are:
  1. To keep the good in and bad out.
  2. Act as an alarm system to things that could be dangerous.
  3. Protect our freedom. 
Boundaries also allow others to live in freedom. When we have good boundaries, we do not hold other captive by our wants and desires for them.

Many people find it difficult to lovingly set boundaries because it seems unloving. But I’d like to challenge you with this idea: it would be unloving not to set boundaries. For example, if we allow our children's selfish motivations and lack of self-control to dictate our lives without limits or guidelines, we become resentful, angry, and feel out of control. Also, with boundaries, our children increasingly show hungry for immediate gratification through displays of other unsavory attitudes and behaviors. A lack of boundaries serves neither them nor us. This is true in any relationship without boundaries. Without boundaries, the quality of the relationship suffers.  Consistent, clear boundaries  change relationships from the inside out.

Many of us are afraid to set boundaries (say “no”, have a different opinion, etc)  because we fear the recipient will lash out in anger (yelling, become physically unsafe, etc), use guilt messages (“I really wish you were like your brother. He helps me with [x.y.z] without questioning a thing"), manipulate (silent treatment, retaliation) or leave the relationship. Since we are only responsible for own behavior, setting healthy biblical boundaries may invoke these reactions. However, a bad reaction to your boundaries does not mean your boundaries are bad. It indicates that those who  retaliate in the ways mentioned above have poor boundaries. Remember the example I gave of setting boundaries with a child. People they will not always like the boundaries we set with them, but they are necessary and the right thing to do. 

The benefit of maintaining personal integrity and identity in Christ far outweighs the poor reactions we may receive for doing the right thing. We are Christ’s precious treasure and are called to take care of His “good investment.” His creation - us!

Proverbs 4:23 - Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Four Types with Broken Boundaries

Broken, limited or improperly functioning boundaries themselves in our lives in four different ways. We can become:

· Compliant – Saying “yes” to the Bad

· Avoidant – Saying “no” to the Good

· Controller – Not respecting others’ boundaries

· Nonresponsive – Not hearing the needs of others

The Compliant

Compliant people have fuzzy and indistinct boundaries; they “melt” into demands and needs of other people. They have an inability to refuse or recognize unsafe situations. Their spiritual and emotional “radar” is broken, and they do not have the ability to guard their hearts.

Questions: Have you noticed a time when your spiritual and emotional “radar” wasn’t functioning well? What bad things or relationships have you said yes to?

The Avoidant

Avoidants have an inability to ask for help, fail to recognize their own needs, or let others in. They withdraw when they are in need and do not ask for support of others. While boundaries are supposed to be fences with gates, avoidants use boundaries as impenetrable walls.The boundaries of avoidants cause a rigid unacceptance of their God given needs. 

Questions: Do you experience your legitimate needs as bad, destructive, or shameful? Where do you think you learned that?

The Controller

Controllers see a person’s “no” as a challenge to change that person’s mind. They don’t respect other people’s limits and resist taking any responsibility for their own lives, so they are drawn to control others. Because of this, they are seen as manipulative and aggressive bullies. 

Controllers rarely feel loved because the people around them act out of fear, guilt, or dependency. At some level controllers are aware of their own isolation. This description may make you feel more compassionate towards the controllers in your life. This is good, but your boundaries still need protecting.

Questions: In what relationships have you been perceived as a controller? Why was it important for you to control that situation? How might you love a controller while maintaining good boundaries with them?

The Nonresponsive

Nonresponsive people do not pay attention to the love in their lives. We are all responsible to care and help within certain limits (Prov. 3:27, Rom 12:18), but we shouldn’t take on the responsibility of others’ feelings, attitudes, or behavior. God wants us to take care of ourselves so we can help others without falling into crisis ourselves. 

Question: How well do you take care of yourself and other people?

If you find yourself or those you know in any of these categories, let it sink in. Allow yourself to be introspective. Has your lack of boundaries served you well? If your answer is no, then it’s time for a change. Without boundaries, things will not get better.

Building Biblical Boundaries

The first step to change is important. If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, then His power through you will enable change. Ask the Lord through prayer for vulnerability to see where you aren’t being a good care-taker of yourself in relationship with others. Ask the Holy Spirit to go directly to the place of hurt and enable and empower you to get ready to change and for change.

God desires to set you free “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30. He wants us to take on His righteousness by trusting and having full confidence in His power to make all things new.

Second, identify what unhealthy relational patterns you have. Are you rescuing a loved one from natural consequences by stepping in and saving the day so they won’t be sad, hurt, or unhappy? Are you motivated to help others out of obligation, fear of loss of love and abandonment? Or are you motivated by the desire for approval, to find your worth or  avoid guilt? Do you feel selfish for setting boundaries or think that you are doing the wrong thing by setting boundaries?

As you examine your relationships and identify a plan of action in setting healthy boundaries, filter them through this verse:

Philippians 4:8-9 - …Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In your difficult relationships are you striving to do what is right? Ask yourself  “Am I being asked to do something that is good, right and true? Will it help others to flourish? To grow? Is my heart and mouth saying yes together?” If we compare our boundaries struggles with what the Bible has to say, we can begin to weed through the difficult things and apply truth to relationships. Begin to lay relationships down at the foot of the cross and ask God to guide you.

Next, search for an understanding, boundary loving and safe community of friends, mentors, or leaders. These are your people. Go to them, ask them to pray with you and help you through situations that need boundaries. If you haven’t found a group of boundary loving individuals, pray that God will bring them your way. Stay rooted in the truth found in the Bible.

The last way to recapture your life by using healthy biblical boundaries, is just to do it. We do not live in a vacuum, and life requires us to participate. With your community of healthy boundary-loving individuals, start practicing baby “no’s”. Start small with things like, “Thank you, but no I can’t go to lunch today, thank you for inviting me”. It might sound silly, but recapturing even the ability to use no in a sentence can be very difficult. Pray through the guilt of saying “no” and ask God to help you see the truth in what needs to change and then have peace with the rest. 

How do we measure success with boundaries? We begin to step out of the loop of needy people, and instead pray like your life depends on it. We begin to love being around people who can hear our “no’s” without judgement. We enjoy being around people who have healthy boundaries themselves. We actually understand that taking responsibility for ourselves is healthy and that taking responsibility for others is destructive.

To learn more about the detailed principles of setting boundaries in your life, read the book “Boundaries, When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. Available at book stores or

First of all, Bethany is a lover of Jesus. She is also a wife and a mother of two adventures boys. She directs the marketing and public relations for Creakside Homestead, where she also enjoys to get her hand dirty in the earth helping plants grow. A creative soul, Bethany also has a passion for music and painting. To top it all off, this is her second year coordinating our PBF MOPS group where she showers love and acceptance on all our mamas.