The Blessing of Boundaries

The Blessing of Boundaries

June 30, 2019

Dr. Michael Helms

Genesis 2:15-17

When I was a boy, I played a lot of yard football and baseball. It didn’t take but a few minutes to mark off boundaries for a football field or establish bases for our baseball game.

But sometimes during the game, there was always some dispute about whether the ball or the person went in bounds or out-of-bounds. Somehow, the boundaries seemed to get moved depending on who scored.

Everywhere we look, there are boundaries. There are areas where we are allowed to go and not go.

Now we can look at boundaries one of two ways.  They are either designed to limit our freedom or to keep us safe. Which is it?

Take the boundary markers on the roads, for example.  Are they designed to limit our freedom or to keep us safe?

What if we had no road signs, no rules, and just roads?  What would the result be?  We would have chaos, accidents,  traffic jams, and road rage like we have never seen.

  1. Without Boundaries There Would Be Chaos

The Genesis story of the Garden of Eden helps us understand the importance of boundaries.    This story teaches that if God had not established boundaries, there would be chaos.

Out of chaos, God brought order as he created the earth.  Through the created order, boundaries were established.

God separated the light from the darkness (1:5).

God separated water from water (1:7) and called the dry ground “land” and the gathered water he called “seas” (1:10).

God placed living creatures on the land according to their kinds. He placed livestock and wild animals according to their kind (1:24).

This is the Bible’s way of saying that the animals had boundaries. It uses similar language about plants.

Everywhere we look in creation, there is order.  There are boundaries.  These boundaries are part of God’s design.  They are part of God’s fingerprints, and they are designed to limit chaos.

  1. Boundaries Were Designed to Keep Us Safe, Not Limit Our Freedoms

When God he made man, he placed him in a garden with boundaries. He gave man instructions to work the garden and take care of it (2:15).

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die” (2:16-17).

Not only did God put man in a garden with boundaries, but God also placed him there with information about what would happen if he went outside those boundaries.  God told him he would die.

Boundaries were designed to keep us safe, not limit our freedoms.

When we are growing up, most of us look at boundaries as a negative thing: curfews, speed limits, dating rules, drinking ages, movie ratings, the list is endless.   When boundaries are well-placed, they keep us safe.  It’s when we do not think that we need them that we find ourselves in trouble.

Out of all the garden, there was only one tree that Adam wasn’t to eat from, only one.  All the rest of the garden was his to explore and to use, so Adam’s freedom was immense.

Shortly after God Adam, He made Eve.  She was alao expected to live within the same boundaries as Adam.  So together, as a team, Adam and Eve now lived within these boundaries.

It should have been easier, not more difficult because they had each other to help hold the other accountable.

  1. Boundaries Were Designed to Remind Us That We Are Not God

Every one of us must live within boundaries every day.

Do we always like the boundaries set for us?  No, we don’t.

Sometimes we complain about boundaries because they are unfair.   Jim Crow laws set for blacks that were unfair and discriminatory before our laws changed.  When boundaries are unjust, we should protest and work to have laws changed.  We know that those who set boundaries often set them to benefit themselves.

God’s boundaries are for our benefit.

God set boundaries to remind us that we don’t make the rules. God makes the rules.  We are supposed to abide by them.  Yet they are for our benefit.

Adam and Eve had abided by God’s boundaries until the day the serpent caught Eve near the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The tree was in the middle of the garden along with the tree of life.   I wonder why they were there.   I think they were curious about those boundaries God had set.

Put a child in a room with a bunch of toys and say, “Now you can play with any of the toys in this room.  But you see that big red fire truck over there with that siren on it, don’t play with it.”

How long will it be before that child is going to go over and examine that truck?

When the serpent caught Adam and Eve near the tree, the serpent challenged Eve’s understanding of God’s boundaries and consequences for breaking those boundaries.

Since they had never experienced the death of anything, they needed to trust God that death was not good.

  1. God Established Boundaries As a Way to Teach Us to Trust Him

We don’t have to experience every consequence in life to know we don’t want to experience it.   You don’t have to grab hold of a live powerline to see if it will kill you. You just need to trust those who tell you that if you touch it when it’s on the ground, you will die.

God has established boundaries to protect us, and if we trust him and obey Him, the boundaries He has set for us will give us greater freedom, not less.

We do not even have to understand all of God’s reasons for setting boundaries to obey.

The serpent questioned Eve about the boundaries God had set regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  When Eve told the serpent that if they ate the fruit of that tree, they would die, the serpent did something very crafty.

It said to Eve,

“You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:4)

This was a crafty answer because it said to Eve: “These boundaries God has set for you are for His benefit not for yours.  God doesn’t have your best interest in mind.  Now get rid of these boundaries and be free.  Set your own.  You can be your own God.  You know what’s best for you.”

We have all been where Eve was.  We have all made the decision more than once to ignore the boundaries set by God.

We have all said to ourselves, “I don’t need anybody giving me advice about how to live my life.   Then we will make our own decision.  We will choose to do something that’s outside of God’s boundary.

In the 1970’s Alka Seltzer had a popular commercial with an older man in his pajamas sitting on the edge of a bed saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”   His wife finally says, “You ate it, Ralph.”

We’ve all been there with Ralph.  At the time, we didn’t think anything about the boundaries.   Oh, we might have given them a fleeting thought, but at the moment, the pleasures were too enjoyable to turn down.   We even resented those we thought had kept us from enjoying those freedoms to indulge and partake.

Evil is very subtle because it doesn’t always come and bite us after our first testing of the boundaries.  Sometimes, it likes to entice us to come in closer and closer until we are wrapped up so far by evil that by the time we realize it, it has squeezed the life right out of us.

Other times, it only takes one time of breaking the boundaries to feel the deep pain of what we have done.

The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (according to the serpent) she took some and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband. (3:6-7)

The scripture says that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, their eyes were “opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Gen. 3:7 (NIV)

No Alka Seltzer could cure them from eating the whole thing.  A stomach ache wasn’t their problem.

They now discovered that were there no boundaries that they could cross over where they could hide from God.

Their coverings did nothing to get rid of their guilt and shame.

They could not hide from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

  1. Stepping Outside of God’s Boundaries Always Brings Consequences

Everything bad that happens to us is not a result of our sin. But when we step outside of God’s boundaries, there are always consequences.

In the Genesis story, the woman experienced pain in childbirth, and the man experienced difficult labor in growing food.  Eventually, death came to them and all future generations. They were cast out of the Garden and were not allowed to return.  God placed an angel with a flaming sword on the east side of the Garden flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.  (3:24)

When we step outside God’s boundaries, some consequences are just part of the natural order of life.  Everyone does not pay the same price for the same sins.   There does not seem to be any practical way of understanding this.   However, we should never be surprised that we don’t get away from our poor choices unscathed.

  1. When We Step Outside the Boundaries of God, Grace is Available

Before Adam and Eve received God’s judgment, God also performed an act of grace.   The text is very subtle, but it’s found in Genesis 3:21.

It says, “The Lord made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” NIV

This was an act of grace and mercy on God’s part.  He didn’t have to do this.

Their nakedness had come to represent the shame of sin.

In a figurative sense, God was covering their sins when he covered their bodies.

Did you notice how he did it?  He used garments made of skin.

The implication is that animals died to cover the sins of Adam and Eve.

This is a faint echo of the sacrificial system that became part of the religious life of the ancient Hebrew.

A sacrifice was necessary to get back within the boundaries of God’s good grace.  It was a way of saying to God, “I’m sorry for my sins.”

A sacrificial system was established for people to bring sacrifices for the priest to offer to God.  Through this system of burnt offerings, atonement for sins were made on behalf of the people.

The word atonement means “reconcile.” It was the way that people reconciled their differences with God.  It was the way that people had their sins covered over.

On the cross, Jesus atoned our sins.  The blood of Jesus became the sacrifice that God accepts that covers our sins if we first admit that we are a sinner.

We have to admit that we have strayed outside the boundaries that God has set for us.

Like Adam and Eve, all of us have said at one time or another, “I want to be my own boss.  I don’t want anyone telling me what to do when to do, or how to do it.”

God has set boundaries for us, not to limit us, but for us to have abundant life.

If you know you are not living within the boundaries God has set for your marriage, your speech, your life as a teenager, how you handle your money, what you see with your eyes, where you spend your time, what you put into your body, who you spend your time with, then it’s time to stop hiding from God.

God sees and knows that you are not living within His boundaries. God only wants your freedom to increase, and your life to be blessed.  God wants you living within His boundaries to experience His blessings, and so you will not bring harm to yourself and others that could last a lifetime.

Allow God, and the grace of God to cover you before the damage worsens and Satan has his way with your life.

Photo Credit: nclutheran.org