God, the Bible, and Boundaries

BoundariesWhen some people read the Bible, they see a book of rules, do’s and don’ts. When others read it, they see a philosophy of life, principles for the wise. Still others see mythology, stories about the nature of human existence and the human dilemma.

Certainly, the Bible contains rules, principles, and stories that explain what it is like to exist on this earth. But to us, the Bible is a living book about relationship. Relationship of God to people, people to God, and people to each other. It is about a God who created this world, placed people in it, related to people, lost that relationship, and continues to heal that relationship. It is about God as creator: this is his creation. It is about God as ruler: he ultimately controls his world and will govern it. And it is about God as redeemer: he finds, saves, and heals his loved ones who are lost and in bondage.

When a lawyer asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37 – 40). The entire Scripture communicates a message of love. “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But how do we do that? Well, that’s why there are so many other passages! Loving God and our neighbor is difficult. One of the main reasons it’s so difficult is because of boundary problems, which are essentially problems of responsibility. We do not know who is responsible for what, where we end and someone else begins, where God ends and we begin. The Bible clarifies those boundaries so that we can begin to see who should do what in this labor of love.

Respecting Boundaries

We have personal boundaries, personal property lines, in our relationship with God. God has designed the world so that boundaries are to be respected. He respects ours, and we need to respect his.

God respects our boundaries in many ways. First, he leaves work for us to do that only we can do. And he allows us to experience the painful consequences of our behavior so that we will change. He is not willing for any of us to perish and takes no pleasure in our destruction (2 Peter 3:9; Ezek. 18:23), but he wants us to change for our own good and his glory. It hurts him deeply when we don’t. But at the same time, he does not rescue us; he wants us to work it out for our own good. He will not violate our wish to be left alone, although he will plead with us to come back to him.

Second, he respects our no. He tries neither to control nor nag us. He allows us to say no and go our way. Think of the parable of the prodigal son, the story of the rich young ruler, or the story of Joshua and his people. In all of these examples, God gives a choice and allows the people involved to make up their minds. When people say no, he allows it and keeps on loving them. He is a giver. And one of the things he always gives is a choice, but like a real giver, he also gives the consequences of those choices. He respects boundaries.

Respecting God’s Boundaries

God expects his boundaries to be respected as well. When he makes choices, or says no to us, that is his right, his freedom. If we are to have a real relationship with him, we need to respect that freedom. When we try and put him into binds where he “has to do something,” we are testing his freedom. When we are angry with him for what he does not do, we are not allowing him the freedom to be who he is.

The basic problem in human relationship is that of freedom. We call people bad because they do not do what we want them to do. We judge them for being themselves, for fulfilling their wishes. We withdraw love from them when they do what they feel is best for them, but it is not what we want them to do.

We do the same thing with God. We feel entitled to God’s favor, as if he has to do what we want him to. How do you feel when someone asks you for a favor but does not give you a free choice? This childish entitlement gets many people dissatisfied with God the same way that they are dissatisfied with others in their lives. They hate the freedom of others.

God is free from us. When he does something for us, he does it out of choice. He is not “under compulsion” or guilt or manipulation. He does things, like dying for us, because he wants to. We can rest in his pure love; he has no hidden resentment in what he does. His freedom allows him to love.

In the same way that we want others to respect our no, God wants us to respect his. He does not want us to make him the bad guy when he makes a choice. We do not like others trying to manipulate or control us with guilt, and neither does he.

A Real Relationship

Then again, God does not want us to be passive in our relationship with him either. Sometimes, through dialogue, he changes his mind. We can influence him because ours is a real relationship of the kind Abraham had with God (Gen. 18:16 – 33). God said that he would destroy Sodom, yet Abraham talked him out of it if he could find ten righteous people.

When we make our feelings and wishes known, God responds. We do not often think of God this way, but the Bible is clear. It is as though God says, “If it really means that much to you, it’s okay with me.” One of the most astounding teachings of the Bible is that we can influence God. It wouldn’t be a real relationship if we couldn’t. “ ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD” (Isa. 1:18). Like a real friend, or a real father, he says, “Let me hear your side of things and I will consider them. They matter to me. Maybe you can convince me to change my mind.”

God wants us to respect his boundaries; he doesn’t want us to withdraw our love when he says no. But he has nothing at all against our trying to persuade him to change his mind. In fact, he asks for us to be tenacious. Often he says, “Wait,” seeing how much we really want something. Other times, it seems he changes his mind as a result of our relationship with him. Either way, we respect his wishes and stay in relationship.

Boundaries are inherent in any relationship God has created, for they define the two parties who are loving each other. In this sense, boundaries between us and God are very important. They are not to do away with the fundamental oneness or unity that we have with him (John 17:20 – 23), but they are to define the two parties in unity. There is no unity without distinct identities, and boundaries define the distinct identities involved.

We need to know these boundaries between us and him. Boundaries help us to be the best we can be — in God’s image. They let us see God as he really is. They enable us to negotiate life, fulfilling our responsibilities and requirements. If we are trying to do his work for him, we will fail. If we are wishing for him to do our work for us, he will refuse. But if we do our work, and God does his, we will find strength in a real relationship with our Creator.


From The New York Times bestseller Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Learn More

👉 Get The 10 Laws of Boundaries eBook when you subscribe to the Boundaries Weekly email newsletter. Learn More


  1. Jonnie Beddimgfield says

    Very timely for me. I am newly separated from my husband of 41 years, 3 sons and 6 grandchildren. I am likely headed toward divorce as this situation has been brewing since June. My husband has turned his back on God and has chosen a risky (at best) lifestyle. At first I prayed for God to heal my marriage and then realized that God wants what is the very best for me so I started praying for God’s will to be done in our marriage. Last week God gave me enormous peace as I drew that line in the sand that says my relationship with God is more important than my relationship with any person and I will no longer enable you to live in sin. What an affirmation this article is for me. Thank you.

    • Linda says

      I too have been in the exact situation. God brought me through it, and I have gotten to know Him in such a way as I have never known him before. Praise to God, He is giving me back what Satan had taken from me. So hold your head high and know that He alone knows what is best for you. Trust Him completely and He will take care of you, as He did me.

  2. Patricia says

    Thank you. This is definately food for thought as we begin a new year. May we return to the one true Love and word!

  3. says

    I have also been where you are, and lost my marriage of 18 years because of my decisions to follow the Lord. It does get better, to those who have given houses, brothers, sisters, (even husbands) for his sake , he will bless. I know it is hard, I am asking God to give you strength every day to get thru another day, you can do all things who Christ Jesus will strength you, May God Bless and keep you

  4. Brenda G says

    I have prayed for you, your husband, and your family, children, and grandkids. I have also been somewhat where you are; in contemplating divorce. (Short version) Before coming to the LORD; however, I believe He did ask me to pray for my husband but I did not. I was under the guise of “if he wants to leave, let him leave, and didn’t want to be married to anyone who didn’t want to be with me” kind of thought. Fast-forwarding, we did get divorced. Have remarried, albeit, can not say it was God’s will for me due to other thoughts, circumstances, teachings that was told to me at the time. This was shortly after coming to the LORD and being baptized in His Holy Spirit and walking with Him in such a divine relationship with Him. (One wrong thought or word can send you on a different path, make sure it is from God Himself the direction you take). All to say this, I did stay re-married, believing that the LORD instructed me to stay in this marriage knowing how He hated divorce. I stayed, although truthfully, have had at times struggled in it; yet the LORD has taught me to know what “love” truly is and is not. He revealed to me at one time that I did not honor my husband if I did not fight in prayer for him for it. I have seen God’s hand and handiwork in my current marriage and have continued to see His hand turn things around for his and our good as I prayed for him and for his good. God is Faithful and a Very Good and Great God! May the LORD our God give you wisdom, discernment, good judgment and temperance as He strengthens you in the journey He has for you and your family. God bless you and may your journey be successful and prosperous in Christ Jesus our Living LORD and God.

  5. Georgina says

    I realize i have acted as if I was “entitled” to God’s blessings and favors, especially if I saw others have something I didn’t have. I need to change my attitude to be grateful and respect God. I can discuss and reason with God instead. Thank you for this book that changed my life and keeps changing me

  6. Betty says

    Thank you for this article, which makes so much sense and is really spot on to give a true picture of our relationship with God and others. I needed to read this today, even though I’ve been a Christian for over 60 years. This article will influence how I pray now that I understand more clearly God’s boundaries, mine, and that of others.

  7. L says

    I am 66y old, married for 42y and have 3 sons, 6 grandchildren. Our eldest son and his wife stopped us from seeing them and their children (6) 2 yrs ago. Our middle son (has a traumatic brain injury following MVA when he was 17y and has substance abuse). He is going into a Christian rehab next week but has been great since his return home October last year. Our troubled youngest son has bipolar. He his a geologist but resigned from work in October 2014 and hasn’t been able to get work since. He has used up his savings and has severe depression leading to suicide attempts. He refuses to see a psychiatrist nor psychologist but following a few weeks in a clinic in September now takes medication. He does not participate in the home at all and does not engage with any of us. He is now refusing to contribute to the household expenses. My dear husband has just been diagnosed with cancer (before Christmas), has had surgery and is to see an oncologist today for further treatment. I am at my wits end. Despite the threat from my dear son that he will kill himself (because he can’t get work) we have decided to give him a month. And if he doesn’t agree to contribute to our home then we shall ask him to leave (he is 33y old). We love him very much and I continue to pray for him. He aggressively denies God. Spends all day sleeping or in his room with curtains drawn and not engaging with anyone. He needs professional help but refuses this. He needs to change but it is everyone else’s problem (apparently). Such a waste of time, such a waste of his life. May our Father give us the wisdom to handle this situation wisely. (Just saying)

    • Eric says

      Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we recognize our need for God and only then will we be able to see our own choices led us to the bottom of a pit of sin. God is our salvation who reaches down to our depravity and if we take his hand will set our feet upon the solid riiock that is Christ our saviour.

    • Gloria says

      Dear L: Vocational Rehabilitation is in every state of the union. It is a Federal Program that is administered through each state. Have him take a current doctor’s letter. Once they see that letter by law they have to serve him for the rest of his life. They will help him get work; go to school (his choice) at either vocational or college. They can pay up to a 4 year degree, books and tuition. It is the only institution that can hold his grades in abeyance until he can return to school. They take anyone with a physical health problem or mental – depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, etc. I went back to school at 59 got a bachelors then my master’s. If I can do it (I was in a wheelchair) anyone can! Good luck G.

  8. Kim says

    I’m so sorry for the very hard circumstances in your family madam. It is a great load of grief and decision making upon your shoulders when you surely must be longing to be comforted yourself.
    Life is bitter-sweet isn’t it, full of love and beauty and such deep pains. I feel for you.
    My mother in law is 70 and just made the decision to stop feeling responsible for, or continue rescuing her broken children. No good fruit has come of it and God needs her for further works.
    I guess we can trust God with our children just as we trust him for ourselves.
    God bless you madam as you keep your eyes on the perfecter and finisher of your faith, Jesus. The steadfast love of the Lord is never ending. His mercies are new every morning.

  9. says

    Right on time. This has truly blessed me. THANK YOU!!! I’ve read this over and over. And I think I will save this on my drive and read it periodically throughout my week. Eye-opening. Thank you for making it so plain and understandable. God bless you!!! I always look forward to your posts!!!!!

  10. MARTY says

    So true, this message is on point. We can never do everything God can do. He has power to heal, power to give the uniamagable to us. He is in total control and we are not, just look at this world today. We all need to learn to listen to him and follow his path. Yes sometimes we will fall and step off his path but no matter our faults he lives us and brings us back. He says in his word test me on these things and you will see. His love for us is so great that we can’t even understand it to its fullest. Thank you Jesus for loving me and for forgiving me of my wrong. Love you my great savior.

  11. Mick B says

    I don’t believe in your premise, that God wants us to respect his boundaries. If anything, God has no boundaries. And our relationship with God is one of unlimited potential, unlimited growth, and unlimited love. Perhaps you mean we should respect God’s viewpoint, or God’s feelings, or thoughts. More than anything, we should respect God’s word. He will talk to us, and guide us in all manners of understanding. And to enter in to a deep, close-knit relationship does require us to be “as little children” as Jesus said- and not bratty know-it-all teenagers, which many of us are. Because once you listen to that loving voice of God, and hear from him- He is the greatest parent that ever was and ever will be. We are not on the same level as God- so yes, respect, and fear, but love and be One with God. It can be attained by all and anyone who will humble themselves before the throne of God. Ask Jesus for help. Give up all your selfish and sinful ways for 2 months. Then pray the Lord’s Prayer and with each phrase, push yourself further to the throne of God, and He will see you, and be amazed at how much you desire Him. and then, listen to all he has to say. and write it down. he will guide you like no earthly councillor, or pyschologist. he knows you fully, because he created you fully. God bless you. Amen.

  12. Anonymous says

    “The basic problem in human relationship is that of freedom. We call people bad because they do not do what we want them to do. We judge them for being themselves, for fulfilling their wishes. We withdraw love from them when they do what they feel is best for them, but it is not what we want them to do.”
    My husband decided what he wants to do is have an affair.
    I don’t want him to do this, but he feels it is best for him. So should i respect his wishes and not ‘withdraw love’ from him? That doesn’t feel right, but it seems to be what this paragraph indicates.

  13. Calley says

    I am very interested in this article and trying to wrap my mind around boundaries. I have always felt that there are no boundaries with God, He has come into my sinful world to call me out and I have opened every area of my life so that He can have a place in all of it. I do agree that He puts responsibility on me to fulfill what He is calling me to, but I do believe that me trusting Him when I can’t see the path before me is respecting His authority and responsibility to. Just Jesus’ perspective on boundaries seems to be so much different. “When someone forces you go a mile, go two. When someone smacks you, offer them the other cheek”… I am reading these responses of being justifying their broken marriages and I do desperately want peace for them all, but as a child of divorce, I just can’t be on board with believing that God would ever WANT a divorce for us and would WANT us to give up on the oneness of that. I do believe we are called to suffer for the glory of Christ and to give past our own limits. No need to respond, this isn’t a hit at it, I’m just mulling it all over in my mind. I love psychology and Christ, and this is one area I have struggled with in combining the two. I will continue to have God reveal it to me in time.

  14. Rachel Frampton says

    It has been years since I last went to church and seek God’s guidance. I guess what’s stated here is correct, God would like us to respect his boundaries because he does the same with ours. I miss topics like this, I hope that I ‘ll be able to find a good book that tackles more about the relationship with God.

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