Boundaries, Rights, and Responsibilities
Personal Rights Versus Relational Responsibilities
In attempting to establish boundaries in our lives, we must consider two basic areas:
- Our God-given rights as human beings.
- Responsibilities. Our responsibilities in relationships versus those of God and of others.
One of the saddest misconceptions is that being a Christian means every single right is stripped from us, and we should always meet the needs and demands of others, all in the name of Christian love. The Christian life indeed requires that we surrender some rights, some comforts, some preferences, and some securities in sacrifice for the needs of others. Also, in standing up for God’s truth and the foundational belief system surrounding Jesus Christ, we are willing to be persecuted for the cause if necessary.
But Christianity does not mean that we throw away our individuality and our right to think, feel, and act, based on our free will. And we certainly don’t, as some describe it, become a “doormat.” In surrendering ourselves to the Lord, we allow our individuality, thinking, feeling, and behaving to be molded into that of Jesus Christ.
As we learn to live our lives through Christ within us, situations in our lives that once may have caused us to feel denied or disadvantaged by others, will now be seen as opportunities for us to willingly deny ourselves in order to serve the needs of others. The behavior may not look much different to the unknowing observer. But the heart behind it will be radically different, as will the effect on the one being served. John 3:30 (NIV) says, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
Each of us is given freedoms – by God and by society – which provide the foundation for our uniqueness to flourish.
It is important to remember that these freedoms should not, in any way, infringe on our ability to love others sacrificially and to die to self as God’s word teaches. Therefore, if we begin to claim these as rights (entitlements) to justify what benefits us, we are misusing them and elevating self. This contradicts God’s clear principles in His word and is very prideful.
Conversely, if we have not been allowed these freedoms in our lives, we will have no basis from which to perceive healthy boundaries for others or ourselves.
Early in this book I presented these five human freedoms from the perspective of their being absent in shame-based families. In this section, those same freedoms are presented in hopes of defining Christ-centered guidelines for creating healthy boundaries in our lives.
- We are free to not condone or allow sinful behaviors and tendencies in our interactions with others, placing protections and consequences as necessary. God doesn’t overlook sin. Just as God deals with sin through boundaries and consequences in our relationship with Him, so can we with others. We must seek His wisdom in each particular situation, so we don’t overstep our boundaries with the other individual(s).
- We are free to be the person God created us to be, even if it doesn’t align with another person’s expectations. We belong to God first and foremost. Other people’s ideas of how they want us to live life, including our parents, family members, spouses, and children, do not supersede God’s vision for us.
- We are free to feel our feelings, even if someone else doesn’t like what we feel or how we express it. However, if our emotions are sin-based, we must bring them to God, asking Him to deal with our hearts. We don’t change our feeling merely to please another person. God did not authorize another human being to be in charge of our emotions, nor are we responsible for theirs.
- We are free to say “no” to something a person or persons requests from us when it opposes our own God-given conscience or God-given responsibilities. Just because people request things from us doesn’t mean we automatically need to comply. We need God’s discernment and judgment to do those things God asks us to do, not what we feel pressured to do in order to please others.
- We are free to pursue our dreams, to find joy, to live in peace, and to have balance in our relationships, despite what those close to us choose to do. We do not have to stay bound by toxic emotions, feelings of despair, and hopelessness. The revelation of God’s word repeatedly reveals His plan for our lives. To think we should live in emotional pain contradicts God’s heart for us and is never His will or desire for us.
- We are free to make our own free-will choices, based on facts and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to live by what other people need, feel, desire, or want from us if it may cause us harm. We then have the choice to do things for others because of God’s love and His leading, not from a basis of coercion, guilt, or obligation. We don’t always have to “play it safe” as we may have been taught to do.
Learning to discern where our personal God-given rights begin, end, and can be offered as an act of submission takes wisdom. We can start by asking ourselves these questions:
- According to God’s word, do I have this freedom?
- Is my freedom infringing on or violating someone else’s same freedom?
- Do I claim this freedom for myself but remain unwilling to give this same freedom to others?
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