Fleeting images on a television screen would seem to evaporate as suddenly as they appear. The phosphors glow on command, and cease to shine just as suddenly. But advertisers know that these images can be made to stick in human minds.
Two images that flickered across my home screen recently have stuck with me. The first is of a longhorn bull trotting along a beach at sunset to the accompaniment of clear, dominant, yuppie-ish voices singing "To know no boundaries."
The mental image the advertiser is trying to develop is that if I will entrust him with my money, he will invest it and make me so rich that nothing will be able to stand in my way. I will be like a virile bull, roaming free with no restrictions.
It is a compelling and attractive image. The idea of having the strength, freedom, and dominion of a wild bull has attracted people for as long as records have been kept. Egyptians and Canaanites worshiped the bull, and even the wayward Israelites at the foot of Sinai chose a young bull to represent their god.
The second image that has stuck with me is that of a woman. I am sure she was beautiful at one time. She had blonde hair, deep-blue eyes, and pleasant features. I would judge from her voice that she was about 30, but she had the hollowed cheeks of a much older woman, and she knew that for her, death was just around the corner. In fact, at the end of the news segment it was announced that between the time she was interviewed and the broadcast she had died.
She was interviewed for a series of news programs about the effects of AIDS in our Washington, D.C., area, and was used as an example of one type of woman who becomes a victim. She and the interviewer described her lifestyle as being very free of boundaries—she lived in the fast lane, going from bar to bar and spending her nights with a wide variety of men. Until one of them gave her AIDS.
The compelling part of the image came at the end of the interview. "Knowing what your life has come to," the interviewer asked, "do you have any regrets?"
"No," the woman replied.
"None at all?"
"No, I enjoyed myself."
The two images of life without boundaries stand in stark contrast. The one of a virile bull, the other of a wasted young woman.
And during the same week I noticed a news item about two bulls that broke out of a truck at a festival in Portugal and killed two people before police and spectators killed the bulls.
As with bulls, people without boundaries are a hazard to themselves and to others. So why did Jesus proclaim liberty? Why did He say, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36)? And why does Paul so often reiterate that we are no longer under law, but under grace? As Christians, do we still need laws to keep us within safe bounds, or does grace free us from all need of restraint?
Few would hold that grace frees us from all bounds. Every organization, religious or otherwise, has a set of rules for its members. The rules may be written, or may merely be understood and enforced by consensus and social pressure. If you want to get a good discussion going in almost any church group, pick any one of the boundaries that the church has either maintained or recently chosen to abolish, and begin to question the wisdom of the church's stand. Opponents and proponents of the stand will take their sides and keep the meeting active for as long as you care to stay.
We all agree that life must have some boundaries—rules—to keep us safe. But how should we choose where to put the boundaries?
God has not left us adrift with no guidelines. He has given us laws, some of which we must obey, others of which He lets us choose to obey. Gravity is a law we have no choice about, and as a rule society agrees that we must do all we can to avoid the bad results of trying to ignore that law. That is why we put fences along cliff edges in areas where people congregate, and require that the cables supporting elevators be inspected periodically.
But just because there is a fence along the cliff at my favorite park, does that mean that I no longer have to be concerned about the law of gravity? The fence is put there by others' kindness (grace) and will protect me just as long as I accept their gracious gift. But if I choose to ignore their kindness and try my own luck at defying the law of gravity, their grace can no longer save me.
The New Testament plainly makes the same point about accepting God's grace. Accepting God's free gift of salvation does not set us free from all boundaries—to do so would not be a gift at all, but a curse. That is why Paul can say, almost in one breath, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," and "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Rom. 3:28, 31). Paul understood that grace, like law, establishes boundaries within which we are safe.
The boundaries God's grace frees us from are human boundaries, and bondage to sin. In the New Testament, consider such passages as Romans 13:13, 14; Colossians 3:12-17; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; 1 Peter 3:8-11; and 2 Peter 1:5-7 to discover some of the boundaries God has graciously left in place for us. And in the Old Testament, consider that the boundaries He established in Exodus 20:2-17 are the basis of all the fences that He has placed around our lives.
To know no boundaries is not a proper Christian goal. We should seek instead to know God's boundaries.—Kenneth R. Wade.