Tough love: Boundaries and consequences
Tough Love is the name of a self-help program for parents of children with unacceptable behavior. It involves weekly meetings where parents encourage and support each other to set boundaries for behavior in their families and put appropriate consequences in place when these boundaries are breached. The desire is that a change in their behavior will lead to a change in the behavior of their children. Tough Love is characterized by boundaries and consequences.
It is interesting that the God who created us also set boundaries for our behavior, and consequences when those boundaries are breached. The first boundary given to mankind was, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17 NIV). The consequence was death. A boundary and its consequence to test man’s obedience were in place before sin came into the world. When Adam and Eve breached this boundary and sinned, they hid from God (Gen. 3:6-10). After they acknowledged their guilt, God said that the punishment would include death (Gen. 3:19). Paul repeated this message when he wrote that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
The Ten Commandments were also boundaries given to show the Jews their disobedience to God (Ex. 20:1-17; Rom. 7:7). When they persistently broke the most important commandment to love the Creator God and not idols (Mt. 22:36-38), God sent prophets to warn them of the consequence. As they ignored these warnings, God implemented the consequence and they were expelled from their homeland – by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans – and scattered among other nations. God was tough towards their sin. He did this so they would repent of their wicked ways (Hos. 2:7). But the prophets told of future restoration, an example of God’s love for Israel (Hos.1:10-11; 2:14-23).
In Old Testament times, God also provided a way for people to restore their relationship with Him. He told them to sacrifice animals on an altar (Ex. 20:24). These sacrifices paid the penalty for their disobedience, except the death penalty (Num. 15:30-36). In this case the penalty was transferred to a sacrifice which was a substitute for the person (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22).
Sin is the breaching of God’s boundaries. In the New Testament, God promised to forgive our sins if we confess them to Him (1 Jn. 1:9). This forgiveness is based on the death of Christ. It is similar to, but different from the Old Testament sacrifices. The similarity is the removal of sin by the sacrificial death of another living being. The difference is that this being was the perfect Son of God who not only paid the penalty for past sins of individuals, but for all people and for future sins as well. His was one sacrifice that didn’t need to be repeated. He was a substitute who took the consequence for all who believe.
God allows us to experience hardship and suffering (2 Cor. 6:4-5; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). These are consequences of living in a sinful world where we experience the results of wrong choices (Rom. 8:22). God doesn’t always rescue us from these. Also, believers are to practice tough love towards other believers who are: divisive, false teachers (Rom. 16:17-19; Ti. 3:10; 2 Jn. 10), sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, drunkards, swindlers (1 Cor. 5:11), idle, disruptive (2 Th. 3:6, 14-15), unrepentant (Mt. 18:15-17), or ungodly (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
Lessons For Us
God’s love is tough towards sin but loving towards the sinner. Non-Christians need to accept God’s offer of Christ as the substitute who died for their sin, otherwise they face eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46). Christians need to appreciate what He’s done for them and anticipate their eternal inheritance.
Christian parents need to practice tough love. Instead of always rescuing our children, let them experience the consequences of unacceptable behavior and pray that this will cause them to repent and move back within God’s boundaries for them. Most of all, we need to live within the boundaries that God has given us, and be good examples.
Published, October 2007